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Sunday, May 21, 2017

The History of Ozymandias (Shelley, Horace Smith, Petre Solomon)

Shelley, draft of Ozymandias
Bodleian Library, Oxford
(source: wikimedia)
no copyright infringement intended

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

a-c-e b-d f-h g-j i-k-m l-n

Futility of any human endeavor. Hero or artist, greatness of history or perennial art (with all their love/hate details), the ultimate action of time marks them for oblivion.

My first encounter with the sonnet of Shelley was in a place I didn't expect to find it (or should I have been prepared to expect the unexpected?). It was in a book by Jared Diamond (The Third Chimpanzee), at the end of a chapter: a meditation on the way all human civilizations work for their destruction.

I had ordered that book from abroad, and while waiting for its arrival I started to read the Romanian translation. So I met firstly this sonnet in its Romanian version (a superb rendering, by Petre Solomon).

Mi-a povestit un călător venit
Dintr-un străvechi meleag: - Două picioare
De piatră-ntr-un deșert am întâlnit.
Alături, în nisip o față care,
Prin rânjetu-i pe gură-ncremenit,
Vădea că al ei sculptor deslușise
Acolo patimi, ce-au rămas întregi
Când inima ce le-a hrănit murise.
Pe soclu, limpezi, câteva cuvinte:
- „Sunt Ozymandias,  rege peste regi.
Priviți-mi opera grozavă!“
Nimic n-a mai rămas ca altădată,
Și peste tot gigantica epavă
Doar de nisipuri e împresurată.
(Opere alese, Percy Bysshe Shelley, editura ESPLA, București, 1977, p. 120, în traducerea lui Petre Solomon)

a-c-e b-d f-h g-j k-m l-n

Then I found the original, together with its competitor (Shelley and his friend Horace Smith had decided to work each one on the same theme, and the two sonnets were published in 1818 by The Examiner).

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.

a-d b-c-e-g f-h i-j-l k-m-n


(Petre Solomon)

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