Do you remember the first time you read Percy Bysshe Shelley’s sonnet “Ozymandias”? I do.
The compelling, mysterious “a friend of a friend” style opening drew me into the poem. Strong visual images made me feel like I was the one standing in an empty desert, staring down at the half-buried face of a forgotten ruler.
The threatening inscription contrasted with the traveller’s observation that the “colossal wreck” was surrounded by emptiness. Reading this poem as a teen, I understood the meaning of irony.
Given the terrible events at the Capitol building this week, I am think of that “wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,” and the barrenness behind it.
By Percy Bysshe Shelley
I recommend reading the Poetry Foundation’s essay on this poem, by David Mikics. It includes a history (written on the same weekend that gave us Frankenstein!) and an analysis. “The seemingly infinite empty space provides an appropriate comment on Ozymandias’ political will, which has no content except the blind desire to assert his name and kingly reputation.” Unfortunately, that final phrase could have been written about our current president.