Blog #216: Sunken Words and “Ozymandias”


“Ozymandias”

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of sone
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”

Over eight years now since I sensed “Ozymandias” lying in the shadows of To the Lighthouse (Blog # 60), and only now am I shown what I sensed. “In reading we have to allow the sunken meanings to remain sunken” said Virginia in “Craftsmanship”, her 1937 radio talk, and I certainly have done that, though not at all consciously. For all my interest in Egypt and in Shelley I failed to see what should have been so obvious: I failed to see the words of Shelley’s poem lying openly about. Now, thanks to Heidi Stalla’s 2008 article, “William Bankes: Echoes of Egypt in Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse”, the words are excavated for me in all their suggestiveness. With attention drawn to Mr. Ramsay’s boots, “sculptured; colossal”, and Mr. Ramsay “looking like some old stone lying on the sand,” “Ozymandias” is made visible.

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