Follow by Email

Friday, September 11, 2020

My occasional transposition of Shelley' s 'Ozymandias' appears and disappears (hub post)

 My ‘book’ British Standards, which is part of the larger ‘English Strain’ project, threads transpositions of Shelley through itself. (Rather: I thread them through!)  British Standards was begun in 2020, after Brexit Independence Day; the first section was finished late March. For its first section, I transposed poems from part of Wordsworth’s ‘Poems Dedicated to National Independence and Liberty’, and retitled them ‘Poems of National Independence’, and even more cheekily subtitled them, ‘liberties with Wordsworth’. I write about that sequence here:

But this was prefaced with a single poem from 2019, called ‘England in 2019’, a version of Shelley’s prophetic ‘England in 1819’.

Then followed ‘14 Standards’, and in turn, two additional ‘Double Standards’ about the Cum’s disgraceful lockdown infringements, and his elitist refusal of apology and regret. ‘Double Standard’ consists of two more variations of Shelley, put into the stanza shape of ‘Ode to the West Wind’, which is a unique fourteen line shape. See here for all 16 ‘standards’: . 

There are links to online publication of some of the poems too, but none of the Shelley transpositions yet. When they are, this will form a hubpost for them.

Before I detail 'Ozymandias', I'll list any other Shelley transpositions in print:

Lift Not the Painted Veil | IT ( is what it says on the link, although it does contain the text of the original poem. But here, I read it on video: Pages: Another Shelley transposition from British Standards published in International Times (with original poem and video) (

'Ozymandias: an overdub of Shelley' appears in Tears in the Fence 73, February 2021. Here's the story of its composition.

After finishing ‘Tabitha and Thunderer’, which is a version of 14 of the passionate love sonnets of ‘Sappho and Phaon’ by Mary Robinson (1796) (see here), I returned to Shelley. Returned in three senses. Firstly, I have attempted to write a version of ‘Ozymandias’ for 'the English Strain', ‘Oxymandius’, using this Oulipo technique (whose name I can never recall), once before, but failed, since the constraint was not motivated. Secondly, I have versioned the poem written simultaneously as Shelley’s, Horace Smith’s sonnet (sometimes also called ‘Ozymandias’), in ’14 Standards’. Thirdly (as I explain in my note to my ‘Standard’) I had already written a sonnet version of Ozymandias, my ‘for Stephen’ of 2007, which you may read in a moment.

However, the toppling of statues raised the question again, and I felt I had an opening into this subject, with the Oulipo constraint of the absent poem operating as an analogy for the both the vanishing statues of owners and the disappeared spaces of slaves. (This is continuing the slavery theme of ‘Tabitha and Thunderer’ and my ‘Standards’ version of one of Southey’s anti-slavery sonnets, which also appears in Tears in the Fence 73.) It’s in the air; it’s on the streets in Liverpool: the empty plinth of Huskisson on Prince’s Drive, that I refer to here; the replete slave-name streets (dozens of them!) in Liverpool.

Here is the note to ’14 Standards’ (which I refer to below):

Horace Smith’s sonnet was written at the same time as Shelley’s ‘Ozymandias’. Both were published in Hunt’s Examiner during 1818. Guy Davenport points out that the poem, which appears as ‘Ozymandias’ in Feldman and Robinson, was originally entitled ‘On a Stupendous Leg of Granite, Discovered Standing by Itself in the Deserts of Egypt, with the Inscription Inserted Below’, and comments, ‘Shelley called his “Ozymandias”. Genius may also be knowing how to title a poem.’ (Davenport 1984: 281). However, Smith’s spectacle of the ‘annihilated’ London of futurity is a memorable vision not shared by Shelley’s poem (Davenport shows how much Shelley took from Smith). This partly explains my choice of this ‘Ozymandias’, but my poem ‘for Stephen’, written in 2007, is already a transposition of Shelley'sjustly more famous sonnet:

The red metronome on Letná hill 
sways like a lucky drunkard 
on its pedestal above the spires 
a restless reminder of rust and wreck. 
Or an antique windscreen wiper 

describing its arc 
upon a plane of smear and rain-wash 
heroic in a monochrome movie, tinted red 

With each wipe across the screen 
the determined visage of the driver clears. 
It’s Josef Stalin the giant blocks with his pocks 
long blown to shatters but he’s still there 

waving yes and no 
to anyone who can see him (Warrant Error: 112)

I write more about my poem here: . This post reminds me that I have written another poem that alludes to 'Ozymandis' (which is also included on this 2011 post). 

You can read about, and buy, Warrant Error, here:

and here: 

I’ve documented whole three book ‘English Strain’ project as work progressed through its three books so far. There are two comprehensive posts to check out, one that looks at Book One, The English Strain here and another at Book Two, Bad Idea here . (The final part of Bad Idea is slightly different; called ‘Idea’s Mirror’, it’s described here: ) 

Book One of ‘The English Strain’ project, The English Strain, is available from Shearsman Books here:


Book Two, Bad Idea is available from Knives Forks and Spoons, HERE: