The Shelleys' circle enjoyed setting each other themed writing contests: the most famous work to have emerged from such a pastime is Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.
It's less well-known that Shelley's most famous short poem, Ozymandias, was the result of a competition between himself and his friend Horace Smith, a financier, verse-parodist and author of historical novels. Smith's rival sonnet is called, less memorably, In Egypt's Sandy Silence and disadvantages itself early on by the gauche reference to "a gigantic leg". Somehow, Shelley's "two vast and trunkless legs" are more impressive. But both poems, first Shelley's and then Smith's, were published by Leigh Hunt early in 1818 in consecutive issues of his monthly journal The Examiner.
Shelley's interest in Egyptology was already established, as revealed by some of the imagery of an earlier poem, Alastor, but perhaps it had been rekindled in part by the news of the excavation of the colossal head of Rameses II.
Friday, January 29, 2010
The Guardian, UK (Carol Rumens)