by Horace Smith
IN Egypt’s sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desart 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.
by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 – 1822)
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.”
Where does inspiration arise? In the case of Shelley’s famous poem, it came from a little gamesmenship between two friends, a modest wager of who could write the better poem after seeing a drawing of Ozymandias pictured above. Smith was a friend of Shelley’s and the two each wrote a sonnet after reading a portion of Diodorus Siculus’ Bibliotheca historica, a history of the known world in the last century BC, much of which survives.
It does not seem such an odd place for poetic inspiration. My parents invested in a complete Encyclopedia Britanica as a child, a very expensive addition to our library, and placed it on the lowest book shelf to give all of us easy access. It served two purposes as a child. It was the perfect building material for adding height and variation to hot wheel tracks, when hot wheels were only powered by gravity, and on rainy days, I would sit by the heater with the cats, and pull out a letter and browse through it, stumbling upon all kinds of interesting things I knew nothing about. In grade school the Encyclopedia was the first place you went to begin a book report or paper on any subject. Today, you see them out for free at yard sales, the owners hoping someone will cart them off.
I will never completely succumb to the lure of the simplicity of the digital era. I don’t want an algorithm dictating what I do and don’t see based on past searches. I want the freedom to stumble across something completely foreign and inviting. I still look at maps, instead of relying on GPS for the same reason. A map gives you context. A map can tell you things about your surroundings that you had no idea existed. A map can help you take the detour that turns out to be your real destination after all. And I still enjoy finding an encyclopedia and pulling out a letter and opening it up randomly to find out what cool thing in Volume W might contain.