Ozymandias, King of Kings

Siwa Sand Dunes
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains.


Written by  Percy Bysshe Shelley in the early 19th Century, if there can be said to be polarity in Romanticism, then this poem plumbs the depths, rather than praising in the heights.  And yet there would be no yin without yang, no black without white.  No journey of the soul is complete without contrast.

Ozymandias mummy in profile
Ozymandias mummy in profile

Hubris writ large, this work begs to be read by moguls and titans across time.  In a few simple and elegant lines, base ambition and materialism is exposed as futile vanity.  Our universe is governed by entropy and decay.

And yet, tantalisingly, an eternity of sorts may be attained by “information” – knowledge and ideas transmitted through time. Arguably information needs a physical base, but the words of this poem have survived intact for 200 years and may last for many more as a popular meme in a living culture.

Ideas and memes are not subject to physical decay; not so “two vast and trunkless legs of stone” which “stand in the desert”.  Not so the empire of  Ozymandias.

Ramses II Egypt
Ramses II Egypt

Perhaps Ozymandias (or Rameses II as he was known in a different language) was the pharaoh of the Exodus.  Regardless, nothing much of him or his works has survived in material terms. His was not a 1,000 year reich.

Does poem this inform our weltanschauung? Does it suggest a better way of life? Or at least one more meaningful.

A search for meaning and knowledge may leave a more lasting legacy than the construction of an empire. The works of Isaac Newton or Albert Einstein may be of more lasting value than those of a business leader who constructs his empire much as a dung beetle rolls and buries his sustenance.

Rameses II Buries his Queen
Rameses II Buries his Queen

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