Comparison of Ozymandias and to an Athlete Dying Young
The themes of the poems “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelly and “To an Athlete Dying Young” by A. E. Housman can be summed up by saying that life is short and fame is fleeting enjoy the successes. Each poem is narrated skillfully to show that there was once greatness in both King Ramses II and the Young Athlete but as is the case for everyone in the end death is sure the life that is lead, the accomplishments that are attained, and the remembrance of those from others after that are what are fleeting. Romantic period writer, Percy Bysshe Shelly and Victorian period writer, A.E. Housman’s poems “Ozymandias” and “To an Athlete Dying Young” use theme, tone and style, as well as influences from their writing periods to masterfully draw in the reader.
The common theme expressed in each poem is central to understanding its meaning. Both poets paint the picture that life is short. In exploring evidence of this one could look at the word choice of the poet Shelly that are of particular notice are antique instead of old and visage instead of face (1, 4) the poet attitude seems to be harkening readers to beware that life is short and how you live it will remain longer than you think. Further interpretation is revealed through the 14 lines of this sonnet Shelley speaks to not only the people of the Romantic era but also throughout time about the brevity of life and one’s self-importance.
The poets also frame the poems that fame is fleeting alluding to no matter how important someone is or thinks that they are it is often an illusion of their own sense self importance.Dennis Dean, a well-known scholar of geology and the Victorian era writes that A.E. Housman in his poem “To an Athlete Dying Young” is “not writing about a particular situation (or an actual life), but a universal condition of humankind.” (1). That condition being universal that people believe that fame is something that will live on forever.
Dean believes Housman is “addressed direly to the dead runner – presumably able to hear them – who is praised for having chosen the right time in life to die. This he will never be around to see how temporary his fame was. Nor will he ever know the agony of being beaten in another running of the same race another year” (1). This is also the point that is revealed by Shelly as The poet is masterful in creating the picture of a vastness that is now void just like a king that thought he would live forever and be honored always is a myth or void.
The tone and writing styles of each poet are unique and have strong influence over each poem.The tone through both poems is primarily somber causing the reader to reflect on the deeper meaning behind the life and death of each central character. The tone of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem Ozymandias is certainly one of disdain or mocking of the “King of Kings” (10) who is now “a colossal wreck; boundless and bare” (13). He is harkening the audience to understand just how foolish it is to believe fame and fortune last. He then moves to talk of lies, frowns, and sneers, which leads you to the discovery of the ancient king and has more meaning. Likewise, Housman seems to be forlorn that dying at the height of youth and accomplishment might be preferable to living a life unfulfilled. The poet’s attitude is excited and jubilant then somber and sad then hopeful about the after life as if one can continue fame even after death.
The poets use style to add to the allusion and irony of the stories they weave. As evidence Dr. Bruce L. Edwards a Fulbright Fellow and well-recognized C.S. Lewis scholar and author who was a Professor Emeritus of English and Africana Studies at Bowling Green State University writes on the poem “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley describes that the “octave thus confronts the reader in its first movement with an ironic portrait of an ancient monarch whose fame and stature have been immortalized in a static gaze that connotes paradoxically both celebrity and dissolution” (1). Edwards further helps us understand Shelley’s poem structure is a “fourteen-line Italian sonnet, featuring an opening octave, or set of eight lines, that presents a conflict or dilemma, followed by a sestet, or set of six lines, that offers some resolution or commentary upon the proposition introduced in the octave” (1). This was a common form during the Romantic period and often used by Shelly.
The Era from which each poet is from as well as their own personal hardships strongly influences their works.Percy Bysshe Shelly is from the Romantic period where beauty and greatness were highly admired. As further evidence is explored one can see that Edwards’ insights are beneficial when he explains, “the nineteenth century was filled with ‘discoveries’ of ancient landscapes, built upon a historiography of ‘great men,” who were to elicit the attention and admiration of a generation of scholars and writes. Shelly chose, however to poke holes in the ‘great man’ theory of history, questioning its validity and its rationality” (2). The points he has made on the structure of the poem, the evolution of the poet, and the irony of the theme of the poem give assistance to understanding the meaning of the poem. Edwards helps to further clarify and confirm that Shelley in just 14 lines makes it clear that life is short and fame is fleeting.Edwards points out that Shelley like many poets of his time developed their own words, forms, and really helped to reawaken the art of poetry to speak about areas impacting life in a broader sense than had been done before. (2) The period was about the one that was somewhat superficial which certainly has significant bearing on the writings of the time on the brevity of life and the fleeting nature of fame.
A. E. Housman is from the Victorian era where beauty and fame are of significant importance. Dennis goes on to tell us that A.E. Housman was “an Englishman by birth and a classical scholar (mostly Roman poetry) by profession. In many of his poems, these two aspects of their author combine to create a paradoxically unchanging world of human vicissitudes.” (1) The Victorian era had many advances in science and education but there was certainly a social divide that existed causing many to long or hope for better circumstances. One can easily interpret that protocols, propriety and social order were very important. There was a significant social divide that those without fame and beauty or success were simply not a part of the “in crowd.” The poet seems to be forlorn that dying at the height of youth and accomplishment might be preferable to living a life unfulfilled.
Finally, the theme of the poem by A. E. Housman “To an Athlete Dying Young” can be summed up by saying that life is short and fame is fleeting, enjoy the successes. The same could be said for Percy Bysshe Shelly poem “Ozymandias” with the twist that even being a king cannot change what happens in the end. Review of these poems reveals that Romantic period writer, Percy Bysshe Shelly and Victorian period writer, A.E. Housman’s poems “Ozymandias” and “To an Athlete Dying Young” use theme, tone and style, as well as influences from their writing periods to masterfully draw in the reader.
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