Sunday, September 28, 2008

A shatter'd visage

The fallen head of a statue on Nemrut Dagi, 2150m, south-east Turkey


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 shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd 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.
This shatter'd visage is fully visible, and stands 2,150m above sea-level, but it reminded me of one of my favourite poems, Shelley's evocation of hubris, Ozymandias. At the orders of King Antiochus, statues of himself and various gods were erected on the summit of Nemrut Dagi, a few decades before the birth of Christ. At some stage in the intervening 2,000 years, the heads of the statues have fallen off. Since righted, their torsoes lie broken on the ground behind them. But one wonders: would Antiochus be disappointed, or delighted, that his visage yet survives?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Where does the title come from?

Anonymous, in a generous comment yesterday, asks where the title Setting the Desert on Fire comes from. It is taken from page 67 of Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1935 edition). Here is the full quote in context below:

"The Sherif's rebellion had been unsatisfactory for the last few months (standing still, which, with an irregular war, was the prelude to disaster), and my suspicion was that its lack was leadership: notintellect, nor judgement, nor political wisdom, but the flame ofenthusiasm that would set the desert on fire."