Thursday, April 24, 2008

Lone and Level Sands

A spine-chilling work by Percy Bysshe Shelley (written in 1817), on the passage of time and human conceit;


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.

If that doesn't goose your skin, I don't know what will! Now, having said all that, Ozymandias is not Satan, as is often thought, but represented an Egyptian pharaoh. And today the pharaohs aren't forgotten in a lost desert -- they and their works are visited by millions of tourists every year. But having said that, far more "Great Kings" than the couple hundred or so pharaoh have trod the Earth, and the vast bulk of them are now dust.


Charles Sullivan said...

That's great.

It really makes you feel the depths of time in the human past, and how time can wipe away so much while leaving only a "pedestal" as testament. Yet still we can learn something (one hopes), even when the scene is "boundless and bare."

Anonymous said...

Lots of meaning there.
Seeing how it's just after Earth Day, perhaps a lesson is in seeking personal glory at the expense of, well, everything else. Creating monuments to ourselves and turning Eden into a desert - and in the end we've lost it all.

Cameron McPherson Smith said...

>>perhaps a lesson is in seeking personal glory at the expense of, well, everything else.