The sands brush across her face, soft and warm, granules coating her skin in a glittering layer of pale dust. A few paces before her, two great trunks of dark stone rise higher, higher towards the clear azure sky. Heat from the sun beats down hard, throwing harsh, glaring light onto the ruined, shattered visage that crumbles, half-forgotten in the desert.
But she remembers. She remembers when time was different, when gods walked the Earth and men were beautiful for their mortality. Every breath could be their last; they may yet never again see the sun rise or set upon their warm, dusty land. It truly was a tragically-beautiful time.
Until men fashioned themselves into gods. Until they demanded more and thought they deserved immortality. Oh, how she thought to curse them with that, to watch their world spin and rage and die away, falling ever more irrelevant while they themselves continued on. Only then would they realize what a horror it was to be immortal, to wish yourself away and ended and go on, ever on across the threshold of the world into the dying of the light…
Many people wander to the Egyptian treasures of the British Museum to see the famed Rosetta Stone. And while I look at it and marvel that this single slab of rock, covered in script, is the reason we have been able to decipher hieroglyphics, there are other things which seize my attention. There, just to the left stands Ozymandias himself. We may know him better as Rameses II, one of the greatest pharaohs of Egypt, but Percy Shelley immortalized him forever in the hearts of poetry-lovers as Ozymandias. And it is from that poem that this post takes its title.
I am still in a strange emotional state, forcing myself through jet-lag and the roller-coaster ride that is walking through the treasures of Greece, but I made my mum a promise to say hello to the mummies for her. Mummies hold little fascination for me, though I know that my mum has always loved them. I’m more interested in what the Egyptians built (or, rather, had built by slaves) — their monuments and structures are so easily recognizable and their sheer size is enough to marvel at. I look up into the face of Ozymandias and I don’t have to wonder if he knew whether or not he was running out of time. I think the Egyptian pharaohs knew the impact of mortality well-enough, which is why they immortalized themselves in the monuments that were built.
I search for one pharaoh more so than all the others, disappointed and unsurprised when I do not find him. He was labeled the world’s first monotheist — or at least the first ruler to institute a monotheistic state religion. He has been called a visionary, a madman, and a heretic. He was stricken from the records with such thorough diligence, that the world would have forgotten whom he was, just as the Egyptians had intended. They would have stolen the small measure of immortality that he had designed for himself.
I walk past several monuments to his father, Amenhotep III, and there is only one treasure, one piece of the Egyptian past that holds any true mention of Akhenaten…and it is of his absence, of his being stricken from this list of kings. His son achieved modern celebrity, what could have once been called the nouveau immortality before the rapid pace of the Internet age, by being discovered, tomb untouched and forgotten, in the Valley of the Kings. Tutankhamun, born as Tutankhaten; the boy king forever reduced to a glittering golden mask. His father, Akhenaten, was not so lucky, for he was reduced to nothingness, to being forgotten and abandoned, whisked away by the sands of the desert and of time.
I am amazed more at just how long ago the rule of the pharaohs was: the Ancient Greeks would have looked at the Ancient Egyptians the way that we look at the Ancient Greeks. Thousands of years passed by in the sands of Egypt, an entire empire rose and fell before the Greeks became as we remember them today.
Time stops for no one.
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.
One thought on “A Shattered Visage Lies”
One of my very favourite poems!