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The Case In Percy Shelleys Ozymandias English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1361 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Ramesses II, Pharaoh of the Nineteenth Dynasty of ancient Egypt also known as Ozymandias, was powerful and feared by his authority. Driven by his boastful ways his desires were always at reach. His hostility was enough for his kingdom to be torn asunder; such is the case in Percy Shelley's "Ozymandias". In it we find the essence of who Ozymandias once was and what came to be of him. Not only does the poem tell a compelling story, but it also contains a piercing moral. Shelley's strong use of imagery and ironic sentences give the reader the thought that nothing is written in stone. One could be king one day and the next he could be but mere flesh and bones. Nothing lasts; all is impermanent let alone power.

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Shelley writes his poem as a story being told to the speaker by an unknown traveler. Starting with "I met a traveler from an antique land" the ambient sets foot and we begin to imagine history in the past (Shelly 1). There is a sense of anticipation in wanting to know the "land" Shelley speaks of as well as the identity of the traveler (1). The "antique land" part makes the land seem old and not much but memories of the past; perhaps the traveler is old too (1; Bitterman). Setting the line break after "land" is a great way to make the reader stop and to construct a background scene before moving on (1). As we keep reading Shelley uses his powerful imagery to evoke the greatness of the king. "…Two vast and trunkless legs of stone / Stand in the desert... Near them, on the sand, Half sunk a shattered visage lies…" (2-3). The "trunkless legs" belong to the statue of Ozymandias. By using the word "vast" we can confirm that this statue was mammoth, hence the power of the king. There is a bit of irony brought forward after, since at the side of the legs lies the head of the statue. Such enormous sized monument did not withstand time, nature, and civilization. The small pause at the end of "desert" is used in such way that it creates a sense of distance which is what Shelley wants to represent the desert being; distant (2). The head of the statue also had a strong vibe "…whose frown, / And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, / Tell that its sculptor well those passions read" (4-6). It is clear that Ozymandias did not hide his emotions; even the sculptor was able to engrave his essence in stone.   The reader now sees the leader that is represented to be a heartless, brutal person, but one who still had remorse for his people as the poem also states: "The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:" (8). Ozymandias still had some sort compassion for his people. His heart is spoken of this way so we remind ourselves as readers that as powerful as he was, he was still human thus his legacy was short lived.

The poem's tone is one of mystery and amusement at statue of the king. The tone is balanced by the essence of solitude felt in the description of the empty sands. Inscribed in the monument are the words of the king; it reads: "'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: / Look on my works, ye Mighy, and despair!'" (10-11). This more than anything shows how arrogant and envious Ozymandias really is. In regard to that we are told that "Nothing beside remains…" (12). Irony is the key here, and Shelly uses it to prove his point. When reading we bring back the imagery of the desolate desert and the emptiness it resembles. Nothing is left of the king but a monument that is broken in the middle of nowhere. The scars in the statue are a symbol of man's pride, in which everything that is made is done with the intention to last forever. "Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare / The lone and level sands stretch far away." (13-14). The word "colossal" is used as a reminder of the size of the statue as well as the size of the power Ozymandias once had. However, as powerful as he came to be he is now restrained and vulnerable just like the rest of his subjects. Shelley uses visual imagery and its effect to convey the meaning of the poem because seeing the image of the desolate desert is the best way to represent the solitude Ozymandias stands in. The last line can be interpreted in different ways but they all support the main theme. In the last line "level sands" is used to represent the level and state most people are in, so now the king is at level with the rest of his people (14; Lucas). The "level sands" can also mean that the sand will stay unchanged despite the changes in authority (14). Using a metaphor, Shelley gives a perspective of what happens when someone abusive that is in command gets overthrown. Every generation will have a ruler and once his period is over there will always be someone else to take his place. People will still submit to their authority with no change. It is true that power is ephemeral in a person, but power used on a person can last a lifetime.

One of key factors for the main idea of the poem is the role of the sand or desert. Time is what keeps going and can never be stopped. Not only are the feeble attempts to overcome nature and time always fail, but everything we do is consumed by the sands of time in the case of Ozymandias we can say the desert is time and slowly it will consume the statue. Perhaps a monument of Ozymandias was built to have an effect in future generations; he wanted to be remembered forever. Even then time continues and it takes it all.

The form of the poem is unique as it is a sonnet and it follows a distinct rhyme scheme of ABABACDCEDEFEF. In addition the form, with its iambic pentameter, contributes to the overall theme of the poem because it has its blemishes. Just as imperfect Shelley's poem was, so was Ozymandias. Shelley writes the poem in a mocking way as there is a bit of sarcasm when the inscription is read. The way he sets the words gives off a powerful sound and in return you get the feeling of the power Ozymandias had. "'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: / Look on my works, ye Mighy, and despair!'" (10-11). The "k" sounds in "King" and "Kings" put more emphasis on what is being read. In the word "Works" we get the "k" sound again and it strengthens each image of his power. In addition in the beginning of the poem there is a train of "s" sounds that are contrasted by the "k" sounds we see here and throughout the poem. There is also a central paradox to the whole poem that states that power is useless since in the end you will lose it with death, but yet if you have power it can be proved worthwhile. In general you can say that everything we do is meaningless because in the end we will die. Perhaps the sculptor is mocking the king as he is sculpting knowing that soon the king's day will come. This same analogy can be applied to Shelley and his poem. He is mocking his sonnet by using imperfect forms. We can expect errors from an amateur poet but not from Shelley's caliber. It is also important to take into consideration that this poem was written in a time of crisis. Shelley's first wife drowned herself and he was disputing the custody of his children. All the stress and pain leads me to believe that Shelley wrote this poem as a lash out to mankind to simply state that nothing lasts forever.

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Power cannot buy the one thing everyone desires; immortality. Ozymandias found that the best he could do was to have monuments made of him to serve as evidence of his existence. Although his statues are destroyed they still lay in the desert and are remembered but mocked by nature and its inhabitants. One can say that being mortal was a curse to Ozymandias. Knowing that death was inevitable he made irresponsible actions thinking everything had the same general outcome in the end; death. The symbol of the statue more than anything conveys a message of defeat instead of admiration and triumph which was the king's goal in the first place. Cruelty will always be bestowed upon every generation. The traveler was right; if such emotion can be sculpted in "lifeless things" and last for years what stops it from happening to a civilization (7).


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