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April 26, 2012

This is why I’m still on Facebook: in the convoluted course of a conversation there, I came across a parody of Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias” and asked the author (who apparently tossed it off and forgot it until another friend posted it in response to a Mae West double entendre we were making about poem-in-your-pocket-day) if I could share it with you.  To build up your anticipation–and, of course, because it is one of the greatest sonnets ever and we all like a chance to admire the lovely irony of the sestet–you must see the original first:

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 Shelley

And here is the parody:

Abacus (or what if Shelley had been born in Utica?)

So! I met this guy from outta town,
An’ he said: Out inna desert there’s these two big legs,
Wit no body, and next to ‘em, there’s the head.
Now, you can tell by the expression on the face
That this asshole was some ball buster when he was alive,
But now the asshole’s dead.
And so is his chisler, or whatever the fuck
They call those guys that make statues.
Anyway, on the plaque it says:
“My name is Abacus; read ‘em and weep”
Or some bullshit like that. There’s nothing else.
Nothing! The whole place is a fucking desert!
Go figure.                       –Shubert Somer

Somer reports that “‘Abacus’ was the result of mixing a bottle of retsina with a view of the Sea of Marmara from the rooftop terrace of a 17th century Ottoman mansion converted in to a hotel in old Istanbul.”  And, as the title indicates, the result of spending twenty years in and around Utica, which turned out to be in New York state, although I first thought it was the local one–an even smaller town than mine which annually closes the state highway running through it in order to put a merry-go-round right on the center line.

Perhaps this parody struck me as particularly funny because it’s been the week of my annual excursion out of the ivory tower to help with the high school musical.  They’re doing Seussical, and Walker is Horton the Elephant. Pretty much all I am doing this year is producing the program (it’s 26 pages and includes a biography paragraph for each actor, director, student director, and crew member).  Last night I was at rehearsal trying to match the names of each little Who to the group photos that were sent to me, so I could caption the photos for the program.   I met a woman who told me that her third-grader had been born when she herself was only sixteen, another woman with her arm in a sling whose 15-year-old sons (identical twins) literally jumped to get her a chair when she asked, two children who looked related but exasperatedly informed me that they weren’t and that they weren’t in any of my photos because they weren’t in the show but had to sit there and wait every night, and a thirteen-year-old who told me that helping to chaperone the elementary-age Jungle characters in the green room was not the right job for someone with ADHD.

It’s difficult to convey the flavor of these conversations, except to say that the guy being from outta town?  That conveys an attitude, and it’s one I often meet when I venture out into the rural area around here, where extended families often run to 30 people living within 30 miles of each other and I have been given directions that include an instruction to “turn where the Haas’ house used to be.”

What other good parodies of “Ozymandias” do you know?  Until now my favorite was Morris Bishop’s, which you can read here if you page down a bit.

19 Comments leave one →
  1. April 26, 2012 7:27 am

    I don’t know any parodies for Ozymandias; also is it wrong that I like Somer’s version better than the original?

    • April 27, 2012 7:40 am

      I think you’ve internalized the original, by some kind of cultural osmosis, and so the parody appeals to you more because it twists what is by now a fairly common idea, that hubris will come to naught in the end.
      I am known for reading or seeing the parody first, and then finding out about the original.

  2. April 26, 2012 7:54 am

    I had a friend in high school who loved to recite this poem and I still hear it in his voice when I read it. Wonder what he’d think of Somer’s version?

  3. freshhell permalink
    April 26, 2012 9:19 am

    Look upon my words, ye mighty, and despair – is something I say a lot. Probably more often than neccesary.

    • April 27, 2012 7:43 am

      Hee. I can picture that. It works for you with “words” as it did for me when I was typing, but the actual word of the poem is “works” which I’ll bet you say, too.
      The only time I’ve ever said that line is when I was standing over a sand castle at the beach.

      • freshhell permalink
        April 27, 2012 8:56 am

        Yes – I realized that later. “Wait, that’s not right….” But, it’s good either way.

  4. April 26, 2012 10:32 am

    “My name is Abacus, read ’em and weep?” I LOVE this! I’m picturing it being said by the character of Bodie Broadus from The Wire – awesome!

    • April 27, 2012 7:43 am

      Oh, that’s a measure of a good parody–if you can picture a character saying it!

  5. PAJ permalink
    April 26, 2012 11:04 am

    I don’t know any other versions, but I love this one. Even more, I love your descriptions of the conversations you are having at the local high school. The 13-year-old ADHD child seems wise beyond his/her years. (Who would put such a person in charge of young ones?!) These conversations and the local town that closes a highway to install a merry-go-round make me think that you’ve been holding out on us all these years with regard to how interesting Ohio can be.

    A good friend of mine is from Utica, New York. She is a much more refined person than the speaker of the poem, who I’m pretty sure is from New Jersey, not New York.

    Thanks for the highlight of my day.

    • April 27, 2012 7:48 am

      You’re welcome.
      The 13-year-old had been told to keep an eye on the jungle characters while his mom took one of the Whos or the circus characters to the bathroom, I think–someone was crying and Walker said there was some blood in the boy’s room, but no one was seriously hurt because they were all on stage for the finale.
      You should note that these conversations are better in retrospect; it took me most of four hours to gather the information you read here. And if you want to come for Utica’s “homecoming” celebration in October, I’ll buy you a ticket on the merry-go-round!

  6. April 26, 2012 1:28 pm

    I enjoyed the everyday, folksy feel of the conversations that you DID capture so well. The parody by Somer was hilarious! Nice use of some very matter-of-fact, in-your-face humor. Also, thanks for stopping by. 🙂

  7. April 26, 2012 4:31 pm

    I love that parody. And your description of what goes on in your town.

    • April 27, 2012 7:54 am

      I cannot promise such goings-on for May 11, when you come. You should come back on Memorial Day weekend and we’ll take you to the Utica Ice Cream Festival for some real local flavor. Our favorite event there is the border collie show, where the collies herd a few sheep and then, for the finale, herd some ducks up one of those two-step Little Tikes slides and down, splash! into a kiddie pool.

  8. April 27, 2012 9:27 pm

    Utica, New York, is a lovely little town from the area where I was “bread and buttered” (as the local Irish immigrants would say), which is actually slightly famous for the the appalling smell of the local brewery which makes Utica Beer. Charming, really.

    • April 30, 2012 7:30 am

      It is kind of charming to find touches of regionalism anymore. So much of America is homogenized.

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