In a world of CONTENTTM, where no thought seems complete without a meme to strip it down to the funny bits… I present a humble defence of the written word.
In the finest book club tradition, here’s the most amazing 14 lines of poetry ever written (subjectively speaking). Please take a moment to enjoy the heck out of them. See you on the other side.
Ozymandias (by Shelley)
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.”
If you found nothing in that, then I’m very sorry, and you can skip this… but if that chimed, I thought I’d share a little bit about why I love Ozymandias more than anything anyone’s ever written. And I don’t even like Shelley, normally.
It’s classical with a twist.
It’s a sonnet but it’s also a blockbuster. This is not your fourteen-lines-of-I-love-you cookie-cutter. No, this is what happens when you want to get people on the edge of their seats with some big-vista spectacle and cinema’s still 80 years in the future.
It does not give one single damn what you think about it
Look at that rhyming scheme. I mean… what even is that? My best guess is abab/acdc/edef/ef. You’d be marked down in school for turning in anything as cavalier as that, but I reckon Shakespeare, the Sonnetfather himself, would have put it top of the class. The only way we get better is by trying new stuff. Shaking it up. ACDC indeed.
It tells a story
The reason you didn’t notice that absurd rhyming scheme is because it had you totally hooked in a story of hubris and fate. This is an Empire saga in 114 perfectly economic, utterly devastating words. It’s for a reason that Vince Gilligan named the most powerful episode of Breaking Bad “Ozymandias”, and quoted the poem extensively in it. Before Walter White lay dying in the New Mexico desert, Ozymandias lay crumbling in his. What an ending. Why describe the revolution that toppled him, or the plague that revealed his castle was built on sand… if the sand itself can damn the man so absolutely perfectly on its own.
It’s just cool
Read it aloud. I defy you not to feel a pang of guilty envy for the hedonistic life Ozymandias knew. Not to take his sneering tone for a little bit of a test-drive. Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair. That’s just badass. Let’s maybe be thankful that some of our more contemporary aspiring autocrats can’t string a coherent sentence together to save their lives.
And finally, did you know that GIG also…
…nope! I’m not going to cheapen this brilliant poem with a sales bit. This is stuff we love. And I love this poem, which is a big part of the reason I’m a writer at all.
Words are powerful.