Sitting on my desk is a frame containing the poem “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley. The paper is yellowing a bit, the ink is fading some, and the frame shows scratches from being packed and moved multiple times, job to job and house to house.
My high school friend Nick gave this to me as a graduation gift, after we spent a lot of time discussing the poem in one of Ms. Schneider’s classes (was it AP English? Composition? British Literature II? It had to have been AP English, because we discussed later how lucky we were to have been prepared when it turned up on that year’s AP English Exam).
While I had the mechanics of the poem down pat as far as school went, I did not really appreciate the message of “Ozymandias” at the time. I have re-read it often since then, though I don’t need to; it is the only poem I can recite from memory.
I don’t want to be Ozymandias. I am sure that some people who have sat on the other side of my desk and read the poem facing them probably think that I do. I am driven, and I am tenacious, but I am not Ozymandias. I keep this framed poem on my desk, not to inspire me to be ruthless and uncaring, but to remind myself that I am not important in the grand scheme of things; that being prideful gets me nothing in the end; and that when I say that “I have no desire for a legacy” I’m not being nihilistic or falsely modest, but realistic and practical.
In the long arc of time, no one remembered who Ozymandias was; his monuments and city did not last, and all the traveler in the poem was able to find was a shattered statue and sand stretching as far as the eye could see. Ozymandias built his legacy to prove that he was “king of kings.” My drive and tenacity are on behalf of my community, not for myself, and keeping “Ozymandias” on my desk reminds me that it’s not all about me. Thanks, Nick!