I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desart. 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”, the famous sonnet written by English romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822), was first published in the January 11, 1818 issue of The Examiner in London, and later in Shelley’s 1819 collection “Rosalind and Helen, A Modern Eclogue; with Other Poems”. It also forms part of a posthumous compilation of his poems published in 1826.
Written in atypical iambic pentameter, “Ozymandias” is said to have been inspired by the British Museum’s acquisition of a large fragment of a statue of Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II from the thirteenth-century B.C.E:
Weighing 7.25 tons, this fragment of his statue was cut from a single block of two-coloured granite. He is shown wearing the nemes head-dress surmounted by a cobra diadem.
The sculptor has used a slight variation of normal conventions to relate his work to the viewer, angling the eyes down slightly, so that the statue relates more to those looking at it.
It was retrieved from the mortuary temple of Ramesses at Thebes (the ‘Ramesseum’) by Giovanni Belzoni in 1816. Belzoni wrote a fascinating account of his struggle to remove it, both literally, given its colossal size, and politically. The hole on the right of the torso is said to have been made by members of Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt at the end of the eighteenth century, in an unsuccessful attempt to remove the statue.
Ozymandias also featured prominently in a trailer for an episode of Breaking Bad:
Here is the joke, says [Romantic scholar Paul] Fry: Confronted by such a tapestry of unreliability, we think we have attained insight into Ozymandias. The sculptor was taken in too, when he tried to commit a version of his ruler to stone. But time warped his handiwork just as surely as it will reframe Shelley’s poem, muddle our recollections, and drag the leavings of our own lives through “lone and level sands.” (Are you laughing yet?) For Fry, in other words, “Ozymandias” links together a chain of egomaniacs who believe they have arrived at a stable form of knowing. It coaxes us into a glib understanding of its subject that it does not necessarily share—and the trench between that easy, seductive judgment and the truth (whatever it is) is the real irony.
Ramses II has not, actually, been forgotten. Nor was his ghost receding in Shelley’s time: The ancient Egyptians fascinated Napoleon, who brought archeologist-historians with him when he invaded Egypt in 1798, and Lord Byron, whose journals are littered with speculation about long-dead civilizations. (In fact, Byron’s adventures in Greece, Albania, and Turkey the year before the sonnet was written led Fry to wonder whether this “Napoleon of verse” was the “traveler from an antique land.”) And while the 18th-century “relic” poem—of which “Ozymandias” is an exemplar—has a memento mori, all-is-ephemeral vibe, sonnets traditionally celebrate the perseverance of art across centuries, even across the threshold separating life from death. So if Ozymandias and his sculptor were not right, they weren’t entirely wrong, either.
So why choose Ozymandias as the theme for my posthumous Blawg Review tribute?
Aside from the obscurity of the multiple perspectives—the anonymity of the story-teller, the traveller and the subject— Shelley’s poem presents an intriguing counterpoise to the late Editor of Blawg Review, our beloved “Ed Post”. Ed could be the speaker who meets the traveler, or the traveler himself. Ed was peripatetic both in real life and virtual life. He met many of us, yet none, as far as I know, knew him. He travelled extensively and was fond of posting photographs, always obscuring his features, so the eye was forced to see a broader perspective.
One thing does remain. While traditional legal writing in the form of law reviews, case comments and firm newsletters may end up in the dustbin of legal history, legal blogging (blawging) is vital to the future of the legal profession Blawg Review remains a monument to Ed’s legacy, his dedication and perseverance. Ed Post was an important part of the Blawgosphere. We may not really know the man, his family or his close friends, but we know Ed through Blawg Review and how it brought us together, if only for a time. We, the members of the Blawgosphere, will remember Blawg Review:
Monuments to great kings fade; mighty empires rise, decline and inevitably fall. All that remains is art…and the art of blawging.
And so, dear readers, what follows are some of last week’s posts that represent the best of the Blawgosphere: