“Ozymandias”: A Close Reading
Percy Shelley’s sonnet “Ozymandias” (1818) is, in many ways, an outlier in his oeuvre: it is short, adhering to the fourteen line length of most traditional sonnets; its precise language, filled with concrete nouns and active verbs, contrasts against the circuitous, abstract language of “O World! O Life! O Time!” (1824); and, most saliently, it does not seek to radicalize or shock, like the “The Necessity of Atheism” (1811) or The Cenci, his 1819 closet drama about incest and murder. Shelley’s often combative, politically-charged style makes “Ozymandias” seem tame in comparison to most of his other poems. That said, a close reading of the sonnet reveals its political and theological heart. Shelley’s core beliefs—like the importance of atheism, the impermanence of man-made societal structures, and the unpreventable certainty of oblivion—thematically buttress the foundation of “Ozymandias.” With uncharacteristic subtlety and nuance, Shelley uses the poem’s eponymous statue to evidence the ephemerality of power and civilization as a whole.
Structurally, “Ozymandias” does not adhere to one specific form, although it does contain elements of both the Petrarchan and Shakespearean sonnet. It operates in a loose iambic pentameter, with every line consisting of ten syllables, except for the first and tenth, which have eleven. Lines three and twelve, meanwhile, open with trochees, ignoring the idea that a sonnet must solely consist of iambs. The rhyme scheme, too, is abnormal, conforming to no historically precedented pattern. Shelley’s frequent use of enjambment further obfuscates the rhymes and makes them less pronounced. Additionally, “Ozymandias” is not broken into an octave and a sestet. Instead, it is presented in one block of cohesive text. As a result, the poem has a tight, prose-like quality to it, reading smoothly and quickly. Shelley’s disregard for conventional forms reinforces the poem’s themes. He does not consider the Petrarchan or Shakespearean sonnet an immortal form, just like Ozymandias’s kingdom cannot possibly stand forever.
The sonnet’s litheness leaves no room for abstractions. Accordingly, Shelley’s language is precise and concrete, making the poem dense with specific imagery. Lines two and three—“‘two vast and trunkless legs of stone/Stand in the desart’”—situate the reader geographically and establish the dilapidated state of Ozymandias’s statue. The two lines that immediately follow describe the statue’s partially obscured head, which is “Half sunk” in the sand. Ozymandias’s “frown, And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command” is the first instance of Shelley planting dramatic irony into the poem: Ozymandias’s facial features are frozen in a menacing expression of confidence and power, yet his kingdom has long since crumbled, and his statue is not even whole anymore. Shelley adds a subtle critique on Christianity to this argument in line ten by having Ozymandias declare himself the “King of Kings,” a moniker often assigned to Jesus. This conspicuously loaded word choice further reinforces the overarching project of “Ozymandias”: no one is immortal, and no civilization or construct can stand forever.
Shelley is not simply content to display the intrinsically fleeting nature of power, he also wants to highlight the hubris of individuals who believe they can defy this inevitability. He accomplishes this through an obvious use of irony: the “colossal Wreck” of the deserted statue declares, “My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings,/Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!” The irony, of course, lies in the fact that the statue is now surrounded only by nothing but “lone and level sands.” Going further, Shelley implies that the sculptor had subversive intentions when carving the “sneer of cold command,” knowing that the exaggerated expression would speak to Ozymandias’s misplaced pride, instead of his all-encompassing power. Shelley’s use of the word “mocked” when describing the sculptor’s technique functions as a double entendre: “mocked,” in this context, means both to copy and to deride. While Ozymandias saw his statue as an imposing manifestation of his power, the sculptor saw it as an example of his subject’s overwhelming hubris. This hubris is most obvious in the pedestal’s inscription in lines ten and eleven, which works on two levels: when the statue was erected, it was ostensibly part of a prominent kingdom, making the inscription read as a boast, an assertion that Ozymandias’s empire is unsurpassably vast and majestic; when the statue’s current state is taken into account, though, the inscription reads more like a warning, a declaration that even the mightiest kingdoms will eventually disintegrate.
The conceit of the poem—that the speaker “met a traveler from an antique land” who described the “shattered” statue of Ozymandias—conceptually evidences Shelley’s project: the speaker hears about the statue secondhand, which means the reader receives the information thirdhand, opening up the possibility that the details may have been distorted in the transmission process, as is often the case with orally communicated stories. In reality, the actual inscription on the statues reads, “I am Ozymandias, king of kings; if anyone wishes to know what I am and where I lie, let him surpass me in some of my exploits.” Admittedly, Shelley likely augmented the inscription so it could more easily fit the meter of the poem, but that does not trivialize the fact that Ozymandias’s authoritative words—which were deliberately chosen to exhibit his power—appear paraphrased in the body of the poem. This makes his declaration more of a distorted echo than a resounding assertion of power, undercutting his intended message. Likewise, and for the same reason, it is significant that the poem is called “Ozymandias”—and that the statue, and the emperor it is portraying, is referred to as Ozymandias—because it is a Greek transliteration of the name Ramses II. This is another example of Shelley showing the reader that Ozymandias’s power is gradually fading away.
Shelley denounces the hopeful—and widely held—idea that people, even a “King of Kings,” can become immortal through their accomplishments. In doing so, he is offering a critique of both church and state, showing that everything that is erected will eventually collapse, be it a physical statue or an abstract concept, like Christianity. Even though “Ozymandias” does not contain the radical language that Shelley is famous for, it addresses the same themes as his more overtly political poems.
