Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Ozymandias - every Doomer's favourite poem

I first came across "Ozymandias" as a character in John Christopher's post-apocalyptic trilogy for young people: The Tripods.

I still remember the first time I lost myself in those fantastic books. I was staying at my aunt and uncle's place in the country for the school holidays. My aunt and uncle were both school teachers, and they had a library that would enrapture any bookish child.

I was utterly captivated by the trilogy's young heroes (Will, Henry, and Beanpole) whose adventures are sparked by the words of a mysterious Vagrant who calls himself Ozymandias.

Many years passed before I realised that Ozymandias is, in fact, the title of a "real" (and quite famous) sonnet by a real (and quite famous) poet - Percy Bysshe Shelley. Anyway, it's not hard to see why Ozymandias is a poem beloved of so many writers who concern themselves with the subject of collapse:

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".