Posted by Ben Koch

The rise and fall of modern regimes across the planet always reminds me of the  wickedly poignant poem “Ozymandias” by the British Romantic poet Percy Shelley. The tribulations this past month have been no exception. When Egyptian dictator Mubarak clung irrationally to power in the face of obvious futility, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to the delusional Ozymandias below–seduced by the thought that his power and influence might somehow last forever. Just today, Libya’s Colonel Gadhafi gave a raving speech tinged with just enough irrational madness to convince us that in the contemporary world power can intoxicate as lethally as it ever did in the ancient world described by Shelley.

Plant the lesson in your heart: monuments of ego are destined to weather and ruin. Monuments of compassion and bodhicitta transcend physical structures and become encoded in the very universe.

by 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.

Excerpted from Percy Bysshe Shelley Selected Poems, Dover Publications, Inc.: New York (1993)



About bensten

Teacher, writer, blogger and spiritual practitioner. Managing editor of

5 responses »

  1. Lance Kuttner says:

    “The unexamined life is not worth living..” (Socrates). Indeed we do well to reflect on how small we are lest we live a wasted life – our lives are too important to be wasted as such.

  2. erika pande says:

    “ozymandias” is really a good poem

  3. I love that poem. A favorite. Byzantium was great for 1000 years and they were run over, and yet in America and mere 200 plus makes us arrogant. We ought to be humble.

  4. bensten says:

    Very well put! And I think that makes it important for all of us–not just dictators. We are all in denial about our own mortality…

  5. abhiqrtz says:

    ‘Ozymandias’ has been one of my favourite poems since the first time I read it. How much does Shelley say in fourteen lines of a sonnet!

    But there is, at least in my mind, another theme in this poem. Of mortality. Of course, it is related to the one explored here, but I find some deep sense when I reflect that for all his might, all that remains of Ozymandias are two stone feet.

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