The Use of Imagery and Alliteration to Present the Idea of Irony in Ozymandias, a Poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley
Analysis of “Ozymandias”
The poem “Ozymandias” is a wonderful example of irony. Percy Bysshe Shelley use the elements of imagery and alliteration to first give the reader the sense of a “vast” ruin in the desert. Shelley then uses alliteration to describe the character of the person the ruin represents. Finally, Shelley introduces a wonderfully ironic line that is reinforced by the other elements in the poem.
Imagery is an important element of “Ozymandias”. The entire poem is a recollection of a description given to the speaker of a ruin in the desert. Therefore, the poet must use strong imagery to give the reader the sense that they are actually there. First, the speaker describes the ruin as “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone (Shelley 2).” Which gives the reader a sense of how big the ruin is, and explains that it is a ruin. One wouldn’t expect to see a structure consisting of legs alone, therefore it can be inferred by the reader that the structure being described is in fact a ruin. The next line points out to the reader that the setting for the poem is “in the desert.” Having a sense of where and what it is the poet wishes the reader to see the speaker then goes on to describe the character of the individual this statue represents.
Line 4 tells the reader that along with the “trunkless legs of stone” there lies a “a shattered visage.” The character of the individual whom the visage represents is affirmed through alliteration. The speaker describes the bust lying in the desert having a “sneer of cold command.” This is a very deliberate use of alliteration by the poet in order to emphasize the fact that the visage was that of an irreverent man. The poet addresses the question of whom this visage could belong to with two simple words, “cold command”. Somehow it is clear to the speaker, or rather the “traveler from an antique land”, that the person this statue represented was a particularly callous individual. This description becomes important when the poet introduces irony in the last few lines of the poem.
The description of the ruin and that of the man it represents is important because it serves as a set-up for the irony the poet introduces in line 12. In lines 10-11 that the statue was once a monument to the ruler “Ozymandias, King of Kings.” Through a proclamation on the base of the pedestal Ozymandias once warned all who viewed this monument to “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair! (Shelley 11).” The wonderful irony in line 12 comes when the speaker says, “Nothing beside remains, round the decay.” Even Ozymandias, in all his greatness, could not predict that his monument to self would fall to ruin leaving him to look the fool.
The irony of the long since forgotten ruler Ozymandias turns out to be a bit of justice for the manner in which he ruled. Ozymandias is not remembered, and certainly no one “despairs” his “works.” Instead the opposite is true, which turns out to be quite the fitting ending to a awful legacy such as that which belonged to Ozymandias. It could even be interpreted that the poet intended to teach a small lesson to other rulers, or perhaps was taking a jab of current rulers. The idea of a legacy and iron-fist rule do not coincide. It is better for one to practice humility and perhaps be remembered, than for one to be boastful and remembered a fool.
Shelley’s Romanticism in Ozymandias
Romanticism primarily struck English artistic, literary, and intellectual culture during a time of political reform and upheaval, coinciding with the Age of Revolution. This period of change allowed for the revisitation and revision of medieval works, turning them mostly into subjective poetry which emphasized the depths of the poets’ psychology. The emphasis on emotions above logic brought exploration of the realms of fantasy and imagination, in addition to an unbridled passion for nature and ancient relics of the past. Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ozymandias” exemplifies these qualities of the Romantic Age, and serves as an example of Literary Romanticism.
As per its title, this poem discusses what is left of Ozymandias, the Egyptian Pharaoh Rameses II, and the remnants of his legacy based on the image of his statue falling apart in the desert. The poem first begins with a general view of the statue—two severed stone legs and a crumbling face resting in the sand—before delving into more detailed descriptions like the stern expression on the statue’s face and the inscription on its pedestal. The engraved words present a proclamation of pride: Ozymandias was the “King of Kings” and all who stumble upon what is left of him should tremble and “despair” at his might. This statement, unfortunately, falls upon deaf ears and is only greeted by the vast, lonely expanse of the desert sands ahead.
“Ozymandias” is told from the perspective of a speaker who meets a traveler with a story to share and recalls the details of the said traveler’s tale. This poem mainly consists of the persona quoting the traveler’s words, the former only speaking very briefly to provide context on how the latter fits into the rest of the poem. Therefore, there are little to no descriptions of how this speaker felt towards Ozymandias. However, the second speaker of this poem, the traveler, sheds more light onto their attitude towards what they witnessed during their journey. Despite the statue’s decaying visage, the traveler makes note of how Ozymandias’s eroded sneer was “mocked” by the sculptor’s hands, thus presenting the view that everything eventually falls to dust.
This poem is a sonnet written as a block of text in iambic pentameter. There are 14 lines, irregular and run-on, following a ABABACDCEDEFEF rhyme scheme. This poetic form conveys power and might, especially when read aloud, and builds a sense of lyricism. The poem is then reminiscent of a parable or lament, expressing deep emotion and presenting a moral lesson. Similarly, the use of figurative devices are also used to convey meaning in this poem. There is extremely strong imagery in the descriptions of the broken statue, demonstrating the significance within its shattered state and detailed etchings. Aside from this, the use of assonance in “an antique land” of line 1 and alliteration in line 5’s “cold command” emphasizes the respective mystique of far-off lands and stiffness in Ozymandias’s expression.
