GRAFFITI usually involves the scrawling of crude messages or ‘tags’ on to walls and motorway bridges.

But a Summertown spray-painter is taking a different approach by using lines from literature on hoardings surrounding a housing development.

Lines from English romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley have appeared outside the Hernes Road development of nine town houses.

The literary graffiti is a long passage from the sonnet Ozymandias about a crumbling statue in the desert, which features the memorable verse: “My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings: Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!

Oxford-based poet Dan Holloway said Shelley’s poem was about human vanity.

He said: “It is poem about the vanity of humans thinking they can build something of lasting value when they can’t.”

Sweetcroft Homes is building nine homes at the site – all of which will have four or five bedrooms.

Harpes Road resident Ed Nash, 34, said the graffiti started appearing last year and had always been promptly replaced whenever it was painted over.

And he said whoever was behind it had written other passages from literature on the white walls.

He said: “It doesn’t look like regular graffiti. Whoever it is, is clearly highly intelligent.

“It is not done in a mean way – it is done in a tongue-in-cheek way.”

He also said he wished the words could become a permanent part of the development.

Hernes Road resident Stephen Struthers said: “If somebody is going to put up graffiti it is better they do that than the normal stuff.

“It is fairly harmless. The only problem is it might encourage more offensive graffiti.”

Another resident, who asked not to be named, said: “Whoever is doing it obviously thinks the building is pretty hideous and obtrusive.”

Sweetcroft Homes director Glen Chapman said he suspected the vandal was protesting at the development which saw “three or four” trees taken down.

But he said many more trees would be planted.

He added that the firm had painted over the graffiti at least three times.

He said: “It is a vandal with a masters in English Literature.

“I appreciate the humour, I appreciate the literature. It just doesn’t connect well with people wanting to buy houses.”


  • University College in Oxford hosts The Shelley Memorial, in memory of the poet who once studied there.
  • Percy Shelley (1792-1822) was expelled from the college after writing a controversial pamphlet, The Necessity of Atheism.
  • In 2005, the college acquired some of the poet's letters.