Ozymandias

Ozymandias

by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveler from an antique land,

Who said—“Two vast and trunk less 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.”

Popularity: Ozymandias, a sonnet written by Percy Bysshe Shelley, a famous romantic poet, is a timeless masterpiece among poetries. It was published on June 11, 1818 issue of The Examiner in London. The poem was composed to show the fragility of life and fame and to remind that nothing lasts forever. Ozymandias is a Greek name of the Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II who ruled around 1300 B.C, and his statue is said to be the main inspiration of the poem.

Ozymandias as a Representative of Art and Culture:  As this poem is written about a ruined statue, it presents the perspective of a young traveler who provides a detailed description of the scattered ruins of the statue. The poem explores the fun of art and beauty in the natural world. The expression of wonder starts from the first line and runs throughout the poem. However, what stays in the minds of the readers is the impacts of the transience of life and permanence of art.

Major Themes: The poem comprises emotions of a traveler, who imagines the story of ruins of a statue in a desert. The traveler expresses that the statue was broken; two legs were standing without a body and head was half sunk in the sand. He also explains the expressions of the statue such as the “frown” and “sneer of cold command,” which indicates that the sculptor has made the statue to speak for itself. The lifeless statue has the name, Ozymandias, the kings of kings, on its pedestal. The name indicates the readers to look at the massive statue of the mighty king, but the ruined state means that nothing remains after one’s death, even if he is a king.  It shows the keen observation of the traveler on the one hand, and the artistic skills of a sculptor on the other.

Analysis of Literary Devices in “Ozymandias”

Literary devices work as tools for writers to use to enrich their texts.  With the help of literary devices, the writers directly or indirectly project their main ideas. Their use brings richness and clarity to the texts. Shelley also reveals his artistic skill in this poem using various literary devices.

1)    Metaphor:  There is one extended metaphor used in the poem. The statue of Ozymandias metaphorically represents power, legacy, and command. It clarifies the meanings of the object and makes it clear that once the king was mighty and all-powerful.  It also shows that the sand has eroded the actual shape of the statue, representing the destructive power of time.

2)    Personification: Shelley has used personification that means to use human emotions for inanimate objects. He has used personification twice in the poem. The fifth line “And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,” refers to the broken head of the statue. However, the lifeless statue Ozymandias is referred to as a real person. The second example is in the sixth line of the poem where “Tell that its sculptor well those passions read” shows as if the statue is commanding the sculptor how to carve or express his emotions.

3)    Imagery: Imagery is used to make the reader feel things through five senses. The poet has used images involving a sense of sights such as two vast and trunk-less legs, shattered face, wrinkled lip and desert. These images help readers visualize the status of the broken statue.

4)    Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of the same consonant sounds in the same lines of the poetry such as the use of /c/ in “cold command”, the sound of /b/ in “boundless and bear” and the sound of /l/ in “lone and level.

5)    Enjambment: The term enjambment refers to lines that end without any punctuation marks. Shelley has used enjambments in the second and sixth line of the poem where it is stated, “Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone” and “Tell that its sculptor well those passions read”.

6)    Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of the vowel sounds in the same line such as the sounds of /a/ in “stand and sand” and sound of /e/ in “well and read.”

7)    Irony: Irony is a figure of speech used to present the opposite meanings of the words. Ozymandias’s description presents him as a mighty, great and fierce king but in reality, there is nothing but a broken, lifeless statue.

8)    Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds such as /s/ in “Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown”.

Concluding the literary devices, it can be stated that on the one hand, these literary devices have provided uniqueness to the text, and on the other, they have opened up new vistas for interpretations. Moreover, Shelley has explored many contemporary issues under these literary devices.

Analysis of Poetic Devices in “Ozymandias”

Although most of the poetic devices are the same literary devices, some poetic devices are used in poetry and not in prose. The analysis of some of the prominent poetic devices in the poem is given below.

1)    Sonnet: A sonnet is a fourteen-line poem in which the same idea runs throughout the poem in both of its parts such as the first part an octet (eight lines), and a sextet (six line), the second part. “Ozymandias” also has the same two parts, to be considered as a sonnet.

2)    Rhyme Scheme: The whole poem follows ABBAABBACDCDCD. It is different from the traditional rhyme scheme. Shelley has used the mixture of an octet and Shakespearian rhyme scheme. The purpose of this rhymes scheme is to show the progress of time. As the poem progresses, the old pattern of rhyme is replaced with the new pattern which makes the poem unique in its structure.

3)    Meter: There is no specific meter throughout the poem. Although the poem is written in iambic pentameter in which unstressed syllable is followed by a stressed syllable, as it is stated, “half-sunk, a shatt-er’d vis-age lies.” However, by the end, Shelley has used trochee which means the line begins with a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable.

The analysis shows that this poem, though, seems a simple description of a statue, deceptively points to the dark reality that power corrupts humans. The statue, even after its ruination, displays harsh expressions to show that the king was not benevolent during his regime. The ruins point out that nothing in the world is permanent.

Quotations for Usage from “Ozymandias”

  1. The above-stated lines can be used to give a message of hope and power during a speech or lecture. You can use it to show that the way you live with others’ speaks about you even after your demise.

“Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things.”

  1. This line can be used to weave fantasy stories and tales to impress the younger audience or even a bed-time story.

“I met a traveler from an antique land.”