“Ozymandias” possesses many themes found within Romantic poems, such as exoticism, mystery, strong emotions, irony, and criticism of higher authority. The descriptions of the bleak desert and implications of the “antique land” represent the Romantics’ strong fascination towards nature, leading to the traveler’s discovery of Ozymandias’s statue. While it may have been intended to be a representation of the pharaoh’s strength and authority, it became a caricature of who Ozymandias was. Eternally locked in a harsh, disapproving expression, his legacy is left to fade into the dust as a tyrant with no followers to “look on [his] works” anymore. Consequently, Shelley criticizes the pompous attitudes of modern political powers and presents the reality that their efforts will disappear along with their boastfulness in the future.
In conclusion, Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ozymandias” is a poem that successfully encapsulates qualities captured in various literary works from the Romantic Period. With a simple story about a fragmented statue found in the desert, Shelley conveys the ideas of exoticism, mystery, and irony, expresses criticism regarding the political authorities of his time, and maintains the strong senses, feelings, and emotions found within Romantic literature.
“Ozymandias”: Shelley’s Investigation in Permanence Through the use of Diction and Juxtapositio
“My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;/ Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!” (10) demands the pedestal of the statue of the previously named ancient ruler. Out of context a casual passerby of the king’s shattered sculpted likeness might infer that Ozymandias was a powerful presence in the region, and that he had dominion over not only his loyal subjects, but abstract concepts like time and death. In context, knowing that his statue is now primarily rubble, abandoned and forgotten in the desert, one can recognize that it is Ozymandias who is in fact the one ruled by time. In the poem the speaker meets an unnamed traveler who tells of the rule of Ozymandias long ago, a legend which is contradicted by the crumbling statue the speaker stumbled upon in the desert. Percy Bysshe Shelley highlights this theme in the poem through the use of provocative diction and the juxtaposition of unlike things, communicating to the reader that nothing is permanent, and all is eventually lost to the stubborn march of time.
First, through the use of diction, Shelley presents Ozymandias as a concept of power and monarchial glory. This pays off later in the poem when the reader realizes that even the mighty Ozymandias is powerless against time, reinforcing the claim that time masters us all. For example, Shelley chooses in line one to describe the desert where Ozymandias’ statue lies in ruins as an “antique land”. This attaches to Ozymandias the connotations of the word antique, specifically the idea that something that is antique carries extra value than its less historical counterparts. This imbues the character of Ozymandias with regality and historical worth. It is in these first lines of the poem where the speaker builds upon the image of a powerful Ozymandias, which is next reinforced by the choice of the word “visage” in line four to describe the king’s facial features. Although the visage is one that is “half sunk” and “shattered” (4), the elitist nature the word visage connotes gives the reader a glimpse into the royal pompousness of Ozymandias. Even if the speaker does concede that today this is not the case, and that more relevant to this era is the destruction of the statue, this portrayal of a once-powerful king reinforces the weight of his downfall. If the great Ozymandias now lies in ruins, we truly are helpless against the ticking time of fate. The speaker does provide one last glimpse into what Ozymandias was like as a king, when the speaker is describing the “wrinkled lip” the “frown” and “sneer of cold command” (4-5) which remain in the sculptor’s depiction of Ozymandias. Here it is revealed not only that Ozymandias was powerful, but that he was also notably cruel in his subjugation of his people. This choice in depicting Ozymandias as cruel instead of benevolent inspires imagery of a rule with no checks and where the king’s full wrath could be exercised. Compared to his current state in the desert, where his likeness is now passive shattered remains, this is a significant shift in characterization, and it supports the speaker’s claim that even the most powerful and dominative will fall to the master of time.
Throughout the poem, there is a juxtaposition of Ozymandias as a powerful ruler, and Ozymandias as the abandoned remains of a statue. So while there is diction which portrays Ozymandias as a powerful force in his rule, the word choice which contradicts that idea is similarly important to the overall meaning. For example, in line 12, the shattered remains of his statue is described as “the decay”. The connotation of the word decay with dying plant or animal matter is an obvious shift from the Ozymandias who wore a “sneer of cold command” (5). The result is that while the memory of Ozymandias is that of an active and even possibly abusive ruler, his current condition is revealed to be in complete contradiction with this, as the rubble of his statue sits idly forgotten in the desert. All that is left of Ozymandias at this point is his “frown”, “wrinkled lip”, and “sneer” (4-5), but even these lose their significance as they were “stamped on [this] lifeless [thing]” (7). Describing the sculpting process as stamping has a connotation of a quick imprint instead of a careful chiseling process, but similarly important is a possible separate meaning. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, another meaning of stamp is, “to extinguish or destroy by or as if by stamping with the foot- usually used with out.” Perhaps this additional meaning was unintentional, but within the context of the poem it is not unreasonable to consider this word choice as a conscious signaling of the extinguishing of Ozymandias and his memory by the ever constant march of time. Diction is important to reveal this theme, but it is the juxtaposition of diction describing Ozymandias as a ruler, and the remains of his abandoned statue that highlight the contrast between the power and passivity of Ozymandias before and after he was lost to time.
The core juxtaposition of the poem is in lines 10-12, following the description on the pedestal of his statue “My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;/ Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” with “Nothing beside remains.”, referring to the barren desert to where Ozymandias’ statue has been abandoned. This serves to contrast the two competing narratives which are the basis of the poem: that Ozymandias was a forceful and powerful ruler but that he is now alone and crumbling, lost to the world entirely. Throughout the poem however, other juxtapositions serve to highlight the theme in a similar way. Another example can be seen in lines 4-7 with “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 juxtaposition of words and phrases such as “frown” (4) and “sneer of cold command” (5) which depict Ozymandias as cruel and controlling in his rule, with the description of his statue as a “lifeless [thing]” (7) and his visage as “shattered” (4) again serves to reinforce these two competing depictions of Ozymandias as powerful and powerless.
