Shelley Offers Some Perspective

The great poet Percy Bysshe Shelley penned a sonnet in the early 1800’s, “Ozymandias”, a tribute to stone pieces of antiquity that was due to arrive in London from afar.

The best remembered line in the poem is “Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”, an engraved quote on a pedestal, now, centuries later, just a footnote among ruins. I’m always reluctant to infer what a writer means when he writes something, but many others with more knowledge and experience on the subject have noted it’s cautionary tone: don’t think that much of what you’ve accomplished will survive the merciless march of time. Even the works of great rulers will, eventually, be just crumpled, forgotten ruins that a new empire will dig up. One day. Maybe.

I don’t say this with the intention of minimizing anyone’s efforts in this life. Rather, I make mention of it to moderate any egos that might be inflated by the often fleeting fame and fortune that sudden success might bring. Congratulations on your accomplishments. You’ve worked hard. Enjoy the money. Enjoy the recognition. But remember, plenty of people have been more successful than you. Some of them have handled accolades with grace and dignity.

It may have simply been because of their perspective on life, or history, or both.

Whatever it was, Shelley wrote a great poem:

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.

  • BGT

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