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Thread: Ozymandias

  1. #1
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    Dec 2005


    by Percy Bysshe Shelley

    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 shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
    And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
    Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
    Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
    The hand that mock'd 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

    Here's a companion poem to Shelley's famous "Ozymandias", written by Horace Smith:

    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.

    And here's what is says about that poem on Wikipedia:

    Percy Shelley apparently wrote this sonnet [Ozymandias] 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".

    Am I alone in thinking that this is a damn fine poem? Why, then, is Shelley's the one far more remembered? Read over Smith's poem a few times and please explain to me why it has been ignored. Is it solely because the famous Shelley is the author of "Ozymandias"? (And I don't mean here to denigrate Shelley's poem; "Ozymandias" is actually one of my favorites.)

  2. #2
    Bibliophile JBI's Avatar
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    Feb 2007
    It's an alright poem, but quite frankly I find it one of the lesser Shelley works. It is interesting, but the poem doesn't sustain itself as well as, for instance, his Ode to the West Wind, or his Skylark. This seems to be one of those open-and-shut cases of poetry, where the poem doesn't drift off enough from its implied meaning, and seems to not offer much beyond the basic level. Shelley's other works on the other hand, often seem to erupt with meaning, whereas this one has the cliché time motif, which has been central since the Renaissance in English (and perhaps before that), and doesn't seem to offer much beyond it.

    I think, though, the dominant feature which makes it a million times better than the second version is the fact that Shelley seems to have understood metre, and not to have end stopped every line so blandly. Because of this, his last line packs more punch than the alternative couplet, which seems rather expected, and boring. Also, another feature is that he doesn't smack you so carelessly over the head with the "meaning" (if such a term can be used for poetry, though don't get me wrong, I don't advocate all readings carry the same truth). The second poem is rather weak, from beginning until the end, and seems as if any minor sonnetteer could have written it.

    I would also note, that the double entendre on despair didn't exist in Shelley's time, and is only one using a modern connotation of the word.
    Last edited by JBI; 10-06-2008 at 02:22 AM.

  3. #3
    Registered User Dipen Guha's Avatar
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    May 2009
    The poem gives us a picture of a desert, ast and desolate. When we read the poem we begin to form a picture of a desert landscape; :-"..Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
    Stand in the desert, Near them on the sand,
    Half sunk, a shuttered visage loes".
    The poet makes no attempt to be informative about the historical detail. If we read the poem quite intellegently, we shall probably ask where are all the " Mighty wrokes" of which Ozymandias seemed so proud ? can it be that they have all disappeared without trace ? Can it be that they have all disappeared without trace? When did Ozymandias rule ? What became of this great empire? Was he as bad as the poem seggests?

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    Good post, the Smith poem strikes me as being very SF (or protoSF?), I love the pre-Wellsian vision of a future apocalyptic London. The poem also strikes me as being satirical, perhaps mocking Shelley's poem, by revealing the absurdity of opening a poem with "a gigantic Leg" (and yes the leg is in caps)--not exactly a picture of the sublime. I find Smith's poem to have some real drama but also some (unintended?) comedy as well and honestly for drama I think he is far outdone by Shelley.

    For example, unlike Shelley, Smith introduces the travel at the conclusion of the poem rather than the begining. Shelley's method is somewhat odd and Smith likely viewed it as superfluous. Perhaps part of his intention is to lessen the oddness of a poem that opens with a massive leg. He is hearing of this statue at a point removed from space and time just as Smith will hear of a future London from such a distance.

    The legs are part of the background in Shelley's poem it is the "shattered visage" that commands the greatest of Shelley's descriptive powers. There are no parallel lines as powerful as Shelley's "The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed."

    @JBI, honestly it isn't my favorite Shelley poem either but I would still concede that it is one of his greatest poems, despite my personal preferences. And rereading it just now I was struck by the dramatic power of the poem, the changing of perspectives as one zooms in close up to that sinister grin. The theme of decay and the transitory nature of human works is undoubtedly old but doesn't the Romantic sympathy for ruined castles, cottages, and abbeys show through in Shelley's poem and in this way allow it to stand out from similar poems of an earlier date?

  5. #5
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    Jun 2010
    what is the modern double entendre of despair you are referring to? What might it mean besides loss of hope?

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    I found a lot of useful and interesting information!

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