Monday, May 16, 2016

Ozymandias: recitation and commentary

Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley

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 the first line is cited an antique land.  Then we call it a haunted antiquity with a bit of sarcasm and satire in it, with a legend preceding it, though it itself remains mysterious, lost in tales of old empires, that rose and fell and bloody conquerings and subjugations in which only the victors contributed to history.

Its a repudiation of immutability, that we maybe do not control history, but history flows like a stream, taking turns and changing course constantly.

"The hand that mocked and the heart that fed"

We have a burning care then, in our hearts, to put a thumb in the eye to power, and here an artist has done so, whether it was the commission of royalty or a private work.  So too perhaps, Shelley.  One could say it is a meditation, while not mentioning the homeland, that Shelley thinks of the ecosystem in England, between the artists and the government, how they indeed sometimes feed one another.

The last four lines, speaking of trunkless legs, takes us to the feet of the lines in rhyming form: ABAB.  This adds to the power and the flow of those last lines, and quickens the eye, besides cementing the work better into memory.  There are other haphazard rhymes scattered throughout and it begs if those were accidental, incidental, or intentional to bolster the cadence of the work, as if it were a musical piece with a prescribed tempo, here in words and lines, line breaks and commas, instead of ticks per minute.

No comments:

Post a Comment