Ozymandias, the Accidental Immortal

by Percy Bysshe 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 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”.

This is one of my favorite poems, and I used to teach it with my poetry unit to teach irony, sonnets and, sometimes, hubris.  It worked well with Dr. Faustus, Macbeth, and a dozen other works we studied, and proved to be a great practice piece for AP exam prep essays.

Why do I love it?  It’s an amazing piece — the wanderer finds an inscription that boasts the long-reaching influence of its creator.  However, nothing remains of his monument except rubble.  Time has defeated Ozymandias, as it defeats us all, turning us to memories and dust.

What legacy will I leave?  Will I leave a lasting impression?  Will my words simply vanish along with the pixels on a page?  Or will I do something meaningful that extends beyond my ability to predict and mold?

Will it matter?

I think it does, to most people, whether or not we want to admit it.  We don’t want to be another ancestor, lost to memory, just a picture that no one can identify (or identify with).

Just something to think about.  Something Shelley thought about… and we remember him.



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4 responses to “Ozymandias, the Accidental Immortal

  1. Excellent post! Thanks for introducing me to a new sonnet. I think about this stuff often, especially since I don’t have children.

    I’m A-Z Blogging on Langley Writes about Writing and Langley’s Rich and Random Life

  2. Love it! It’s something I’ve thought about for many years. I can only hope that I leave my own mark on the world or the web, or both. I have four kids and one grandson so far, so I know a part of me will carry on in one way.

  3. I just hope I’m not remembered as vanilla. Love me or find me to be a pain in the ass, but please remember something that sparks emotion. That’s all I ask.

    My “O” post: http://www.word-nerd-speaks.com/2011/04/old-mother-hubbard-economic-reality.html

  4. I loved it!

    I hope that I can one day leave some sort of legacy. But there is no way to know which of the many things I do will be the ones that will be remembered. So I do all of them.