The Inspiration of Ozymandias

JT Ellison


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 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.

Whew. Shelley just does it for me.

Sometimes I forget that my first love growing up was poetry.
Though I had dual majors in college, I was an English Lit major at heart.
Politics was fun, and stimulating, and, well, practical. But I reveled in the
literature coursework. Who wouldn’t – homework consisted of reading. Poetry,
the classics – my battered, dog-earned, written upon Norton’s Anthology of
English Literature was my most prized possession. It still is.

It all started with Tennyson. Alfred Lord, to be exact. Who
wouldn’t love the imagery, the absolute desolation of his powerful words?

When I was a little girl, I used to sneak into my parent’s
bookshelf and read. One of the first things I discovered was my mom’s book of
poetry. I sat on the floor on the other side of their bed, the door to the hall
half closed, blocking me from sight. I was a sneak thief, stealing little
moments of influence.

It was early on when I discovered it. The work so
compelling, so overwhelming that I snuck in the bedroom as often as I could to
read it again and again.

A fragment of a poem, bristling with promise, the glory its
very succinctness. The Eagle.

He clasps the crags with crooked hands;
Close to
the sun in lonely lands,
Ringed with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls:
He watches from
his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt, he falls.

Sigh. What is it about this piece that devastates me so?
I’ve never really been able to put my finger on the why. But it opened the door
to who I am today. As a little girl, something in my very core shifted the day
I read this poem. I wanted to do that. I wanted to find a way to devastate a
reader. I wanted to create the words that would blow some other little girl
away. It was an epiphany. I started writing.

My parents, of course, knew I was rooting around in their
world. They never dissuaded me, only encouraged me. I think it tickled them,
their towheaded tomboy in love with words. I read everything I could, tried my
hand at writing. Found a vocation. An all-consuming vacuum to get lost in,
over, and over, and over. Words.

Quick fast forward through college. I tried my hand at the
B-school, but did horribly. The only class I succeeded in that year was
English. So I, ahem, transferred schools. But I had to take a semester off, so
I worked on a political campaign. Got bit by another bug. When I enrolled at Randolph-Macon
Woman’s College, I declared two majors, Politics and English Lit. The politics
was fun for a long time, but my romantic soul got too disillusioned to continue
in the field. Where did that leave me? Well, Norton’s Anthology was on the

Not to give anything away, but ALL THE PRETTY GIRLS has some
of my favorite poems on the pages. Just not the way you’d imagine.

Where did all this come from, you ask? Today’s Writer’s
Almanac had the poem Ozymandias, by Percy Bysshe Shelley. Good
old Percy. Loved him. Loved Ozymandias. It made me remember the moment
in college when I read it and felt that same tingle of devastation that I’d had
so many years before when I read The Eagle. Sometimes, a short piece of
art is just as good as an ode, you know?

I read Oz today, and my heart filled up with that
indescribable love again. I forget my roots too often. I labor over my words
when I should read the Romantics – learn how to write, how to reach, how to
influence all over again.

Thanks for indulging my trip down memory lane. I think
Norton and I have a date. 

So tell me, what was your inspiration? Can you trace it to a moment in time?

Wine of the Week — For all you romantics out there —

Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino Poggio all’Oro Riserva 1999

Just saying it is sexy, the wine itself is outstanding. Decant and let it breathe for at least 30 minutes.

I’ve been hopelessly discriminatory when it comes to you
white wine lovers. I’m sorry about that – white wine gives me migraines, so I
avoid it outside of baking. So, in an attempt to be fair, I will be adding a
White Wine of the Week – just realize that it’s not MY taste buds guiding the
selection, rather the taste buds and tasting menu of someone I trust.

White Wine of the Week —

Quinta da Aveleda – Aveleda Vihno Verde (Portugal)


Click on the link to see this great new issue, including my short story KILLING CAROL ANN.

12 thoughts on “The Inspiration of Ozymandias

  1. Beatrice Brooks

    My inspiration was BOYS AND GIRLS TOGETHER by William Goldman, the first book that made me cry. I wanted to make people cry.

