I had something else in mind for this Friday’s poem but the events of the last couple of days meant I couldn’t go past Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

It is one of the poems in Dear To Me, 100 New Zealanders write about their favourite poems and published by Random House as an Anmesty International fundraiser.

By serendipitous conincidence it was the choice of Sir Robert Jones who said:

The reason why I like it is that it sums up so well the misplaced grandiose egotism of rulers, be they elected prime minsiters or tyrants, and their craving for permanent legacy after their inevitable demise.

It is an illogical aspiration: once dead, however, they’re viewed is utterly irrelevant to them as they’ll never know. That reality doesn’t stop retired prime minsiters wasting their remaining years writing memoirs which they hope will preserve their place and perceived importance in history.

Ozymandias demonstrates the futility of such aspirations and the inevitable denouement for us all of reduction to dust.


 I met a traveller from an antique land

Who said: Two cast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,

Half sunk, a shater’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.


        Percy Bysshe Shelley –

3 Responses to Ozyymandias

  1. Andrew W says:

    One I like that’s in a similar vein but different perspective:

    It is the dead who govern.
    Look you, man, how they work their will upon us!
    Who have made the laws? The dead!
    Who have made the customs that we obey and that form and shape our lives? The dead!
    And the titles to our lands? Have not the dead devised them?
    If a surveyor runs a line he begins at some corner the dead set up; and if one goes to law upon a question
    the judge looks backwards through his books until he finds how the dead have settled it – and he follows
    And all the writers, when they would give weight and authority to their opinions, quote the dead; and the
    orators who preach and lecture are not their mouths filled with words that the dead have spoken? Why,
    man, our lives follow grooves that the dead have run out with their thumbnails!

    M. Davisson Post, Uncle Abner


  2. Deborah says:

    Yes. Very, very apt.


  3. Jim says:

    I discovered a link to your poem/site while googling the new book Hubris Syndrome.

    It is an occasionally wonderful aspect of the web to find a blog halfway around the world that makes you realize both the huge differences in the way people live and, at the same time, the myriad small and large ways those people can be connected in concerns and/or insights.

    Have a nice day.


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