I Met A Traveler From An Antique Land

ozymandiasMy class of 6th graders is in the throes of memorizing the Percy Bysshe Shelley poem “Ozymandias.” Amidst complaints about the length, I am trying to help them see the valuable lesson this classic poem teaches: Build yourself up and you will eventually fall.

“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.’”

 

This poem was said to be about Pharaoh Rameses II of Egypt, also known as Rameses the Great. He ruled Egypt for 66 years and lived to an unprecedented 90 or 91 years of age. The average age for someone who actually survived childhood was only the mid-50s. So he had reason to think he was all that. He led great military campaigns, he built cities and monuments. But in the end, his mummy lies in  a museum in Cairo. Immortality was not his to be found.sandcastles-and-mudpies

You  might recall a story with a similar lesson that Jesus told. “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it” (Matthew 7:24-27).

And this: “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36).

We spend a lot of time trying to make a name for ourselves. Amass more riches, build a bigger building, create the next latest and greatest. In the end, none of that will remain.

So where should we invest our time and talents? People. Only people will remain forever. Love them well, teach them truth, show them kindness.

In other words, be like Jesus.

In Matthew 25:40, Jesus says this about serving those in need and being kind to others: “‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”

Go and do likewise.

sandcastle photo by sandcastles and mudpies

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4 thoughts on “I Met A Traveler From An Antique Land

  1. Wonderful poem. I have appreciated the wisdom in it for many years. Your students will always be glad that they learned it.
    By the way, as my Jewish project manager informed me as he was writing his estimate today, my name, Shelley, means “Mine” in Hebrew.

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