One of my all-time favorite poems is Ozymandias. It was written by Percy Bysshe Shelly and first published in the British magazine The Examiner in 1818. The central theme of Ozymandias is the inevitable decline of all leaders, and of the empires they built, however mighty in their own time.

English Romantic poet  was born on August 4, 1792 in Sussex England and, as in  most wealthy families, was Educated at Eton (boys had/have to be registered at birth or before to be able attend Eton) and Oxford. He was expelled from Oxford because he refused to admit to writing a controversial essay.

Not long after that, the 18 year-old Shelley eloped with 16 year-old Harriet Westbrook, daughter of a tavern owner. Shelley and Harriett loved on a small income from their families and had two children together.  Shelley became a follower of the radical reformer William Godwin and fell in love with Godwin’s daughter Mary. The two fled to Europe in 1814 and married after poor Harriet committed suicide two years later. Shelley was denied custody of his and Harriet’s two children.

Shelley’s inheritance did not pay all the bills and the couple spend much of their married life abroad to escape Shelley’s creditors. While living in Geneva the Shelleys and their dear friend Lord Byron challenge each other to write a compelling ghost story.  Only Mary Shelley finished hers—Frankenstein.

Meanwhile, Shelley wrote poetry. Some of his best work, including his masterpiece Prometheus Unbound (published 1820), “Ode to the West Wind,” and “To a Skylark” and my favorite “Ozymandias”.

The Shelleys had five children, but only one lived to adulthood. Mary Shelley was only 24 when Percy died in a sailing accident.  She lived on a small stipend from her father-in-law, Lord Shelley, until her surviving son inherited his fortune and title in 1844.

Ozymandias

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desart. 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

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