Literature07 Mar 2010 04:15 pm
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.
-Percy Shelley, “Ozymandias.”
Shelley allegedly wrote “Ozymandias” as the result of a light-hearted competition with his close friend and fellow poet Horace Smith. Both poets settled on the subject, story and moral point in advance. Smith’s “Ozymandias” was published a month after Shelly’s version of the poem (in the same magazine to boot). It was originally published under the same title as Shelley’s verse; but in later collections Smith retitled it, “On A Stupendous Leg of Granite, Discovered Standing by Itself in the Deserts of Egypt, with the Inscription Inserted Below.” This was a wise decision on Smith’s part, in light of the fact that his poem was vastly inferior his brilliant friend’s version.
Shelley deeply admired and cared for Smith, and once remarked of him that: “Is it not odd that the only truly generous person I ever knew who had money enough to be generous with should be a stockbroker? He writes poetry and pastoral dramas and yet knows how to make money, and does make it, and is still generous.” Sadly for Smith, his talents weren’t quite as prodigious as his brilliant friend (it’s a good thing he never quit his day job); alas, he didn’t stand a chance in hell in a poetry slam with the legendary talent of Shelley against him. Check out Smith’s mediocre “Ozymandias” below:
In Egypt’s sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desert knows:
“I am great OZYMANDIAS,” saith the stone,
“The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
“The wonders of my hand.” The City’s gone,
Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
The site of this forgotten Babylon.
We wonder, and some Hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro’ the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace,
He meets some fragments huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.