19 Nov




Ozymandias wasn’t written in a burgeoning time of empire, but after the French revolution and more importantly after the defeat of the revolutionary French by the British at Waterloo in 1815. In an age of singular innovation, Britain was the workplace of the world, the mother, literally, of invention and the epitome of national hubris. The sun of the late 19th and early 20th centuries never set on Queen Victoria’s estate and Britain was supposedly forever. British culture was the most exulted the world had ever seen, or was it?

The statue of Shelley’s Ozymandias lies buried in the sands of some distant land. Crushed and forgotten the debris lays half buried in what are clearly the sands of time. The once prominent dominions of the great leader now destroyed and forgotten, the only indication that ever there was empire is the inscription on the pedestal. My name is Ozymandias king of kings: Look on my works you mighty and despair. Despite his forlorn state, the cruel sneer of command still plays on the decapitated lips of a once great but now forgotten king. How the mighty are fallen, and that’s exactly what the poem expresses.

Post colonialism is aptly applied in that it shows us that nothing is forever. Empires come and go and although they may leave a stain in some corner of a foreign field their demise is nothing but predictable. Who hasn’t held power over the centuries and who no longer has it? Certainly there are countries such as Britain where there are still those who cling to the old adage of empire, retrospective optimists of an era when the country was both great in name and state; now however, much to their chagrin, not so much.

Quotidian media announces ad nauseam the rise of China and how China, unlike our broken king, is surmounting the world stage and carving a pedestal of its own. What people forget is that when Italy was a collection of city states and the Renaissance hadn’t even been considered, China was already a power to behold. Shelley’s lesson proclaims that we live in a cyclical world where that which once was old is once again new and vice versa. China will rise again but it’s unlikely that our statue in the antique land will do the same. Shelley’s poem is a warning, a timeless epitaph to those who believe that the centuries will not destroy nor the years hold them accountable. The forlorn hope that somehow one will escape the ravages of time will, just as the Titanic and our forgotten king, slip silently beneath the waves and wind driven deserts. The lesson of post colonialism is exactly that, a warning against overt hubris and a keen lesson to those blind to change.

Viva La Revolucion!



  1. Jennifer Fawcett June 21, 2014 at 8:04 pm #

    “The good want power, but to weep barren tears.
    The powerful goodness want: worse need for them.
    The wise want love; and those who love want wisdom;
    And all best things are thus confused to ill. ”

    In other words: nobody wins.

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