Juxtaposition is not used only to compare these two ideas of his character, but is also used to contrast other aspects of Ozymandias. This is used in line 8 with “The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;” where Ozymandias’ cruelty and benevolence are juxtaposed in part of the development of the characterization of Ozymandias as a leader. Juxtaposition is also used to establish setting. In line 13, “Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare/ The lone and level sands stretch far away” the rubble is juxtaposed with the lonely desert to which it had been lost. This reinforces the defeat and abandonment of Ozymandias by time, and supports the theme of the lack of permanence of not just Ozymandias, but everything.
In “Ozymandias” by Shelley, diction and juxtaposition are the formal features most often used to support the theme. Other features like alliteration in “boundless and bare” (13) “lone and level” (14) and “cold command” (5) serve to highlight important descriptive phrases in the poem, but their ultimate purpose is often to serve the overarching formal features of diction and juxtaposition. For example, “Boundless and bare” is juxtaposed with “that colossal wreck” while the alliteration serves to highlight further this juxtaposition. By describing Ozymandias as he was as a leader and as he is, as a pile of rubble in the desert, the poem is able to contrast the two, and this in turn supports the claim that even the powerful Ozymandias who is “King of Kings” (10) is no match for the march of time. Nothing is permanent, time masters us all, and through the use of juxtaposition of unlike things, and diction, Shelley reveals in the poem this great truth of our world.
Discussion of the Limited Nature of Life in Ozymandias and London
In both ‘Ozymandias’ and ‘London’, both poets highlight the theme of Mortality as a way to convey the key message of human power. This is conveyed in “London” where Blake talks about the death and suffering of people through the regular rhyme scheme which could reflect the regularity of oppression by my powerful beings ‘behind palace walls’. Similarly, in “Ozymandias” Shelley talks about the death of a civilisation by overthrowing Rameses; As suggested by ‘a shattered visage’. However, despite this, due to the semantic fields displayed by the poet, human power is implied to be eroded down into worthlessness (like the existing statue of the king/pharaoh) and human power is no match for the power of the elements.
In addition to this, both poets convey a sense of someone dominating; thus emphasising the scale of human power and as a result, someone with greater power occurs in both poems. In “London” the rich have this upper hand against the poor which highlights how the rich control the poor. This is suggested by, ‘How the chimney-sweepers cry’ (which is almost a mocking tone). The purpose of this pathos created by the poet in comparison to Ozymandias is showing how in one instance, human power can end reigns of dictators, however on the other hand, human power can damage society and can create barriers between classes as reflected in the context of the French Revolution. Moreover, in “Ozymandias” the great leader (Rameses) is said to have this strength over his enemies and his own people, but the fact that the poem is written as an indirect, first person recount i.e. ‘I met a traveller’, creates the impression that humans overall have so much power, that they have made Rameses’ reign, a very distant memory in ‘the antique land’ (the desert).
In my opinion, both poets highlight the power of humans as a way to express anguish at how much this power has been abused into creating fascist societies. In “Ozymandias” Shelley writes about a fallen empire, a civilisation that must have gone downhill because now there is no sign of it as suggested by the alliterative language of ‘boundless and bare’. In “London” Blake tells us that the poorer people of this city are going through a bad time and their empire has fallen like Ozymandias’s empire, but in this case London has not collapsed. Blake suggests that as the rich hide ‘behind palace walls’, there is a colossal moral decline with ‘harlots’ and an overall melancholy and gothic tone i.e. ‘hearse’. Furthermore, Blake writes about how London had drifted to a time of poverty and disease due to the human power of dictators that are to cowardice to view what their city has become i.e. ‘Marks of weakness, marks of woe’. Linked to this quote, human power is also conveyed to be evil by the poet here as it is an example of degradation and the oxymoron of ‘Marriage hearse’. Whilst the powerful are happy, as connoted by ‘Marriage’, the oppressed are sad, as connoted by ‘hearse’, and this is a recurring motif which suggests that the poor deserve to be and will always be looked down upon.
Next, the two poems, both give a feeling of depression and melancholy to the reader suggesting that excessive human power results in a complete scarring of a setting. Shelley emphasises different types of imagery to create this effect such as: ‘The hand that mocked them and the hearts that fed’, thus suggesting that people were almost forced to do acts they did not want to, just so that the king could become more corrupt as a result of human power. In addition,
Blake writes about how everyone is sad and weak after being oppressed as demonstrated with ‘marks of woe’ and ‘blights with plagues’, which suggest that powerful people result in a loss of basic values such as caring for others.
I believe that great arrogance is perhaps that most important theme linked to human power in both poems. For instance: In “Ozymandias” the king shows that he is arrogant, by calling himself the ‘King of kings’ on the pedestal. He also expresses how great and powerful a ruler he is with ‘look on my works’. This quote is significant in the poem as a whole in my opinion because it shows how power corrupts and distorts the mind into thinking everything around him is great due to his own doing, where as it is only good because he ruined others’ lives into forming everything for him! Similarly, in “London”, the arrogance of the church compares to this as human power has autonomy over who enters- which is wrong as suggested by ‘black’ning Church appals’ of the poor and oppressed in society.
However, to conclude, the poems differ with regards to human power in “London”, as the rich betray the poor, because they have put their name on everything as if they own it and in “Ozymandias” the sculptor betrays the king when the statue is being made by mocking him and implying that he has no legacy ‘colossal wreck, boundless and bare, the lone and level sands stretch far away’. Because of this, I strongly believe that on the whole, both poets attempt to convey the message that human power is ok, but too much can corrupt anyone and ruin the lives of many people through slavery or inequality for example as emphasised by the unequal rights of the poor and the rich division as well as the King who orders people to work for him.
