Percy Bysshe 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.”
Shelley wrote Ozymandias in 1819. The title of the poem is the Greek name for the Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II, the most powerful ruler of Egypt’s New Kingdom, which is considered the height of the entirety of the ancient Egyptian empire. This would have made Ramesses II one of the most powerful people to ever live. To put it in slight perspective, the Egyptian empire formed around 3100 BC, and would last in various forms until 30 BC when Egypt became part of the Roman empire. The United States has been a country for 246 years. It has been a world power for just about 100 years. The British Empire lasted some 400 years, the Ming Dynasty in China about 300. The Egyptian Empire held sway for over three thousand years. Ramesses II was the most powerful leader of one of the most enduring civilizations in human history.
And yet, as Shelley points out, in the end a monument to his greatness lay in the desert, broken.