I quoted Percy Shelley's "Ozymandias" when I wrote in July. What I found in my research is that there are actually two Ozymandiases. First is Shelley's version:
by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)
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."
* * *
Shelley wrote his "Ozymandias" in competition with his friend, Horace Smith (1779-1849). Smith's version was published two months after Shelley's:
by Horace Smith
In Egypt's sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desert knows:--
"I am great OZYMANDIAS," saith the stone,
"The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
"The wonders of my hand."-- The City's gone,--
Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
The site of this forgotten Babylon.
We wonder,-- and some Hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro' the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace,
He meets some fragment huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.
* * *
Shelley's sonnet is justifiably famous. Horace Smith's is, I suppose, obscure. But it brings into these tales of two Ozymandiases something missing from the first: the poet's vision is cast into the future as well as into the past. And as a vision of the future and a post-apocalypse, Horace Smith's poem approaches science fiction.
* * *
All of that led me to some other lines of verse. These were written by the British poet and author Anna Lætitia Barbauld (1743-1825). They predated Shelley's and Smith's poems by six years. An excerpt from Eighteen Hundred and Eleven: A Poem (1812), by Anna Lætitia Barbauld, lines 39-49:
And think'st thou, Britain, still to sit at ease,
An island Queen amidst thy subject seas,
While the vext billows, in their distant roar,
But soothe thy slumbers, and but kiss thy shore?
To sport in wars, while danger keeps aloof,
Thy grassy turf unbruised by hostile hoof?
So sing thy flatterers; but, Britain, know,
Thou who hast shared the guilt must share the woe.
Nor distant is the hour; low murmurs spread,
And whispered fears, creating what they dread;
Ruin, as with an earthquake shock, is here, [. . . .]
* * *
Mrs. Barbauld wrote of the Napoleonic Wars, but in her vision of the near future, she saw ruin.
The future may hold Utopia, but it may also hold Apocalypse.
* * *
By the way, Anna Lætitia Barbauld is in the Internet Speculative Fiction Database.
|"The Questioner of the Sphinx" (1863), by the American artist Elihu Vedder (1836-1923).|
Original text copyright 2021, 2023 Terence E. Hanley