First Affections: Ozymandias

This summer Robert Archambeau wrote a breezy (and yet smart) personal Biographia Literaria on his Samizdat Blog. He demonstrates a deep poetic education. Like Coleridge, he reads and writes quickly and astutely. He also consumes (or appears to comprehend) entire literary oeuvres. Therefore, he can write convincingly about his debts to Whitman, Pound, Matthias, Wordsworth, Byron, Johnson, Blake, and (now) Coleridge. (So many Romantics, why no Keats?) To be sure, these are a scholar’s debts (and undoubtedly, a reader’s and a writer’s debts too), but I wonder if there’s not also a smaller, more quotidian way to tell the history of one’s poetic affections.

Earlier this week I was rereading a few of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poems. This is always a good time of the year to read the opening lines of “Ode to the West Wind“, but what caught my attention and reminded me of Archambeau’s ambitious literary biography, was my long (and yet infrequent) fondness for Shelley’s “Ozymandias“. I first read the poem at the age of 13. I remember exactly where I was sitting. Facing west, at a classroom desk one seat away from the windows. My useless middle school teacher was painting her nails or reading romance novels, anything but teaching. Flipping to the back of my textbook, I discovered poetry. In “Ozymandias” it rhymed, was packed with moral irony, and echoed the biblical sensibilities that meant (and mean) so much to me. In the next couple of years I read nearly every poetry book I could find in my tiny school library.

As it turns out, I am not a devotee of Shelley’s poetry. I tire of his lurid long-windedness. Likewise, “Ozymandias” seems a bit too easy–milk, not meat–but I owe it (or should blame it) for much.


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