Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Ozymandias (1818)
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 shatter’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.
Ozymandias is the Greek name for the Egyptian king, Ramses II (1304-1237 BC), third pharaoh of the nineteenth dynasty of ancient Egypt, perhaps most popularly known by his portrayal by Yul Brynner in Cecil B. de Mille’s 1956 melodramatic (read, kitsch) epic (read, grandiose) film, The Ten Commandments.
In keeping with those biblical proportions, one will find a statue in honor of Ozymandias, located on W. Sundown Lane, off of route 27, in Amarillo, Texas.
It was created around 1997 by Lightnin’ McDuff who was commissioned by eccentric millionaire, Stanley Marsh, 3 (uses the Arabic numeral “3” ithinking the traditional Roman numeral “III” pretentious.) He is also the creator of Cadillac Ranch on Old Route 66.
The statue, which consists of two giant legs (one 34′ tall, the other 24′ tall), however, is a parody on Percy Bysshe Shelley’s much anthologized sonnet of the same name. There is an official-looking plaque with the sonnet that inspired this “road art” preceded with the inscription: “In 1819 while their horseback trek over the great plains of New Spain, Percy Bysshe Shelley & his wife, Mary Wollstonecraft (Author of “Frankenstein”), came across these ruins, [actually, Shelley was in Italy at the time] here Shelley penned these immortal lines: “Ozymandias”. Needless to say, this is risible “fractured history”. Just as humorous are the athletic socks which were painted on the legs in 2006 (subsequently sandblasted away).
It (the sonnet & the original statue) still “stands” as a metaphoric reminder of Lord Acton’s (John Emerich Edward Dalberg) anti-Ultramontanist eponym that “Power tends to corrupt, & absolute power corrupts absolutely,” & that humanity’s hubris cannot withstand the shifting sands of time.
Those who follow the comic book genre, are undoubtedly familiar with the character of “Ozymandias,” who is the alter ego of Adrian Veidt, the costumed vigilante character appearing in the “Watchmen,” a comic book series written by Alan Moore & illustrated by Dave Gibbons. Originally published by DC Comics as a monthly limited series from 1986-87, & recently released in a film version by Warner Bros, where the character is portrayed by Matthew Goode.