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Ozymandias, perhaps

Sunday, 10 November, 2013

The arrival in London in 1821 of a colossal statue of Ramesses II, acquired for the British Museum by the Italian adventurer Giovanni Belzoni, is said to have inspired Percy Bysshe Shelley to compose Ozymandias. The central theme of the sonnet is the contrast between the inevitable decline of all empires with the lasting power of art. Talking of art, Episode 14, Season 5, of Breaking Bad was entitled Ozymandias and was directly influenced by the poem’s content, which is also recited in its entirety at the opening of several episodes.

Ozymandias

Ozymandias

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”.

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 — 1822)


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