Stylistic and Comparative Analysis of Ozymandias and Nothing Gold Can Stay
Impermanence is not an unfamiliar concept to humanity. All life ages and dies and even the material humanity uses to enhance life, fades away. It’s no shock then that poetry often touches on this topic because poetry is the artistic depiction of life and its events. For example, Ozymandias by Percy Shelley and Nothing Gold Can Stay by Robert Frost both portray the idea of impermanence through elements of rhyme, metaphor, and alliteration.
Alliteration is often used to create musicality in poetry. Shelley’s reflective sonnet uses alliteration to not only enhance musicality but to give a sense of strength to the bold statue of Ozymandias. The poem forces the reader to enunciate the line, “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert,” (Shelley) by emphasizing on the letter “s” and “l”, two soft letters that, when lack in emphasis, sound like mush. Because they sound like mush when alliterated without emphasis, the reader is forced to enunciate, creating a strong effect. Furthermore, Shelley also describes the face of the statue as having “cold command” (Shelley). The poem now uses hard “c” which creates stone-like imagery. This use of alliteration emphasizes the strength of Ozymandias in order to make contrast against the disappointing end of the poem that reveals how even the strongest do not last forever.
Frost uses alliteration to add fluidity to Nothing Gold Can Stay. The alliteration in the poem starts with hard consonants as seen in the first line with “Green is Gold” (Frost) and then fades into soft consonants as seen with “Her hardest hue to hold” (Frost) and “So Eden sank…” (Frost) before returning to a hard consonant with “Dawn goes down to day” (Frost). This may seem like coincidence however the alliteration is used to enhance the poem’s sequence, beginning and tying up with hard consonants in a package of soft consonants. This very much resembles the changing of nature’s foliage as described in the poem, reminding the reader of the temporary nature of all life.
Both poets also use metaphor to portray the impermanence of existence. Frost’s first metaphor is nature, speaking of the foliage of the leaves and how its “first green is gold”, also describing that green is nature’s “hardest hue to hold”. In these two first two lines, he has already introduced an example of the mercurial state of life in a way that all individuals can find connection to. However, the poem does stick solely to the comparison of life and nature. Frost then adds a hint of biblical reference in there as well in the line, “So Eden sank to grief.” Eden is a strong metaphor for ephemeral life because in this line, Frost is bringing the spiritual and impalpable into his description. In the Torah, Eden is a perfect world from which human kind has been cast out from because Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge. To many, Eden is a symbol of a perfect world that changed for the worse and a world that humanity must revive. Frost uses this reference to strengthen his argument, reminding the reader that even humanity’s sacred symbols of perfection are spoken of being temporary and easily changed.
Shelley, ironically being the romantic of the two, uses a much more blunt and cold metaphor for the ephemeral state of existence. The narrator tells of a statue of a king in the middle of the desert. The statue’s subject appears to be bold and strong and the pedestal it stands on reads, “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings, look on my works ye mighty and despair!” This statue is supposedly proof of a grand city that no longer exists as Shelley then goes on to describe that “Nothing beside remains.” And that besides the statue that tells of “mighty works” and two “vast and trunkless legs of stone,” there is nothing but the desert. Shelley uses this ruin as proof of the temporary state of not only the living, once powerful, Ozymandias, but the material as well through his description of the lone statue and how it is the only evidence of the city that once was. The poem furthermore reminds the reader, through Ozymandias’ bold declaration of “mighty works” that nothing lasts forever no matter how strong it is at the time of its bloom.
Even Shelley’s rhyme scheme tells of temporary existence through its inconsistent pattern. While Frost’s rhyme pattern in Nothing Gold Can Stay appears to be more for the fluidity of the poem than the portrayal of ephemerality, Ozymandias starts with a rhyme scheme which changes from perfect rhyme to subtle half rhyme before staggering back to a perfect rhyme in the end. This idea of recycling word pattern is also seen in Frost’s poem. However, while Frost uses alliteration to resemble nature, Shelley speaks of man and material, reminding the reader that the foliage of leaves is not the only life that repeats in various ways. Shelley speaks of the ruin of Ozymandias’ civilization but through recycling his rhyme scheme within the poem, is he not hinting at the relevance of this ruin to civilization today? While empires and nations of the world seem to thrive today as though they will last forever, Shelley reminds his readers that everything is impermanent. Ozymandias thought his city would last forever but now it is nothing more than marked lifeless land. Perhaps through rhyme, Shelley foretells a future where the nations thriving today will be nothing more than desert. As morbid as this may be, Ozymandias may be more than informative about the temporary state of life. Perhaps Shelley reminds his readers to be grateful for what is in the present for in the future; it may not be there to be appreciated.
Perhaps neither poet writes on the ephemerality of existence to make one feel gloomy but to point out the mistake many make of taking the present for granted. Shelley and Frost, though different in style and century, speak on the same topic. However, there is a possibility that these poems are not to be seen in a morbid light but in an uplifting light instead. Hiding behind the blunt truth of existence remains a moral lesson of appreciation that Shelley and Frost both portray through different uses of the same literary elements. Life is ephemeral and therefore, humanity must appreciate it in the moment instead of complaining about how it will not last. Carpe Diem!
