Friday, December 27, 2013


Percy Bysshe Shelley's Ozymandias (1818)
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Horace Smith's Ozymandias (1818) written in friendly competition with the above -

IN Egypt's sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desert knows:—
"I am great OZYMANDIAS," saith the stone,
"The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
"The wonders of my hand."— The City's gone,—
Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
The site of this forgotten Babylon.

We wonder,—and some Hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro' the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace,
He meets some fragment huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.

Note:  Ozymandias is part of the throne name of Rameses II, the Egyptian king of c1350 BCE.  A huge fragment of a granite statue carved in his honor, acquired for the British Museum in 1816, must have been the inspiration for these two poems, for the inscription on the base translates as  

King of Kings am I, Ozymandias. If anyone should like to know my grandeur and reach of stature, let him surpass any of my achievements. 

Woody Allen should take heart from this. In both his Stardust Memories and To Rome with Love he refers to "Ozymandias melancholia", defining this as the realisation that all one's art will be forgotten.  On the contrary, these two poems remind us that art far outlives the other human vanities in whose praise it is so often exercised.