Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

Ozymandias, By Any Other Poet, Is Still Impressive

Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!

I hope you recall studying, or at least reading, Percy Bysshe Shelley’s sonnet, Ozymandias of Eygpt. (Pronounced Ah-zee-man-dius by most scholars, it was another name for Ramses, 1292 BC.) The sonnet was written in 1818, as part of a competition with another poet, Horace Smith, who was a very interesting person.  More about him in a moment.

Ozymandias of Egypt is one of Shelley’s most well-known works. It speaks succinctly of how impressed we can be with stuff and things, accomplishments, influence, power, fame, looks and reputations, which eventually are lost and forgotten or at least diminished. There are differing views on how far we should take that cynicism–you can decide. Certainly it is true that many things that are sources of pride for people, groups, countries and civilisations, are taken away by time and circumstance.

It is also true that most of us are remembered strongly and positively by our families, friends and coworkers in proportion to how much we have positively touched their lives, rather than on a title, a big project or even many succesful, big projects.  In Shelley’s poem he describes Ozymandias as having a “…heart that fed.” Ozymandias had a heart that consumed rather than contributed.

 Here is Percy Bysshe Shelley’s winning entry.

 Ozymandias of Egypt
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.

Isn’t that wonderfully evocative? Ironically, Shelley helped the fame and power of Ozymandias live on, because this will undoubtedly stand the test of time for many more centuries.

The other poet, Horace Smith, didn’t have the flair possessed by Shelley, but he was so pointed in his message that I think it makes it equally impressive–just not as quotable. (If you have time, read about Percy Shelley’s life. It seems to me he was an irresponsible, amoral young man who got caught up in his intellectualism. He inspired loyalty from his friends, but that isn’t necessarily an indicator of character. Horace Smith, by comparison, was humorous, decent and a successful person–but not ever as famous as Shelley.)

Here is Horace Smith’s sonnet for the competition. His reference to the hunter, “holding the wolf in chace”, (chace was the poetic spelling of chase), was a fatalistic view that one day a king or military leader would be roaming the world and waging war (chasing the wolf), and find the ruins of London. You can replace London with any nation’s capitol and it would apply.

Smith ought to have won an award for the title of his sonnet, alone.

 On a Stupendous Leg of Granite,
Discovered Standing by Itself in the Deserts of Egypt,
With the Inscription Inserted Below
 

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.

I’ll let you think about that for a moment.

Some people do not enjoy poetry, because it is not as easily read and understood, and may seem artificial or overly dramatic to them. I don’t enjoy all poetry or all prose, but I do like the flow of the words. And, some phrases that sound beautiful in poetry or lyric, sound much less impressive when written as an essay. Consider adding some poetry to your reading material. Give it a chance and you may find it will provide you with inspiration and insight.

If you have a poem you would like to share, you can comment here, or use the Contact Me page. It doesn’t have to be classical, although I have my spam filter set to avoid limericks!

March 7th, 2008 Posted by | Life and Work | 10 comments

10 Comments »

  1. Hello! I saw this site while looking for a copy of Ozymandias. Thank you for the second version of the poem. This is a good site and your bio is very interesting. Thanks again.

    Comment by PoetryNMotion | March 7, 2008

  2. Tina says: Thank you for reading the post and for commenting. Come back again! Tina

    Comment by Tina | March 7, 2008

  3. Good points. I also thank you for posting the second poem by – that other guy. He’s more like me. As to “flair”, you’re right, Shelley had it, but flair also comes from Roman candles.

    Comment by Robert N. Adams | March 10, 2008

  4. Thank you, Pastor Bulldog, AKA Robert Adams, for the comment! I’ve had several people write to me to say they prefer the last part of Horace Smith’s version. Maybe Smith and Shelley should have worked together and just written one sonnet?

    I think a lot of Shelley’s flair came from a sordid lifestyle! (Ask Helen to explain it to you.) 🙂

    Comment by Tina | March 10, 2008

  5. Not many know of Horace Smith, but I prefer his take on the subject. You did good work on this research.

    Comment by Reader from the U.K. | May 15, 2008

  6. Your observations on Shelley’s character (no doubt somewhat unfair, and there are few good poets who were not flawed characters) seems to contradict your earlier assertion, that we are “remembered strongly and positively in proportion to how much we have positively touched the lives of others.” I’m not sure what this means, I think it something on the lines of “We are remembered best for our good deeds.” – which is clearly not true. We are remembered best for our great deeds, good or otherwise.

    The point is not that Ozymandias was a ‘bad’ ruler, but that his pride was great and shown to be foolish. The point is that, as great as Ozymandias was, Time was greater. Diodorus Siculus gives the inscription 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.” It is Time that surpassed Ozymandias’ works.

    Comment by Joseph | July 28, 2010

  7. Tina says: Thanks, Joseph, for your observations. I should have clarified how I meant my statement, and I have done so now by editing it. I wanted to say, given that this site is focused on personal and professional development, that we are remembered positively by our families and coworkers based on how we positively touched their lives. We are not remembered with fondness and a smile because of our titles or big projects.

    Your point, however, was well made. I DO still like Horace Smith’s contest entry best!

    Comment by TLR | July 28, 2010

  8. I still do not understand why Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias” lasted longer than Smith’s Ozymandias, which is “On a Stupendous Leg of Granite,
    Discovered Standing by Itself in the Deserts of Egypt, With the Inscription Inserted Below”

    Comment by Jennifer | October 20, 2010

  9. Tina says: Thank you Jennifer, for your comment! You may be right. It may be that the long, long title did his poem in!

    Planet of the Apes Spoiler!

    Still, it reminds me of the last scene in Planet of the Apes, where Charlton Heston sees the ruins of The Statue of Liberty and realizes he is not on another planet, he is in what the United States will become one day when everything he knew is long gone.

    Thanks again for commenting!

    Comment by TLR | October 20, 2010

  10. Shelley’s poem is a great work of art, whereas Smith’s is merely competent versification: that’s why “Ozymandias” is remembered and “On a Stupendous Leg” mostly forgotten. Both poems can usefully be compared to Emma Lazarus’s poem “The New Colossus”, about another mighty statue, this one still standing:

    Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
    With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
    Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
    A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
    Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
    Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
    Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
    The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

    “Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
    With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
    Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

    Comment by John Cowan | March 10, 2014

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