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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.[1]

"Ozymandias" (pronounced /ˌɒziˈmændi.əs/[2]) is a sonnet by Percy Bysshe Shelley, published in 1818 (see 1818 in poetry). It is frequently anthologized and is probably Shelley's most famous short poem. It was written in competition with his friend Horace Smith, who wrote another sonnet entitled "Ozymandias" (for which see below).

In addition to the power of its themes and imagery, the poem is notable for its virtuosic diction. The rhyme scheme of the sonnet is unusual[3] and creates a sinuous and interwoven effect.

Contents

Analysis

The central theme of "Ozymandias" is the inevitable decline of all leaders, and of the empires they build, however mighty in their own time.

The 'Younger Memnon' statue of Ramesses II in the British Museum thought to have inspired the poem

Ozymandias was another name for Ramesses the Great, Pharaoh of the nineteenth dynasty of ancient Egypt.[4] Ozymandias represents a transliteration into Greek of a part of Ramesses' throne name, User-maat-re Setep-en-re. The sonnet paraphrases the inscription on the base of the statue, given by Diodorus Siculus as "King of Kings am I, Osymandias. If anyone would know how great I am and where I lie, let him surpass one of my works."[5] Shelley's poem is often said to have been inspired by the arrival in London of a colossal statue of Ramesses II, acquired for the British Museum by the Italian adventurer Giovanni Belzoni in 1816.[6] Rodenbeck and Chaney, however,[7] point out that the poem was written and published before the statue arrived in Britain, and thus that Shelley could not have seen it. Its repute in Western Europe preceded its actual arrival in Britain (Napoleon had previously made an unsuccessful attempt to acquire it for France, for example), and thus it may have been its repute or news of its imminent arrival rather than seeing the statue itself which provided the inspiration.

The 2008 edition of the travel guide Lonely Planet's guide to Egypt says that the poem was inspired by the fallen statue of Ramesses II at the Ramesseum, a memorial temple built by Ramesses at Thebes, near Luxor in Upper Egypt.[8] This statue, however, does not have "two vast and trunkless legs of stone", nor does it have a "shattered visage" with a "frown / And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command." (In fact, all statues of Egyptian kings have a uniform expression of serene benevolence.) Nor does the base of the statue at Thebes have any inscription, although Ramesses's cartouche is inscribed on the statue itself.

Among the earlier senses of the verb "to mock" is "to fashion an imitation of reality" (as in "a mock-up"),[9] but by Shelley's day the current sense "to ridicule" (especially by mimicking) had come to the fore.

The sonnet celebrates the anonymous sculptor and his artistic achievement, whilst Shelley imaginatively surveys the ruins of a bygone power to fashion a sinuous, compact sonnet spun from a traveller's tale of far distant desert ruins. The lone and level sands stretching to the horizon perhaps suggest a resultant barrenness from a misuse of power where "nothing beside remains".

Smith's poem

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 fragments huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.

Horace Smith.[10]

Percy Shelley apparently wrote this sonnet in competition with his friend Horace Smith, as Smith published a sonnet a month after Shelley's in the same magazine. It takes the same subject, tells the same story, and makes the same moral point. It was originally published under the same title as Shelley's verse; but in later collections Smith retitled it "On A Stupendous Leg of Granite, Discovered Standing by Itself in the Deserts of Egypt, with the Inscription Inserted Below".[11]

Legacy

Jared Diamond's book Collapse has the poem "Ozymandias" in its foreword.

The Economist alluded to this poem while discussing the Burj Khalifa, with an article entitled "Look upon my works, Ye Mighty".

Dorothy Gambrell's webcomic Cat and Girl has spawned a "Trophy of Perpetual Futility" for sale at Topatoco. It is a small statue of a man with a cape and crown holding a scepter with the inscription "My Name is Ozymandias, King of Kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and Despair."

Ozymandias (real name Adrian Veidt) is a character in the comic book limited series Watchmen.

It has also inspired the songs "My Name is Ozymandias" by Gatsby's American Dream and "Ozymandias" by The Black League.

Ozymandias is a character who appears quoting the poem in The White Mountains, the first novel in John Christopher's post-apocalyptic trilogy The Tripods.

"Aussiemandias" is a song by the Australian band TISM, from their "Beasts of Suburban" album of 1992. It concerns race relations issues in Australia.

See also

References

  1. ^ Text of the poem from Shelley, Percy Bysshe (1819). Rosalind and Helen, a modern eclogue, with other poems.. London: C. and J. Ollier. OCLC 1940490. http://books.google.com/books?id=Zy0PYRAv4lsC.  and Shelley, Percy Bysshe (1826). Miscellaneous and posthumous poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley. London: W. Benbow. OCLC 13349932. http://books.google.com/books?id=MZY9AAAAYAAJ. . The two texts are identical except that in the earlier "desert" is spelled "desart".
  2. ^ Wells, John C. (1990). Longman pronunciation dictionary. Harlow, England: Longman. p. 508. ISBN 0582053838.  entry "Ozymandias"
  3. ^ "SparkNotes: Shelley's Poetry: "Ozymandias"". SparkNotes. http://www.sparknotes.com/poetry/shelley/section2.rhtml. Retrieved 2008-02-26. 
  4. ^ Luxor Temple: Head of Ramses the Great
  5. ^ RPO Editors. "Percy Bysshe Shelley : Ozymandias". University of Toronto Department of English. University of Toronto Libraries, University of Toronto Press. http://rpo.library.utoronto.ca/poem/1904.html. Retrieved 2006-09-18. 
  6. ^ "Colossal bust of Ramesses II, the 'Younger Memnon', British Museum. Accessed 10-01-2008
  7. ^ "[1]" Travelers from an antique land - Accessed 18/07/07; Edward Chaney, 'Egypt in England and America: The Cultural Memorials of Religion, Royalty and Revolution', in: Sites of Exchange: European Crossroads and Faultlines, eds. M. Ascari and A. Corrado (Rodopi, Amsterdam and New York,2006), 39-74.
  8. ^ Lonely Planet 2008 guide to Egypt, 271
  9. ^ OED: mock, v. "4...†b. To simulate, make a false pretence of. Obs. [citations for 1593 and 1606; both from Shakespeare]"
  10. ^ Ozymandias - Smith
  11. ^ Habing, B. "Ozymandias - Smith". PotW.org. http://www.potw.org/archive/potw192.html. Retrieved 2006-09-23. "The iambic pentemeter contains five 'feet' in a line. This gives the poem rhythm and pulse, and sometimes is the cause of rhyme." 

Further reading

  • Reiman, Donald H. and Sharon B. Powers. Shelley's Poetry and Prose. Norton, 1977. ISBN 0-393-09164-3.
  • Shelley, Percy Bysshe and Theo Gayer-Anderson (illust.) Ozymandias. Hoopoe Books, 1999. ISBN 977-5325-82-X
  • Rodenbeck, John. “Travelers from an Antique Land: Shelley's Inspiration for ‘Ozymandias,’” Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics, no. 24 (“Archeology of Literature: Tracing the Old in the New”), 2004, pp. 121–148.
  • Edward Chaney, 'Egypt in England and America: The Cultural Memorials of Religion, Royalty and Revolution', in: Sites of Exchange: European Crossroads and Faultlines, eds. M. Ascari and A. Corrado (Rodopi, Amsterdam and New York,2006), 39-74.

External links

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Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

Ozymandias
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