Comparison of Ozymandias and Jade Flower Palace
‘Ozymandias’ is a sonnet written by Percy Bysshe Shelley and it was released in 1818. It is known as Shelley’s most famous short poem. “Jade Flower Palace” was written by a Chinese poet named Tu Fu in 757. Tu Fu was known as “the greatest non-epic, non dramatic poet who has survived in any language”. Both of these poems have many similarities, but there are also some differences.
In the opening line of “Ozymandias, the speaker recalls that he met a traveler “from an antique land”(Shelley 1), who told him about a deteriorating statue in the desert. The traveler then starts to go into more detail about the statue by saying it has two legs without a body. Near the remnants of the statue, lies a half-sunk head that has a patronizing appearance on its face. The half-sunk face was no doubt rendered on a real person, most likely a king who used to have a kingdom. The pedestal of the statue says, “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings. Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair”(Shelley 10)! This is ironic because when a statue is first built, people are expected to praise the new creation. This is the same for “Ozymandias”; people were expected to respect the power that the statue represented. However, around the decaying ruins, nothing remains; only the “lone and level sands,”(Shelley 14) and the empty desert remains.
“Jade Flower Palace” is a poem about a traveler who comes across a deteriorating palace. The opening lines of “Jade Flower Palace” starts to describe how the palace looks. Above the palace are pine woods and it is near a stream. But, as we go deeper into the first stanza, we start to get a feeling that the palace is falling apart when it says “gray rats scurry over broken tiles”( Fu 2). The last line of stanza 1 suggests that the traveler does not know who built the palace, which also suggests that maybe no one knows. As we progress to the next stanza, the traveler continues to describe how the palace is falling apart. Some of the black rooms are being lit up by a green light and the pavements around the palace are being washed away. Starting at line 8, the poet starts to contrasts the palace with sounds that emerge from the earth. The poet never clarifies what he means by this, but maybe the music is the rustling of leaves since the last lines talks about the scattering of red autumn leaves. As we enter the third stanza, the poet starts to contrast the palace right now and how the palace used to look. Everything that made the palace special and beautiful has now fallen apart. The beautiful women who used to ride in his chariots are gone. The poet then says that their beauty was fake because their face was covered in makeup. Starting at line 14, the poet says that of all the respect and riches that surrounded the palace owner, only a stone horse remains. As we enter the last stanza, the traveler starts to reflect on what he has just witnessed. The traveler sits down on the grass and starts to cry because he is moved by the sense of brevity of life. Life moves in an blink of an eye, and for humans, old age comes very fast. Nothing in the world lasts forever.
Vanity by definition means “excessive pride in or admiration of one’s own appearance or achievements”. Decay by definition means “to become gradually damaged, rot or decompose, or to decline”. Both “Ozymandias” and “Jade Flower Palace” shows the image of decay. But, only one poem shows both the images of vanity and decay: “Ozymandias”. Like I said before, vanity means “excessive pride in one’s own achievements”. In “Jade Flower Palace”, there is no mention of a king or queen who has excessive pride in themselves. “Ozymandias”, on the other hand, is very egotistical and disrespectful. This is shown when it says “Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown, And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command”(Shelley 4). A’frown’ usually represents dissatisfaction or annoyance, while ‘sneer’ usually represents mockery and insolence for others. Being ‘cold’ is usually associated with being unaffectionate. This just shows that he was never concerned with the feelings or opinions of his subjects. Another quotes that shows his excessive pride is when it says “My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair”(Shelley 10)! This quote shows Ozymandias’ arrogance and vanity. He is very proud of his works and takes pride in calling himself the “King of Kings.” He then asks the other rulers to give up the hope of ever competing with him in power or achievements. This just shows that “Ozymandias” was a very self-absorbed ruler who gained pleasure of being the strongest ruler. This also shows the reasons why “Ozymandias” presents a more compelling vision of vanity and decay”.
The two poems called “Jade Flower Palace” and “Ozymandias” are very identical in theme. The theme of these two poems are that they both talk about rulers who did great things, but the representations of their success and power are disintegrating. In “Jade Flower Palace”, the poem conveys a fear of future failures. Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias”, on the other hand, conveys an untraditional feeling; it ridicules and disparages.
Thematic Views and Critical Analysis of Ozymandias
Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem Ozymandias was first published in the year 1818. As in the year 1817 news came up that archeologists had discovered fragments of the statue of Ramesses II and sending the pieces to the British museum . Another name of Ramesses II is Ozymandias. Ramesses II was born in 1314 BC and ruled Egypt for 66 years. Ramesses was a warrior king and he built up many temples, statues and other monuments in his lifetime, though his exact age of death remain uncertain. According to the second book of Bible, “Exodus”, Ramesses was a pharoh at the time Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt. After the discovery of fragments of statues of Ramesses II, Percy Shelley and his friend, the poet Horace Smith, challenged each other to write a poem on the same discovery, on the same subject, title, theme and form. Thus, there were two sonnets published with similar title Ozymandias in Leigh Hunt’s Examiner, among the two Shelley’s Ozymandias was two one to gain popularity. Thus, the discovery of statue fragments inspired Shelley.
Thematic Analysis of Ozymandias
With the starting up of 19th century a great interest developed in ancient Egyptian culture which marked the beginning of modern Egyptology. In the 1820s when Jean-Francois Champollion deciphered one of Egyptian writing engraved on Rosetta stone awakens an interest in this ancient culture. When Egypt was invaded by Napoleon in 1798 and Mohammad Ali in 1806 more and more artistic works established in Egypt. Shelley’s own interest in Egyptology reflected in his poems like Alastor, or, of The Spirit Solitude. Ancient Egyptian culture is obsessed with the belief of death and afterlife. There was a concept of how a person will survive afterlife, so Ancient Egyptians used to bury resources, jewels, wealth and things of daily use like comb and spoons according to their status and position in the society. There is always an inscribed construction of funerary monuments like pyramids and tombs. Thus, the poem Ozymandias is concerned with such themes and whether the efforts will be remembered or not.
