(Poem #22) 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.
Love poems are all very well, but my two favourite sonnets have got to be Keats' "Chapman's Homer" and this one. Note the sheer perfection of the line "look on my works ye mighty and despair", and the wonderful imagery in the last line. On a side note, this doesn't seem to fit into any of the traditional sonnet forms, the rhyme scheme being ababa cdcdc efef, though structurally it divides into the 8 and 6 of the Petrarchan pattern. Ozymandias, incidentally, was Rameses II, who was survived by his pyramid if nothing else. The poem itself was inspired by a shattered colossus in the Ramesseum, his funeral temple, of which the EB says 'This temple is identified with the "Tomb of Osymandias" (a corruption of Ramses II's prenomen) described by the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus in the 1st century BC' - an inscription on the statue's base read I am Ozymandias, King of kings. If anyone would know how great I am and where I lie, let him surpass any of my works. There's a nice writeup on 'The Real Ozymandias' at <http://www.savagenet.com/oz/Oz/real.htm> which you are encouraged to read. Biographical Note: Shelley was, along with Byron and Keats, one of the major poets of the Later Romantic period. They built upon the Early Romantic movement dominated by Wordsworth, Coleridge and Blake. The Romantic movement produced, IMHO, some of the finest poetry ever written in the English language, as poets embraced the new ideals of freedom and individualism sweeping Europe, and thrilled to the vibrant sense of change accompanying them. The poetic ideals of the time are perhaps best expressed in Wordsworth's "Spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings". Of the romantic movement, the EB has this to say: As a term to cover the most distinctive writers who flourished in the last years of the 18th century and the first decades of the 19th, "Romantic" is indispensable but also a little misleading: there was no self-styled "Romantic movement" at the time, and the great writers of the period did not call themselves Romantics. and later Poetry was regarded as conveying its own truth; sincerity was the criterion by which it was to be judged. Provided the feeling behind it was genuine, the resulting creation must be valuable. And of Shelley himself: Percy Bysshe (pronounced 'Bish') Shelley, English Romantic poet whose passionate search for personal love and social justice was gradually channeled from overt actions into poems that rank with the greatest in the English language. [..] Thus far, Shelley's literary career had been politically oriented. Queen Mab, the early poems first published in 1964 as The Esdaile Notebook, Laon and Cythna, and most of his prose works were devoted to reforming society; and even Alastor, Rosalind and Helen, and the personal lyrics voiced the concerns of an idealistic reformer who is disappointed or persecuted by an unreceptive society. But in Italy, far from the daily irritations of British politics, Shelley deepened his understanding of art and literature and, unable to reshape the world to conform to his vision, he concentrated on embodying his ideals within his poems. His aim became, as he wrote in "Ode to the West Wind," to make his words "Ashes and sparks" as from "an unextinguished hearth," thereby transforming subsequent generations and, through them, the world. Later, as he became estranged from Mary Shelley, he portrayed even love in terms of aspiration, rather than fulfillment: "The desire of the moth for the star,/ Of the night for the morrow,/ The devotion to something afar/ From the sphere of our sorrow." -- EB Criticism: Shelley saw himself at once as poet and prophet, as the fine "Ode to the West Wind" (1819) makes clear. Despite his firm grasp of practical politics, however, it is a mistake to look for concreteness in his poetry, where his concern is with subtleties of perception and with the underlying forces of nature: his most characteristic image is of sky and weather, of lights and fires. His poetic stance invites the reader to respond with similar outgoing aspiration. It adheres to the Rousseauistic belief in an underlying spirit in individuals, one truer to human nature itself than the behaviour evinced and approved by society. In that sense his material is transcendental and cosmic and his expression thoroughly appropriate. Possessed of great technical brilliance, he is, at his best, a poet of excitement and power. -- EB again And letting Dorothy Parker have the last word (since she does it so well) Byron and Shelley and Keats Were a trio of lyrical treats. The forehead of Shelley was cluttered with curls, And Keats never was a descendant of earls, And Byron walked out with a number of girls, But it didn't impair the poetical feats Of Byron and Shelley, Of Byron and Shelley, Of Byron and Shelley and Keats. -- Dorothy Parker, 'A pig's eye view of literature' m.