    As for poetry, Poe’s lyricism enthralled me.

    Hugs,Deni Dietz

  2. Iden Ford

    Seeing Led Zeppelin at the Toronto Rockpile in 1969. If you link on my name which links to my blog, I just posted my recollection of that event, along with a photo. I did not take that photo. But that experience had a profound effect on my creativity for the rest of my life. Also reading Irwin Shaw’s book Nightwork. That book turned me into a lover of fiction. Great book, Great read.

  3. J.B. Thompson

    It might be a trite answer, but for me, it was Shakespeare. I fell in love with ol’ Will in high school and just wanted to soak up everything he wrote – plays, sonnets (#30 is my personal favorite) – I have a rather large volume on my bookshelf now, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Every so often I’ll dig it out and read something just to satisfy that craving. It speaks to me, makes me want to write as evocatively and colorfully as he did. The fact that his works are being “modernized” in so many different ways speaks volumes to the timelessness of everything he wrote, and though I could never hope to be as prolific, he inspires me to write with the same passion.

  4. Eric Mayer

    If I had to name one inspiration it would be The Wind in the Willows. When my grandmother read it to me, the world it depicted seemed much more appealing than the one I was stuck in so I guess the creation of such worlds struck me as a wonderful idea.

  5. JT Ellison

    Linda, I guess I should say cooking — I dump white wine into stuff I make, and I certainly I don’t remember a recipe for chocolate chip white wine cookies 🙂 Sheesh.Eric, loved WIND IN THE WILLOWS. Great one.JB, Will is a fav over here too. I took a class that featured Patrick Stewart in all the Shakesperian roles — a whole semester of the bard. Awesome.Iden, you and my husband would get along great. Music is his first inspiration.Deni — haven’t read Goldman, but I agree about Poe. His work haunts me.

  6. Naomi

    Wow, this was my first peruse of Spinetingler Magazine. What a wonderful publication. It’s more than 180 friggin’ pages. My gosh, Sandra, that is a LOT of work.

    I didn’t get a chance to read your story yet, J.T. I might have to wait until I get a hard copy of the magazine.

    And speaking of wine–recently visited San Antonio Winery in the middle of industrial Los Angeles, just east of downtown. Founded in early 1900s, San Antonio had the first wine tasting bar in the nation. The winery also received a special dispensation to produce altar wine during the Prohibition (I think maybe the only winery allowed to). Needless to say, it seems a lot of individuals who turning Catholic at the time! There’s a crime story here, for sure.

  7. Sandra Ruttan

    Deni, what’s so cute is, I hear people saying you’re so funny! You wanted to make people cry, but don’t you actually make them laugh? I think both are important.

    I’ve had waves of inspiration JT. From books I read as a child to books I read as an adult that inspired a critical turning point in my writing. They’re what I call my ‘milestone moments’ and they stay with me.

    Thanks for the link. Excellent story.

  8. Pari

    I wrote my first poem when I was six. Yep. It’s true.

    O, sea.O, sea.The great red sea.My love. My dove.The great red sea.

    (It went on for several stanzas)

    Poetry has always been very important to me. As a kid, I fell in love with The Highwayman (a nod to Deni here) and its marvelous refrain. In mid school, I used to hide in a corner in the school library with a friend and read e.e. cummings aloud.

    That love for language and cadence has never left me–though your wonderful piece reminded me of the essential pleasure of poetry once again.

    Thank you, JT.

  9. JT Ellison

    Naomi, what a great insight! If I get to Cali, you must promise to take me there, it sounds fascinating.Sandra, your magazine rocks. A brilliant issue. You’re a big music inspiration person too, aren’t you?Pari, I love your poem. Even at six, you have the ability to evoke emotion. Beautiful!The highwayman is the inspiration for my victims in my newest book. Terrible, but red lipped daughter just stands out so well.Ah, better put a link to this amazing poem in for those unitiated:

  10. Elaine

    Darn, wish I had a favorite poem to offer, but alas, I don’t. I was into Micky Spillane in high school, guess I missed out, huh?

    Terrific post, J.T. Makes me ponder the power of poetry.


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