Shelley used the verb “to mock” in Ozymandias in the sense of a ‘pun’ meaning- using a word with similar sound for a multiplicity of meaning. To ‘mock’ also means to treat an object, thought or a person worthless. Shelley begins the poem by writing “I met a traveler from an antique land” creates doubts in the readers that whether the traveler is a tourist or a time traveler from the original inhabitant, as the traveler refer the land as “ancient” not with its original “name”. the use of the word “visage” in the poem Ozymandias also plays differently. The actual meaning of the word is “face” but here it is used as an aspect to represent a person’s true character and emotions. The multiple meanings of this words used by Shelley can be who was arrogant, mean and tyrannical. Another meaning of “visage” indicates the brilliant job done by the sculptor who has made the outward reality and falsehood of Ozymandias on a stone statue. Thus, art remains the storage of truth despite of Ozymandias’s obsession of showing his achievements the artists captured his real character. The decaying statue of Ozymandias is a representation of the same sand clock that is used to measure time. Even though time passed and the statue of Ozymandias ruined, the characterization of a tyrant king one gets from Shelley’s poem remains the same.
Critical Views on Ozymandias
There are certain critics who looked upon the thematic concepts like Egyptology and art and sculpture in Shelley’s poem Ozymandias. Anne Janowitz in her article “Shelley’sMonument to ‘Ozymandias’ “, discussed the poem within in the context of the 19th century interest in Egyptology. Anne wrote that “Shelley deftly evokes both the pride and the fall of this Egyptian ruler…….”. Shelley used the span of time to locate both the pride and fall of Ozymandias. While Ozymandias was alive he was respected and his architectures and other works were celebrated just only because of his pride no one can stand and dare to talk before him, but after his death even his statue ruined, it was “rotten” in the sand like a corpse in a “grave”. But still his “frown” and “sneer of cold command ” survives through the time. Shelley also linked “to the theme of the perseverance of art over time” as Anne Janowitz wrote.
Another critic Albert C. Labriola in his article “Sculptural Poetry: The visual Imagination of Michelangelo, Keats, and Shelley” Labriola discussed Ozymandias as a poem concerned with the theme of sculpting and discussion of the art of interpretation. Albert wrote “Interpreting Shelley’s “Ozymandias” as sculptural poetry enhances our understanding of the sonnet while enriching our awareness of the tradition”. As there are two narrators in the poem first the narrator, second the traveler who is narrating. The statue of the Ozymandias was not seen by the immediate narrator but the distant narrator did view its ruined form. Even though the statue is ruined, the carved letters on the pedestal “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings, Look on my works, ye Mighty and despair” give a whole sense of Ozymandias as an individual. If the carved letters would have been destroyed then no one will be able to find out whose statue is this? And visitors might pity the broken statue. But the letters changed the whole perception. Like the sculpted art, poetry never fades away even centuries and time passes by but the letters never lose its sense, meaning and value.
If Shelley would not write about Ozymandias in his poetry this art (the sculpture) will remain negligible and “the hand that mocked them and the heart that fed” will never be appreciated. It is not the statue of Ozymandias that keep him alive but the power of Shelley’s pen is what made his pride and arrogance alive forever. At last Shelley successfully made out her point that there is no difference between the king and common man, all are puppets in the hands of time, death is the ultimate reality that presents physical and mental decay of time.
- Albert C. Labriola, “Sculptural Poetry: The Visual Imagination of Michelangelo, Keats, and Shelley,” Comparative Literature Studies 24, no. 4 (1987): pp.326, 330-33.
- Anne Janowitz, “Shelley’s Monument to Ozymandias,” Philogical Q uarterly 63, no. 4 (Fall 1984): pp.477-479.
- Harold Bloom- Percy Bysshe Shelley_ Comprehensive Research And Study Guide. Ed. & with an introduction by Harold Bloom.
- Historical Context in Ozymandias – Owl Eyes
Man Vs. Nature in Ozymandias by Percy Shelley
The beginning of the 1800’s in England saw a spark of interest in all things Egyptian; from discovering new monuments to an influence on poetic style. The colossal bust of King Ramses II arrived at the British Museum in 1821, where it remains, and is said to be the subject of Percy Shelly’s poem “Ozymandias”. It was Ramses II who had declared, in words less rhythmical than Shelley made them, “Should any man seek to know how great I am and where I lie, let him surpass one of my works,” which comes from words translated from an ancient bust of the king. In Shelly’s poem, inspired by the pretentions of this king of antiquity, the author shows the ultimate morality of personal glory by nature’s means through many subtle, yet powerful, literary devices.
