Percy Bysshe Shelley – Ozymandias
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.”
Shelley has a chain of transmission working in the poem. The speaker meets a traveler, who acts as a translator to the sculptor, who actually knew Ozymandias. This transmission force helps us understand the idea is that Ozymandias, who used to be God-like, is now just a rumor we barely know about.
The poem is a sonnet – 14 lines of iambic pentameter with a rhyme scheme. It is ironic that a poem about the brevity of substantial works of art comes to us in a canonical art form like a sonnet.
Uses desert setting to convey lifelessness, aridity, and death. The setting is symbolic.
History devours everything, including civilizations. Tempis fugit.
“Nothing beside remains” – this short line is key.
Ozymandias is arrogant, infallible, can’t imagine a future where he isn’t remembered. Human vanity.
A contemporary rewrite is “Elvis, Moving a Small Cloud: The Desert Near Las Vegas, 1976.”