Miss Petersen told us that the greatest poem ever written was Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Ozymandias,"
I met a traveller from an antique landShe challenged us to memorize it: not an easy task, even though it is not long--I, for example, kept substituting "ancient" for "antique." She had the poem posted in large letters on the wall in front of where I sat. I spent nearly a year staring at Shelley's words, and eventually managed to memorize "Ozymandias," filing it away in the back of my brain somewhere from whence, to the chagrin of colleagues years later, on occasion snippets of Shelley would erupt such as, "Look on my works, ye Mighty and despair."
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd 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.
Only long after high school did I come to understand Miss Petersen's point. Shelley's little poem is an extraordinary and powerful indictment of arrogance. In about one hundred words, Shelley punctures the hubris of rulers and empire builders. It heartened me, as it would have the late-Miss Petersen, to see the poem have a bit of a "comeback" thanks to the TV show "Breaking Bad," which titled one of its best episodes "Ozymandias." The show's star, Bryan Cranston, by the way, does a terrific reading of the poem--well worth spending the minute or so listening to it.
It is tough to read or hear the poem without thinking about what has been happening in our country the last few days. I watched just a bit of His Mightiness's press conference yesterday. Sickening is the kindest word I can use to label it. He had the Ozymandias "wrinkled lip and sneer." It was all about him. Everything is about him and how he stands up to the "radicals" in the GOP. He derides them for "wanting it all" but gives every indication that he himself also wants it all. (He sounds like Stalin deriding Hitler for wanting Poland.) This is not a man who knows how to lead, or engage in rough-and-tumble but yet restrained "non-nuke" democratic political negotiation. Reagan and O'Neil knew how to do it; Clinton and Gingrich did, too. This man is just a practitioner of community organizer thuggery. As I have written before and others, too, the most blatant example of this thuggery, one not even the MSM can ignore, has been the use and abuse of the National Park police to terrorize and threaten Americans to stay away from the parks and monuments which the American people have paid to maintain. There are, of course, many other examples: his use of the ATF to arm Mexican gangs to give law abiding American gun owners a bad rap; the use of the IRS to crush political dissent; the use of the NSA to eavesdrop on American citizens; and now the Obamacare fiasco to grab control of health care and the infinite amount of sensitive data associated with it. The Park police abuse, however, remains the one that will be the iconic feature of Obama's absurd government "shutdown."
I served presidents from Carter to Obama loyally while in the Foreign Service. Yes, I was a conservative, but when dealing with foreigners I defended the policies of Clinton as much as I did those of Reagan. I, however, cannot stand this presidency and what it is doing to our country. I just hope that one day Obama and his cohorts will come to appreciate that they, too, will suffer the fate of Ozymandias, "Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare/The lone and level sands stretch far away." Assuming, of course, that it is not our country that is covered by those "lone and level sands."