When discussing a poem as powerful as “Ozymandias”, one must first look at basic components that come together to create the complex. Some important literary elements included are the poet’s perception and the unusual rhyme scheme developed throughout the poem. To give a brief insight into the author himself, Shelly once described himself as open to new poetical abstractions, and that concept is shown in the organization and word choice conveying the theme, along with various tones. His persona throughout the stanzas is one of observation and reflection, as if an outsider to the subject is recalling the words of someone familiar with the king Ozymandias himself, “I met a traveler from an antique land/ Who said…” (Shelley 500). This first sentence not only implies the previous inference, but opens the interest of a broad audience who might have felt a connection with a observing view. The rhyme scheme and form focus more on the connotative and structural significance. Combinations of sounds such as “land/stand, trunkless/sunk, and stone/lone” (Shelley 500) convey a powerful but tightly controlled mood. The predictability of the rhymes also entertain the powerful thought about the inevitability of nature’s terrain over human accomplishment, which is the main theme of the poem. This predictability also makes the sense of downfall seem evident: a climatic build up of words that seem obsolete give the impression that the ending is also to become just as obsolete.
The main theme of “Ozymandias” may seem obvious once explained, but is highly debated even to today, and no interpretation is considered wrong as long as it can be argued for. Many scholars say that Shelley’s personal life an opinions in his time period also influenced his decision to write this poem with such abstractions. “Shelley lived in a period when the British government, fearful of revolution, took oppressive measures against radicalism. Habeas Corpus was suspended in 1817. His hatred of tyranny is well-known and was eloquently expressed in much of his prose and correspondence, while political events occasionally prompted him to write a poem.” (Hebron 2). Writing “Ozymandias” and including the theme that even the mightiest of tyrants are obliterated by time is considered to be a political move on Shelley’s part, and implies that the theme was written not only to enamor the public, but to promote his personal views on the current situations as famous poets and authors have done throughout history and continue to do.
The many interpretative meanings of this poem and its unique poetic sense was recently brought to light in front of a new audience. The television series “Breaking Bad” produced an episode titled “Ozymandias” in one of the final episodes of its series, referencing the show’s correlation to the theme of the original. A simplified version of the show’s intricate and involved plot does not do it justice: the main character rises out of a small name to huge fortune and stature, then slowly begins to fall apart after the deaths of his many partners in crime following this episode, the pinnacle of his downfall. This specific title begins his decline from the pedestal the entire series has lead him on. The use of the title “Ozymandias” has personal and moral significance in this episode and to the audience. Lines spoken in this episode, though specific to the show, can be compared to the style and impact of the original literary work. By simply correlating the thematic actions of the episode to the abstractions described in the poem “Ozymandias”, the main concept is open to a new interpretation and a modern portrayal. The psychological impact of this episode is also comparable to the impact the poem had to its audience at the time of its release. Man, tortured by the inevitable, has face ultimately face what is to come, which was a new and intrusive thought to the public in the 1800’s. Today, it still is, but to be portrayed in this way, on television, is comparable to the initial release.
The literary idea of “man vs. nature” is seen in more than the connotations and context of this poem. Man’s ideal legacy and arrogance leads to his own downfall, and his memory is erased by nature. This is relevant more than ever today: many names in the modern day strive to leave a mark on the world, whether it is good or bad. “Ozymandias” should serve as not only an example, but a warning to these people who challenge the forgetfulness of history.
Comparison of the War Photographer and Ozymandias
The War Photographer is written in the third person and the author is describing what is going on in the poem. The first line of the poem sets the scene for the poem. The phrase ‘he is finally alone’ refers to how before the war photographer was taking photographs when he was in the war surrounded by soldiers and civilians but now he is alone in his house developing the pictures that he took that day. ‘Spools’ are what thread is traditionally stored on and there is usually a lot of it so this implies that he surrounded by lots of photos of suffering. The ‘ordered rows’ that he has his photos organised in could also refer to rows of soldiers of rows of artillery or maybe a firing squad. Maybe he has also gone crazy from the distressing scenes that he has seen in the war. ‘Light is red’ refers to the only type of light that you can have on a dark room, but it could also mean the blood and how in the war that is all he sees. The priest is an image of surety and importance like the photographer and he sees his role as important and also sees himself as important. The places listed at the end of the stanza could refer to all of the places that he has been to. The phrase ‘All flesh is grass’ is a quote from Isiah in the Old Testament. This continues the religious theme and indicates the brief nature of life, especially during times of war, as described in the poem, when one death is nothing in the bigger picture.
The solutions in the second stanza refer to the chemicals that you have to put the photographs into to let them develop in but could also refer to the solutions that could solve all of the suffering and pain that comes with the ingoing war. The reference to the ‘fields which don’t explode beneath the feet’ is about how in the war torn are there would be mine fields and trying to walk over these fields would be lethal. The reference to the fields that don’t explode under feet mean that the fields are just normal and they are safe to travel over. The explosions come when a scared child is running to or from something or someone and then they trip a mine. This is a dark contrast to England where the fields are just normal fields.
Both poems deal with the theme of power, the power of the newspaper owners who decide if the war photographer gets any money, and Ozymandias, the self-proclaimed ‘King of Kings.’ Ozymandias deals with an ‘antique’ statue of a once great man who ruled over a vast kingdom but now, after his death, he is nothing and neither is any of the work that he did. This shows the harsh but immaterial nature of nature and time, and how it governs over everything else. In Ozymandias the poet describes a ‘traveller from an antique land’ in a way to distance himself from the digs he will be having towards Rameses. The description of the statue is ‘vast’ and this implies the endless size of the statue and the power that Rameses must have had to be able to erect such a statue. The way that he lost all of his power shows that power is not an eternal thing and can be taken away quickly. This is similar to how in War Photographer in the war the same can happen. Both poems are showing how power is nothing but is the basis for the world. Shelley was a revolutionary and so was against power and depicted this great figure being tore down, and in War Photographer the power of the newspaper choses what photos are chosen and how the war is depicted. This is the basis for both poems and is a common and strongly put across theme.