#70 – Ozymandias

Ozymandias was the Greek name for the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses II. What remains of Ramesses II’s vast empire? A sonnet written in 1817 by Percy Bysshe Shelley answers that question. Written on the pedestal of a statue of the great Pharaoh were these words:

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.

The next question is what does the disappearance of an ancient Egyptian empire have to do with America today? Politicians are often hearkening back to “the good ole days.” But if they are out of power they characterize the “current events” as disastrous and in need of a change. For example, Ronald Reagan’s political ad “Morning in America” promised a positive change. It worked for him just as “Make America Great Again” worked for Donald Trump. How many times are we going to let politicians sell us the Brooklyn Bridge or how much snake oil can we swallow?

Politicians and empires come and go but what does it all mean? Many of us have turned to our ability to reason to answer that question. Many books have been written trying to give answers explaining human behavior over time and even a few to give meaning to the evolution of Creation itself.

Yan Morvan in his illustrated book Battlefields, confronts the reader whether politician or citizen with how to rationalize humanity’s propensity for violence. “A lot of colorless sky above. If you look hard enough you can almost see the thousands of ghosts whose bodies are fertilizing the homeland.” (1)

Bears Ears: View From a Sacred Land by Stephen E. Strom focuses on both man and nature. In 2016, President Obama set aside 1.35 million acres of public land in southeastern Utah, intending to protect for all time more than 100,000 sacred Native American sites. “What Yellowstone is to wildlife, as Bear Ears is to geology.” (1)

Humanity is clearly engaged in a massive effort to change the planet on which we live whether by accident or design. What do see when we open the book Wild Land: A Journey Into the Earth’s Last Wilds by Peter and Beverly Pickford? “Subsequent pages of wandering musk ox in the Arctic, polar bears (what world designed such creatures, and how long did it take?), sea turtles, moonscape deserts and undersea schools of fish as infinite as the flocks of birds in the sky all cause the reader to stare agape, changed.” (1)

But are we indeed changed? Clearly, beauty and truth outlast the lust for power but how can our lost and bewildered human community discover what is true and come to appreciate and value what is beautiful? Shelley sounded a warning two centuries ago in his sonnet. Are we listening?

Learn more in the links below. 

Insight # 70:  Throwing myself on the sand, confronting the waves, I, changer of pains and joys, uniter of here and hereafter.  –  Walt Whitman

Links:  

Reference:

  1. Bass, Rick. “Mother Nature.” The New York Times Book Review. December 2, 2018, page 65. 

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