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”.
~Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)
Nice poem about an ancient king. Good image of a wrecked statue in the middle of a desert. Reminds me of that surprise at the end of the original Planet of the Apes. The Statue of Liberty mostly buried in sand on the coast of what was once New York.
The narrator (I) met a guy (traveller) who had been in some place like Egypt. The man had seen a statue there, massive but broken. Of some king (Ozymandias). Good statue, evidently. Whoever sculpted it (sculptor) knew what he was doing: the king was clearly a piece of work. A tyrant, maybe. Writing, too, on the base. The gist: I’m the greatest! Just look around! Only — ha ha — now there’s nothing there. Just this hunk of rock and lots of sand.
The poet-narrator claims to have met a traveller. The latter reported seeing an ancient and colossal (but also cracked and toppled) statue in an otherwise empty desert. Whoever sculpted it succeeded in depicting on the man’s face a severe haughtiness. The skill of the sculptor is shown in the lifelike illusion he imparted to the otherwise lifeless stone.
Moreover, the legs, visage, frown, and lips of the statue have their counterparts in the hands and heart of the sculptor: the dusty hands that skillfully “mocked” (i.e., mocked up, rendered, fashioned) his subject’s passions and the full heart that “fed” (i.e., helped the artist as he was chiseling the man’s features, in the course of which he drew on his own intimate knowledge of pride, a certain arrogance which in his case derived not from the satisfaction of possessing great political power, but from the belief that he, the artist, had an equal or even greater power, the ability and opportunity to create something that would outlive all empires and civilizations) those passions.
Alas. Neither the achievement of Ozymandias, king of kings, nor the work of his sculptor can survive forever. The sands of time will devour both, sooner (in the case of Ozymandias) or later (in the case of the sculptor). All that survives is the immemorial folly of believing that anything mortal can be immortal. That will always be with us, because being foolish (in good and bad ways) is a sine qua non of being human.
Fourth and Final Try
There was or is no traveller. No statue. No sculptor. No king of kings. All that exists here is a poem. Words on a page. Or screen, if you prefer. It’s a fiction. A work of imagination plus you, o readers, whether implied or (have someone pinch you just to make sure) real.
So assume the “I” is the poet. The traveller, too, is the poet. The statue is the poet (or his poetry, but what’s the difference?). Ozymandias is the poet. The desert is the poet.
With that, where are you and I now, my fellow readers-who-would-much-prefer-not-to-be-of-the-merely-implied-type?
Alive, for now. Full of passion, for the time being. So, so busy: building stuff, hunched over our keyboards pounding out emails (“The most recent numbers are completely unacceptable…” or “The task force report clearly indicates that …”), getting all worked up that Joe Schmo got assigned the corner office, burning the midnight oil to figure out how to sell more widgets, do-gooding on behalf of various causes, going ballistic after reading the headlines (Boehner is a complete idiot! Obama is a pathetic loser!), and so on ad infinitum.
Don’t feel bad about it! Keep pounding out those emails! You deserve a corner office, too! Save the whales! This is what we do. But maybe think about pondering, from time to time, whenever you have a spare moment, really, not inconveniencing yourself to do so, mind you, this: a bit of humility.