You’ve probably heard of the poem Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley.
It’s among Shelley’s most famous poems. It drifts in and out of pop culture, most recently gaining acclaim in perhaps the best individual episode of the show Breaking Bad.
Here is Bryan Cranston reading Ozymandias:
The entire poem is posted below, via Wikipedia.
The Wikipedia entry describes it as exploring “the fate of history and the ravages of time: that all prominent figures and the empires that they build are impermanent and their legacies fated to decay into oblivion.”
The other day, I stumbled upon a website called OZY. The site takes its name from the first three letters of the poem.
On their About page, they claim to have a different interpretation of Ozymandias:
Most folks read that poem as a caution against big egos and the impermanence of power.
We read it differently. To us, the poem says think big, but be humble, lest you end up “two vast and trunkless legs … in the desert.”
We know that’s an unconventional interpretation. And that’s who we are. Because in a world littered with conformity, we like to see things differently.
Think big, but be humble.
It is an interesting reading of the poem. The obvious lesson of Ozymandias is that our time here in this world is fleeting, and even the mightiest of achievements will all turn to dust at some point.
But what of our legacy? We do not take a sympathetic view of the mighty king Ozymandias when we read Shelley’s poem. He comes across as arrogant and full of conceit — pride run rampant without the humility necessary to balance him and compel respect throughout the ages.
He is, indeed, as the OZY description notes, just two vast and trunkless legs in the desert. He was always destined to become this, but perhaps he could have achieved a legacy of respect and renown with some humility, plus maybe a dash or two of gratitude for the efforts of so many on whom his mighty works were built.
If we think big, if we act big, and if we achieve big … without humility as our constant companion … then our achievements can only be fleeting and, ultimately, purposeless.
Humility imbues our pride-driven work with meaning and soul and empathy.
Ozymandias needed humility.
We all do.
What is one action you could take right now to practice intentional humility?
Be better now …
Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley
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.
Flickr Creative Commons Image via John Fowler