Friday, December 14, 2012

Ozymandias (Watchmen) | BROKEN

Here is an exert from Jonathan Fisks's BROKEN, pages 112-115, 138, 143:

“Ozymandias” (1818) is a poem written by Percy Bysshe Shelley, the husband of the woman who authored Frankenstein.... It’s a short poem, as precise as it is beautiful. It goes a little something like this:

I met a traveler from an antique land

Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the dessert. 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. . . . 

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 stones and level sands stretch far away.” 

Can you see it? There is a peddler with his carts and mules wandering without direction through endless, deserted sands. The scalding gusts blow at the scarf draped around his head and loosens his cloak so it billows behind him. But then all stops. He stands alone, silent, in a holy grotto, some mystic, pagan shrine seemingly undisturbed by the fouling winds. But it has been disturbed. Not even this sanctuary has hidden itself from time.

At its center is less than half a man, his stone knees and thighs pockmarked by long and ceaseless weathering. His torso has fallen, but who can say where? Perhaps it was hauled away by another peddler like himself, thinking to make a profit. Beside the broken monument lies the head, with one forsaken hand.

“What is this strange, abandoned relic?” the merchant asks himself, edging closer to wipe the residue of dust from its faded base. There, in strange Egyptian runes (which, of course, he has studied) he reads the mighty legacy: “Thou gazest on Ozymandias! Pharaoh of pharaohs and Emperor of All! Tremble at me, at my magnificence, and at all I have created. Be struck with awe at my supremacy. Bow even at my memory, for none has risen like me, and none shall again!”

That’s it. All else is wasteland, sand, and dune. The only striking is the scalding of the sun, and the only trembling is the chuckle of laughter bubbling in the merchant’s belly at the boast now turned by a decapitated stone scowl into the most comically ferocious of jokes. This Pharaoh of pharaohs, whomever he was, was a very unhappy looking sort!

“Poor chap,” the peddler mutters. “With breath alone I am so much more than you.”

As a young man struggling against the destructive storms and passions of the bizarre American experience, the words of the poem blew me away. Everything came rocketing home, congealing into one epic revelation of my own vanity breaking against the cliffs of futility. All my victories and all my failures stood as immortally irrelevant as a statue in the middle of the Sahara. A man doesn’t need to wait for the Day of Judgment to learn the true value of mortality. We are all Ozymandiases. Not only do we all have the same end, but more important, we all also have the same terribly mistaken habit of thinking that by our efforts we can make the end to be something better. We think if we can only live, breathe, eat, drink, and work long enough and hard enough, then eventually we’ll get everything to the place where what we have done will really, truly, actually matter.

Fame. Glory. Meaning. Who can blame us? Everything about this life looks as if it really does matter, as if our efforts on this planet should amount to something. Sure, life has some bumps, but isn’t it obvious that with a little elbow grease we can smooth those out? There isn’t one of us who doesn’t need to eat three square meals a day, but who is going to argue if we find ways to make those meals taste better? We each need a little sleep, and we can’t do it while standing, working, or keeping watch. So who wouldn’t want a softer bed, a more stable lock for the door, or some way to cheaply and easily heat the home in winter or cool it in summer? What’s wrong with trying to make the best we can of this material world?

Nothing. There is nothing inherently evil about a little filet mignon, an iPod, or a car new off the lot. But, there is something terribly, horribly wrong with all of them because sooner or later (and more often sooner) they’re all going to rot, rust, get digested, get excreted, burn out, go out of fashion, and/or fall apart. Tables and chairs, pots and pans, shirts and shoes, everything that is anything in the world has the same cursed predicament of looking gorgeous and seeming as if it might just last forever, but never proving to be anything more than fading dust in reality. This goes not only for all the “stuff” we spend our lives trying so hard to make and own and keep and fix. Worse. Against all our incessant hopes, dreams, and lies, this goes for you and me too. Even if Ozymandias did really live and achieve the consummate height of all the demigod pharaohs put together, it still amounted to a silly attempt to cut down the largest tree in the forest with . . . with . . . a herring.

... Against this sandy land where storms will come and blow, authentic Christianity stands firm as a house built on bedrock. This world and all its decay, rot, and anti-prosperity cannot touch it because it cannot touch Jesus. Jesus Christ is risen, and He is the treasure kept in heaven for you. This Good News of the Gospel is the promise that God does not expect you to find abundance (or even happiness) in this dying world. Christian contentment is knowing that both to be brought low and to abound are godly for the sake of Christ, for the sake of His cross, and for the sake of His atoning blood. Both to face hunger and to face plenty will harm the body eventually, but neither of them can touch the soul kept safe in Christ. Christianity has never budged from this truth because Christianity is not about this world....

No matter how big you build your barns, you can only eat your bread today. The secret of Christian contentment is that tomorrow we do not eat here at all. Tomorrow we dine in paradise. Imagine all the personal torment that might have been spared Ozymandias if he had believed that. He could have still ruled the world, and he could have still built a statue. But there’s a good chance he would have learned not to sneer, not because he’d found Prosperity, but because he’d become content to believe that you cannot find God in this world. In this world, Jesus sends His Word to find you.

(End quote)

I know that the Ozymandias that Fisk is talking about and the Ozymandias from Watchmen are technically two different people. But, in a way they both lived the same life, building up to dreams of grandeur and ending up empty.

For more on BROKEN, click here. You can buy the book here.

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