Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Percy Bysshe Shelley: 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.”


— Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1792 – 1822

2 comments on “Percy Bysshe Shelley: Ozymandias

  1. Luz Vega-Hidalgo
    May 30, 2015

    “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” writes Shelly. The boast of a great king has been disproved. Ozymandias’s great monuments crumbled and disappeared. His civilization was no more, and all was turned to dust by an indifferent haphazard and destructive power. It was the kings mission to find concordance/reciprocity/balance between his co-creations and the nature which existed in his kingdom.. What counted as his surroundings was the summation of his subjects, his allies, his enemies, and all the natural resources in his kingdom. .
    But the ruined statue remained as a monument to one man’s conceit/pomposity. The poem is a powerful statement about, how one man’s egotistical, very flawed and exaggerated sense of his self-importance, left nothing of any use, or a solution for the greater development of future human generations. The kings sense of his leadership and grandeur was not about finding the best solution for all of his people, but instead it was about projecting his exaggerated sense of self-importance on his environment; and that was not the answer to the equation, there was no concordance between the kings co-creation and nature itself. The walls the king built were discordant to the nature which surrounded them; so they wavered and shook, but unable to find support and stand with it’s surroundings, they cracked and crumbled.

    Shelly was an amazing poet! I appreciated his work even more when I read about his life. He was born into a privileged family and could have led an easier life, but he turned his back on the easiness of being socially well connected, for the sake of his philosophy of life. His politics were radical and so were his social views, which I think was a consequence of his artistic nature and his poetic point of view. His views on marriage were also not very conventional for his time. In addition he was also an atheist, which wasn’t an easy cross to bare in the early 19 century. Young Shelly who lived until the age 29 years old, did not believe in compromises. But in a sense Shelly was ahead of his time in his questioning of the meaning of life and social conventions. He did not gain any fame in his life time but the questions he asked about society and metaphysics kept popping up in later generations of poets, even until today. Shelly died at the age of 29, drowned. He suffered a great deal as a consequence of the nature of his very religious and conservative society, and the choice of being true to his philosophy of life.

    When I read Shelly’s biography and then re-read his poetry, his life and social philosophy, reminded me of the anti-establishment movement of the young generation of the 1960’s and 1970’s, who also turned their backs on their well connected middle class privileges. Like Shelley, this generation also questioned society, social norms, religion and politics. Many decided not to just talk but to live the life which they thought humans should be living in a society; and among them, were many artist. With this connection, Shelly’s poetry, it’s questioning and metaphysics, became more familiar to me. When I read Shelly’s poetry, because of this generational connection, it’s as if I know something about Shelly that perhaps other readers from other generations who did not experience the deep questioning and tumult of the generation of the 1960’s-70’s, may not be able to pick-up.

    Percy Bysshe Shelly is considered one of the major English Romantic poets. He is also regarded as one of the finest lyric poets in the English language. But I wonder if his beautiful poetry was also a consequence of the many afflictions, and tribulations he had to bare in his personal life, mainly because of the choice he made of living an unconventional life style and the rejection he experienced from his family, and their refusal to support and protect him, in his choice of being a poet. It’s almost as if the beauty of his poetry, which has been handed down to many generations was forged from the crucible of his life.

    Thank you Vox Populi…


  2. xhibitmagazine
    May 30, 2015

    Reblogged this on xHibit Magazine Network.


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