Sunday, November 11, 2007

Central Park's Ozymandias

This is a statue on Central Park's Literary Walk erected in 1877 in honor of the poet and essayist Fitz-Greene Halleck. From the historical plaque:

"The statue was dedicated on May 15, 1877. The ceremony was attended by President Rutherford B. Hayes (1822–1893), as well as his entire cabinet. The throng of spectators, estimated at 10,000, was so great on that day, and the damage to the surrounding turf so widespread, that park officials were said to have subsequently outlawed assemblies of such great size."

The president, and his cabinet, and 10,000 unruly people! And today no one has any idea who this man is. Reminded me of the Shelley poem "Ozymandias," though not quite as desolate!:

by Percy Bysshe Shelley

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 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."


Aside from poor Fitz-Greene, I had heard of some of these other guys on the Walk (from top: Shakespeare, Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, Schiller):


Beth Austin said...

Oh, Fitz-Greene! (from Wikipedia)

His first literary works of note were written with Joseph Rodman Drake. They penned the anonymous "Croaker Papers" which were satires of New York Society. The Croakers were perhaps the first popular literary satire of New York, and New York society (then far from a world cultural center)was overcome with excitement at being considered worthy of erudite derision.

It has been posited that Halleck was in love with Drake. This presumption is not without reason; Halleck describes serving as best man at Drake's wedding:

"I officiated as groomsman. much against my will. His wife was good natured, and loves him to distraction. He is perhaps the handsomest man in New York, - face like an angel, a form like an Apollo; and, as I well knew that his person was the true index of his mind, I felt myself during the ceremony as committing a crime in aiding and assisting such a sacrifice!" (from Richard Stoddard "Recollections", 1903)

Beth Austin said...

And there's more: From the 1840 New York Weekly Dispatch:

Fitz-Greene Halleck in a Madhouse

"...Fitz-Greene Halleck, the greatest lyric poet of America and one of our most esteemed and respected citizens, is an inmate of Bloomingdale Asylum...We trust that the affliction is only temporary...."

The paper goes on to give his age and income, along with a brief analysis of how genius is often accompanied by madness! They're very understanding!

My goodness. I like this not-so-Ozymandias!

Beth Austin said...

Speaking of "Ozymandias"... Just today, I was walking around my work neighborhood (Union Square) in search of lunch, and came across a sign in front of a building: "Ozymandias Real Estate"! :)

I only wish I had money to invest or buy to reward them for their clever literary reference! ;)