Ozymandias, 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.

Watching the footage of the protestors in Cairo on tv intercut with the impassive , mask like face of Hosni Mubarak, made me think of this famous poem by Shelley which was first published in 1818. Ozymandias is another name for the Great Pharoah Rameses and it is possible that Shelley wrote this poem after seeing his statue in the British Museum. Now another Egyptian dictator with a ‘sneer of cold command’ is facing the only certainty which is that everything changes. Shelley, of course, was growing up as Napoleon came to power in France ,conquered most of Europe and then lost power as precipitately as he gained it and this must have informed Shelley’s sense of the ephemeral nature of tyranny. At the risk of sounding tyrannical myself, I think every child should learn this poem by heart.