“Ozymandias” by Percy Shelley was the second poem that I memorized as a youth (“Annabel Lee” was the first). This poem, probably more than any other poem I’ve read, has haunted me through the years. Rereading it again, it still makes me feel uncomfortable as I realize that whatever I accomplish in my brief existence will eventually succumb to the ravages of time and become dust.
Ozymandias was another name for the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses the Great. Ramses viewed himself as a god incarnate and likely expected his colossal works to remain for all eternity. This is an example of hubris in its purest form.
Shelley’s poem describes a statue of Ozymandias in the desert that is obstinately alone where once a great civilization thrived. The statue glares from the remote past with disdain. But it is the contrast of the statue’s inscription with the desolate surroundings that truly captures the essence of the poem:
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”.
It strikes a nerve for me. I sit here, writing on my blog, but I know that one day the things I write will vanish and no trace of my work will remain. Look on my blog, ye mighty, and despair!
Click here to read the poem online.