Ozymandias

This is the family at Memphis, with the statue of Ramses II

This afternoon I watched a short clip of an interview of the current Indian sports sensation Neeraj Chopra. When asked about the recent celebrity status acquired by him after the Olympic win, he asserted that he would like to place all star-ratings at a distance, for they are dangerous proposals for sports and sportspersons. This profound humility by an achiever takes me back to a two-hundred-year-old sonnet that is a metaphor for the pride and hubris of all humanity.

I first read ‘Ozymandias’ by Shelley back in school. I was no more than fourteen. What did I know of pride and political power except for that which appeared in glazed history books! With my limited understanding of vanity, I still found the poem discerning. As a little backstory, we were told that the genesis of the sonnet was a discussion between Percy Bysshe Shelley (the poet) and his friend Horace Smith about the annihilation of the once great empire of Egypt. The reference, was particularly to Rameses II and his dismantled statue as also to his excessive pride.

However, I intend to give neither an explanation nor a summary of the poem here. (If it interests you, a detailed analysis can be found here). I only wish to speak of the influence of one of Shelley’s most powerful pieces on my own writing. For that, we must first read the poem here.

I would like to quote a few lines from the poem that I always go back to.

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

That the greatest of all must finally turn to dust is a lesson I learnt long ago. The theme of the poem formed the basis of my amateur piece titled ‘Agony of War’, written in 1995. Here are a few lines which I penned as a young teen.

‘I weep silent tears

and count the wrinkles of vanity

on this vain human visage.

Mutable, uncountable

yet basking in the glory of

victorious battles?’

Reading your more than two-decade old writing is a little weird. And although I know that my words were anything but neat, I do feel proud of them.

I read Ozymadias once again during graduation (1999) and it led to the writing of ‘Through the Years…’ Sharing an excerpt,

Rosy hues don’t live that long.

Life comes home

to self and me,

when begins an annihilation.

The anarchist “I” must destroy

all the bonds and the ties.’

In 2018 I got a chance to visit Egypt and to see for myself the statue of Ramses II. It brought back memories of Ozymandias and gave rise to a Hindi poem titled, ‘Kyu Dambh Hun Main’ which I wrote keeping the same theme in mind. Here is an excerpt,

मैं तो एक कण हूँ
विशाल समय का एक क्षण हूँ,
धरातल पर बहता सा
एक भ्रम हूँ,
शायद मैं छल हूँ,
बस आज हूँ
नही कल हूँ मैं।
मैं अथाह सागर
की सिर्फ
एक बूंद हूँ,
रत्ती भर हूँ
रेत मे,
मिट्टी नही
धूल हूँ,
पर्वत की चट्टान नही
ज़र्रे सी लुप्त हूँ,
ब्रह्माण्ड मे उल्का सी
भस्म हूँ

फिर भी क्यों दंभ हूँ मैं,
नश्वर हूँ
पर घमंड हूँ मैं।

Ozymandias has thus been a huge inspiration.

 This post is part of # Blogchatter Half Marathon and I am introducing myself through some of the poems, prose pieces, monologues that shaped the writer in me.  

14 thoughts on “Ozymandias”

  1. Thank you Sonia for this. reading an essay on Homer at the moment, shedding new light on the Iliad and Odyssey and placing them in our XXI st century context. Two epic poems which appear as very anticipatory when perused today. Shelley was also influenced by an interesting explorer, scientist, biologist, geographer, philosopher, essayist and poet: Alexander Von Humboldt (1769-1848), first “green”-minded activist who warned influential industrialists and politicians about the overexploitation of Nature and a possible climate change effect. Biography by Andrea Wulf (2016).
    Enjoy your week.

    1. Hi Susan. It’s been so so long. This must be so interesting. On another note, there are so many writings that seem anticipatory today, isn’t it? All the forewarnings coming true. Thank you for that reference. Have a great week and hope to read you during WEP.

  2. I could see blossoming of poetess Sonia Dogra through years with one constant… her sensitive nature, her command over language and her intensity to feel and express it effortlessly! Kudos Sonia.
    Kyun Dambh hun mai… I read and re-read… 2 times! Every word of it touched my heart, my conscious. It reminded me of two things…. “Mai pal do pal ka shayar hun”, “WHat is life? A frezy, an illusion….”

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