Monday, October 26, 2009

Another Whiff of Ozymandias

As if I didn’t already believe in synchronicity, the Poetry Daily Newsletter dated October 26, 2009 (today!) that I subscribe to from, included a link to the web-based presentation of “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley. Petra and its 2000 plus year old relics and carvings echo Shelley's poem. I include here a photo I took of a Petran carving only two days ago (see my previous blog for more info on Petra). All that remains of the man, perhaps he was a king, perhaps just an ordinary traveller, is his bottom half. Still, the stone caftan of the man seems to wave in the breeze and up close one can make out the outline of toes. Here’s the Shelley poem from the link and some reflective text as written by poet Jon Pineda:

by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

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.”

Jon Pineda Comments:

Given the current state of the economy, I felt Shelley’s “Ozymandias” would be a poignant poem to revisit, especially with the way in which the reader becomes the final witness to the “colossal Wreck, boundless and bare.” At the start, the poem quickly moves from the announced first person to the detailed account of the “traveller” (who goes on to reveal the various details of the “shattered” ruler’s monument). This subtle shift is, in some ways, a relinquishing of responsibility for the unfolding narrative.

By the end of the poem, it is the reader who is left to not only sift through the “decay,” but to be equally consumed by it as well. In rejoining the remnants of the mocking sculpture with the sterile bravado of the “King of Kings,/ Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!” the reader is (to further the irony) put to work by the ruler, rebuilding again the affecting presence of the ego, all while the insipid structure of the void beckons in those “lone and level sands stretch[ing] far away.”

About Jon Pineda:

Jon Pineda is the author of Birthmark (Southern Illinois University Press, 2004), winner of the Crab Orchard Award Series in Poetry Open Competition, and The Translator's Diary (New Issues Poetry & Prose, 2008), winner of the 2007 Green Rose Prize. His memoir, Sleep in Me, is forthcoming in 2010 from the University of Nebraska Press. He currently teaches in the MFA program in Creative Writing at Queens University of Charlotte, and this June, he will be on faculty at the Tinker Mountain Writers' Workshop held on campus at Hollins University.

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