I’m well listened. I know my symphonies, concertos, and ballets. I have a pretty strong knowledge of them from a technical standpoint as well as I’ve actually studied the scores of a lot of great Classical music.
But, for poetry? C-. Maybe even a D+. I don’t know my poetry.
It’s a weakness.
I’m also not as literate as I should be. Last cruise I was on back in May, I was bragging to the Russian bartender that I was a big fan of Russian culture. I’ve studied the scores of Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, and Rimsky-Korsakov. One of these days, I’ll get around to Rachmaninoff and Borodin as well.
Then, she asked me if I’ve ever read Russian Lit. I gave a blank stare and she gave me a shameful look.
But, like life, work in progress. Some day, I’ll be well-read.
I want to whip out my favorite poem of all-time. It’s from Percy Bysshe Shelley and since he died in 1822, I think we can safely say the copyright has long expired. So, I can legally print it in full and his descendants can’t sue me.
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.”
Why I liked it
I was absolutely obsessed with fame as a teenager. I wanted to be the greatest quarterback there ever was back in junior high. I was awesome. The best football player in my grade.
Then, everyone else grew. I didn’t.
I had some empty years. Treated everyone like shit because I was bitter and lost.
Then we moved to the South. In the middle of my high school years.
No loss for me though. Like I said, I was bitter and lost. Totally empty. I had no purpose.
Then out of the blue, second day of my new high school, this guy sits right behind me. He just got out of jail, and nobody would talk to him.
So of course, he and I became immediately best friends.
He taught me to play guitar, then disappeared six months later.
I moved back to California alone after high school. Obsessed with fame with my newfound gift, I went from band to band. Each one rising. Each one with dreams of being the one that made it. Then, each one faltering. And I became Ozymandius, except, without the statue in the sand.
I read this poem again to be reminded of the futility of hubris. Was I creating music for fame and fortune? What if I had made it, become a larger than life figure, and realized in the end that I did it for all the wrong reasons? Knowing the music fell short and I did it for fortune and fame rather than for the art, and died in despair?
Now, decades later, I come to art once more, as a humble student. One without a quest for fortune or fame. But rather one with a trio of muses, and a passion for the art for art’s sake.
Now, whether I die as a regular man or as a famous artist, I can die without despair. I’ve lived a worthy life. And did art for all the right reasons.
I am not Ozymandius. I am me. Finally.