Analects of the Core: Shelley on legs of stone in the desert

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 Bysshe Shelley, “Ozymandias”


Erin McDonagh posted on February 28, 2011 at 5:46 pm

Possible allusions in Ozymandias’ use of the phrase “King of Kings”? Might Shelley be making a dual statement about the fleeting nature of human might and the emergence of new cultures and religions in his era that somewhat lessened the omnipresence of Christ?

jjmc posted on March 1, 2011 at 11:25 am

Considering Prometheus Unbound (among other things, but this specifically) it may be safe to say Shelley was commenting quite strongly on the diminishing value of omnipotent religious figures. Specifically, I would argue, he’s here reducing the whole influence of Jesus to a slab of stone in the middle of an empty desert. Or, perhaps more relevantly, prophesying that this is the ultimate fate of the teachings (myth?) of Jesus, much in the same way as other prolific figures– both divine and profane– now long forgotten.

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