Ozymandias: Shelley and the Feet of Ramesses II

Ramses II feet.jpg
The feet of a statue of Ramesses II (known to the Greeks as Ozymandias) in Egypt

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.”

Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Disappointing as this might be, the broken feet above is probably not from the same statue Shelley wrote about – if Wikipedia is to be believed that statue has been put together and moved to Cairo in 1955 and since then to Giza. This one on the other hand is still in situ – okay, was in situ twenty-five years ago when this picture was taken – in the Ramesseum, the funeral temple of Ramesses II, part of the Theban Necropolis.

Look On My Works, Ye Mighty, And Despair?

Ramesses II is generally considered one of Egypt’s greatest pharaohs and in his poem Shelley created a powerful image of how the ravages of time obliterated the works of this high and mighty ruler. The line “Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!” doesn’t just show us the pharaoh’s arrogance but also acts as a commentary on the futility of human endeavour. Yet Shelley wrote this poem 3000 years after Ramesses II’s death… and I think we will still read it in another 3000 years’ time.

How’s that for a paradox?

The Bridge of Sighs

I stood in Venice on the Bridge of Sighs,
A palace and a prison on each hand.

Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Canto IV. by Lord Byron

P1010832 View from Bridge of Sighs reduced
View from the Ponte dei Sospiri, the Bridge of Sighs towards the Ponte della Paglia with the island of San Giorgio Maggiore in the distance. To the left, the New Prison, to the right, the Doge’s Palace.

I blush to admit it here but before I read City of Fortune, before I stood on the Bridge of Sighs myself, looking out at the view towards St Mark’s Basin, I used to be under the impression that the Bridge of Sighs in Venice had to do with sighing lovers, like some sort of a Juliette’s balcony. In fact, the Bridge of Sighs connects the Doge’s Palace to the new prisons on the other side of the canal and the sighing was done by the condemned men as they were led across the bridge, this being their last glimpse of the views of Venice.

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The Moorish King Rides Up And Down

Last Sunday we had an overcast picture of the Alhambra, so today we’ll follow it up with a poem set in Granada. Although reading Spanish poetry in the original is, by and large, beyond me at the moment (Arturo Pérez-Reverte generally drives me to despair with his quotes of Francisco de Quevedo), there is the odd poem that I have no problem understanding (Spanish learners, take note). I was afraid I might have to provide a prose translation myself, but Lord Byron obliged! The Spanish original is below the English translation for those of you who can enjoy it…

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I Must Go Down to the Seas Again…

Day 3 Assignment: Water & Orientation

On this assignment we’ve got water for theme, our relationship to water, what it reminds us of, etc. I love water so ideas come easily here from how precious drinking water is to the way rain water trickles down a window, from how all rivers lead to the sea to how you never step into the same river twice…

Continue reading “I Must Go Down to the Seas Again…”