Another great book, and another inspiring poem. Just finished reading Cool Water by Dianne Warren, a Canadian author. The book is set in a small town called Juliet, in Saskatchewan. It is a series of vignettes following several characters. Their stories intersect as the novel unfolds. In each case, there is a significant event that impacts the various characters, and pulls their lives forward in a meaningful way by the end of the novel. Moreover, it is simply a beautifully written story. The Governor General’s Award that Warren won for this book is so very deserving.
Towards the end of the novel, a young man named Lee decides to pitch a tent in the sand. Something he has always wanted to do as a boy. Something his adopted parents were not comfortable to allow when he was young. They are both dead now, and he is alone. And he figures if not now, when. As he lays in the tent alone with his dog nearby, he reflects on the past.
He remembers a poem about sand from high school: “Look on my works,
ye Mighty, and despair,” and then the irony of the words referring to a
lost and buried empire. He’d been captivated by that poem – its setting
in the desert, its meaning unmistakable – but it strikes him that he and
his classmates studied it without thinking about the sand in their own
backyard, or the inevitable end of their own empires. (p. 327)
Of course, I googled the line from the quoted poem and was not surprised to find it was a well-known piece written by the Romantic poet, Shelly – called Ozymandias. It is a sonnet I recall reading in university years ago.
I met a traveler 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.
Percy Bysshe Shelly
The poem pays tribute to the pharaoh, Rameses, dating back to the Egyptian empire (1279 – 1213). Like all epic times in history, it came to an end – but is not forgotten. On a smaller scale, the stories of characters living in a small modern-day Canadian prairie come to an end. Once again, a timeless piece of poetry contributes to the inspiration behind the writing of a contemporary novel. Although set on a small stage, the story takes its place on the larger stage of memorable writing.
Photo by Jeswin Thomas