American Empire, Blood, Class, and Nostalgia: Anglo-American Ironies, British Empire, Carl Sagan, Christopher Hitchens, class, Coffee With Jammer, Constantine, Egyptian Empire, Empire, Fall Out 4, Horace Smith, Julius Caesar, Literature, Ozymandias, Pale Blue Dot, Percy Shelley, Poetry, Rameses II, Rejected Addresses: Or, The New Theatrum Poetarum, Roman Empire, Rome, Sonnet, The North American Society for the Study of Romanticism, Victorianism
This essay was originally published on The North American Society for the Study of Romanticism’s blog. The full essay can be read on their home page by accessing the link at the end.
Every chance I get, I read Ozymandias. I should clarify, though, because that makes it sound like all I do is read the same poem over and over again (in the shower, in lines at Burger King, or mowing the lawn)—that’s just not the case at all. Fall Out 4 recently came out, and my lovely-lady-scientist wife bought it for me as an birthday present. In between the soul-crushing bouts of non-stop homework, I play it endlessly. That is, of course when I’m not busy reading graphic novels for a book club I participate in every two weeks, and when I’m not playing with my puppy Huckleberry, or talking to friends over a weekly meeting I call “Coffee with Jammer” (I’m currently in talks with PBS about making it into a series) or when…you know, perhaps it’s better to be honest, and say whenever I stumble upon the poem, I take the time to read it.
I struggled over what to write for this month’s essay, and while at first I was tempted to discuss my personal feelings about Pride & Prejudice & Zombies (Spoiler: it’s a negative opinion, but not for the reason you probably think), I recognized that I would be doing a disservice to my previous English teachers as well as my regular readers if I did not take the time to write at some point about Ozymandias. Or, at the very least, my reflections on Ozymandias.
I’ll cite the whole poem before I move forward. I know you just read it because all you read is Romantic poetry and never Twilight even though you told yourself you were just buying it as a joke and you keep it in the bathroom and you read the first page and even though you know its malarkey and rubbish you keep reading and…anyway, the poem:
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.”
My first thought whenever I read the poem is Rome—though that may be because I’m an American. For whatever reason, the Roman Empire haunts the creative and political imagination of Americans, and if you don’t believe me, look at the architecture of many of the monuments in Washington D.C. I suspect on some level, it’s a recognition of the parallels between the physical and political cultures. America is so big, our power seems endless, and the state of Texas alone can engulf Britain and still leave plenty of room for countries like Italy, Portugal, and Belgium combined. With all that in mind, and recognizing the way Americans have been involved in world affairs ever since the Second World War, the notion that our country, that hallmark of democratic virtue and liberty, is a kind of empire that spans the known world, exists in our consciousness creating a grandiosity that, apart from perhaps the British Empire (but I’ll get to that in a minute), only Rome could equal our power.
This consciousness, however, is plagued by paranoia, for as an Empire we recognize that there is a failing in us, something that makes us vulnerable to outside influence or internal corruption, and so “the idea that was Rome” becomes a trope in movies, historical fiction, and atrocious lines in hipster poetry slams.
TO SEE THE FULL ARTICLE FOLLOW THE LINK TO THE NASSR BLOG HOME PAGE HERE: