Ozymandias; A Literary Analysis
by Kacie Rahm
Not "rated" by the Author.
edited: Monday, September 28, 2009
Posted: Tuesday, April 15, 2008
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This was written for my English class and I was hoping to get some feedback from you guys=]
This is one of my favorite poems of all time.
An Explication of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s
I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert… Near them on the sand,
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 hand that mocked them and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
”My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias” demonstrates a theme of permanence. The story is hearsay to the speaker, and his enthusiasm to further share the story will only continue its eternalness. The imagery of the statue itself, its destruction and the unaffected pedestal further expand on the everlasting qualities of the monument. The prolonged existence of the fable and the expansiveness of the desert on a timeless and vast earth prove the solidity of Ozymandias and everything he leaves behind.
The persona of the poem seems as though he is passing on an interesting story to a fellow traveler, much like he himself experienced in his exploration. The speaker “met a traveler from an antique land” which sparked the entire discussion of the ruined statue. The persona did not personally experience this spectacle, yet can recall word for word the detailed imagery of the ruins. Not only does this show how enthralling the description was to the speaker, but how eager he was to inform others of the statue’s presence. The theme of permanence is well developed because the reader must assume that the story will only continue to be spread, a legend for all interested in hearing it.
A statue is a fantastic image for permanence. It was originally constructed by a tyrant king to glorify himself, yet constructed in a manner that discredits him. The “frown and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command” are obvious examples of negative emotion. The sculptor was inspired by Ozymandias in life, and the result is a proper depiction of his personality even in death. Before the statue was destroyed, it was a representation of the king’s presumed permanence, and the details of his demeanor are undyingly expressed. It is impossible to know whether the effigy was abandoned and eroded without attention or forcefully destroyed by the resentful subjects of Ozymandias; however, either option proves that the feelings of the subjects towards their leader are eternal, inflicting irreversible damage.
The status of the monument is described in the poem in abundant detail, adding to the theme even further. Phrases like “trunkless legs,” “shattered visage,” and “colossal wreck” stick in the reader’s mind like glue. Though the crushed statue seemingly contradicts the theme, the durability is not of importance. The permanence lies within the human emotion surrounding Ozymandias. The “hand that mocked” and “heart that fed” cannot actually be seen on an unalterable sculpture, yet they are still mentioned. The legend of the tyrannous ruler overshadows the visual representation of Ozymandias, and the traveler cannot distinguish his previous knowledge from the actual visual. This shows that the effects of arrogance and cruelty are also everlasting, even though the state of the statue was not.
Most importantly, the attached placard is intact, which reads: “My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings: Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!” This arrogant attitude, straight from the mouth of the king himself, unfolds a completely different kind of permanence: his legacy. Though these words are not a positive reflection, they are accurate and indestructible, contrary to the condition of the rest of the statue.
The longevity of the legend is vital to the understanding of the theme. Thousands of years have passed since the construction of the monument at the time it is reported to the speaker of the poem, but still it remains. Though not intact, Ozymandias’ effigy continues to be a source of information for travelers and historians to understand the era of his domain, and his character. The legacy of the king outlasts his life, his monument, and survives to be shared by people centuries after his reign.
Though the “lone and level sands stretch far away” from the wreckage, it is there to be seen, and has been, by a transient traveler. “Nothing beside remains,” yet the legacy lives on. It is interesting enough to tell to a passing acquaintance and vivid enough to describe in magnificent detail. It is obvious that no amount of decay, time, or distance can destroy the permanence of the statue, and everything it represents historically and emotionally. “Ozymandias,” with the use of distinct imagery and evocative emotions, develops a theme of permanence. Interestingly enough, the poem itself further correlates with the theme. The poet lived during the late 1700s and early 1800s, yet his poetry is analyzed and cherished two hundred years later. Shelley has proven his own solidity in the world of literature, and has furthered the permanence of Ozymandias, the fabled king, by informing poetry buffs and students alike of his existence. (757)
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|Reviewed by Regis Auffray
|I was not familiar with this poem so your essay is a learning experience for me. Nicely done, Kacie. Thank you for sharing. Love, peace, and best wishes to you,