People live life wanting everything they can’t afford. Millions of Americans idealize famous movie actors and musicians, and wish to aspire to that degree of wealth. Many people are envious of such billionaires as Bill Gates, and tell themselves they could have done that. Everyone wants to be rich. They feel that if they had all the money they wanted, they could truly be happy.
The truth is that money and riches really don’t bring anyone an unsurpassable or measureless amount of happiness. For example, winners of the Powerball lottery game may seem to have found happiness, but on a recent Oprah show they told of their extreme depression, and even the debt that money cost them. In fact, being rich or powerful brings just the opposite of happiness. It brings depression, and a legacy of nothingness.
One example of this is seen in Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Ozymandias. A traveler was talking with the speaker of the poem, and describing his recent journey to ” an antique land”. (1)1 The traveler tells of a statue, erected for the King2. But now, that statue is ” half sunk, a shattered visage lies “. (4) Clearly, the King the statue was created for no longer reigns, neither here on earth nor in human minds.
In Shelley’s poem, the traveler describes the characteristics of the King very well,
and implies his unhappiness. ” whose frown,/and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command ” (4-5) could only be attributes of a deeply unhappy man. Even power over slaves did not delight him. ” The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed ” (8) on the toils of the slaves did not bring him joy. The King may have been powerful, but that power evidently did not bring him pleasure.
Perhaps the greatest proof that riches and power did not bring the King immense happiness is his decrepit statue. His message to the world is ironic in itself. ” Look on my works, Ye mighty, and despair!/Nothing beside remains “. (11-12) Perhaps Ozymandias’ can be taken two ways. One way could be a threat to anyone who dares to claim themselves the ” king of kings “. (10) Ozymandias perhaps was stating to those men Look at my success. No one can ever surpass this success!” The irony is that Ozymandias’ success is now nothing. Nothing remains but his words. The face of his statue is broken, just like his legacy.
Or perhaps Ozymandias’ statement is one everyone should head. Perhaps he is saying, Look at what my success has become: nothing. Despair mortals, for earthly success is always nothingness.’ Ozymandias’ message could be the moral for his story. Because only his words remain, and nothing but, people should take in his advice. Power and prestige does not equate fame or prosperity.
Another important example of how earthly riches bring nothing is in Thomas Hardy’s The Convergence of the Twain3. Because he starts his poem with “Lines on the Loss of the Titanic” (1)4, it immediately tells the reader what to expect. His firsts stanza tells of the ship now, how it sits calmly at the bottom of the ocean, “.. deep from human vanity”. (3) He implies that the only escape from power and riches is by lying unnoticed at the bottom of the ocean.
Throughout the poem, Hardy goes back and forth between the materialistic, high-class society that boarded the ship and those that house themselves there now. “Over the mirrors meant/To glass the opulent/The sea-worm crawls ” (8-10) is one example of this. The mirrors, once golden and glowing with the faces of rich, beautiful men and women, now reflect the ugliness of the undersea world. Even the ornate jewelry that this society adorned themselves with have become nothing more than homes for sea algae. “Jewels in joy designed/to ravish lie lightless, all their sparkle bleared and black and blind”. (11-13) Those jewels are no longer the shining, glimmering trimmings of a wealthy society. They now are blurry, blackened spheres of a time long passed.
Hardy prepares for us a rhetorical question, and one that proves to be the most important line of the entire piece: “‘What does this vaingloriousness down here?'”