“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”*…
The banker and political writer Horace Smith spent the Christmas season of 1817–1818 with Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Shelley. At this time members of Shelley’s literary circle would sometimes challenge each other to write competing sonnets on a common subject—Shelley, John Keats and Leigh Hunt wrote competing sonnets on the Nile around the same time. Shelley and Smith chose a passage from the Greek Historian Diodorus Siculus, which described a massive Egyptian statue and quoted its inscription: “King of Kings Ozymandias am I. If any want to know how great I am and where I lie, let him outdo me in my work.” In the poem Diodorus becomes “a traveller from an antique land”.
The two poems were later published in Leigh Hunt’s The Examiner, published by Leigh’s brother John Hunt in London. (Hunt was already planning to publish a long excerpt from Shelley’s new epic The Revolt of Islam later the same month.) Shelley’s was published on 11 January 1818 under the pen name Glirastes. It appeared on page 24 in the yearly collection, under Original Poetry. Smith’s was published, along by a note signed with the initials H.S., on 1 February 1818… 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”.
Comparison of the two poems
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.
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 fragment huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.
[TotH to @]
* Percy Bysshe Shelley (full text of the poem here)
As we express our gratitude that the Shelleys participated in contests, we might send comradely birthday greetings to Zhou Shuren; he was born on this date in 1881. Better known by his pen name Lu Xun (or Lu Hsün), he was one of the foremost writers– novelist, editor, translator, literary critic, essayist, and poet– in the China of his day. He was a major influence on the May Fourth Movement that began around 1916, and later the head of the League of Left-Wing Writers in Shanghai. He was a favorite of Mao Zedong; but though Lu was sympathetic to Communist ideas, he was he was primarily a liberal leftist and never joined the Chinese Communist Party.