Ozymandias

General Ideas

  • This poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley is about a man who meets a traveller from far away, and the traveller tells him a tale about a statue which he has seen in the desert. This statue is of Ozymandias, an ancient King of Egypt. The whole poem involves the theme of Ozymandias' arrogance due to his perceived power, and yet the way in which his statue has been ruined by time.

 

Structure

  • This poem is 14 lines long, meaning that it is a sonnet. A sonnet is a kind of poem which has been used through history usually as a love poem, but also as a poem which expresses admiration for something. Shakespeare famously used sonnets. Sonnets often set up a problem - of in the first half - then resolves it in the last half after a 'volta' or change in mood. However, this poem doesn't do this, it simply deepens the problem, perhaps commenting on how the problem of time and decay can't be resolved.

  • Sonnet form might used ironically here, because it's as though it should be admiring Ozymandias, but actually it is about how he has been destroyed.

  • A sonnet is also a very rigid structure of poem, mirroring the nature of the stone statue, showing that the poem is just another form of art which won't survive through time either.

  • Rhyme scheme is meant to be a typical sonnet rhyme scheme, but many of the rhymes are half-rhymes, e.g. 'appear' and 'despair'. We might think that the rhyme scheme is imperfect, to show the imperfection of Ozymandias and of his statue.

  • Rhythm of the poem is iambics. Count the number of syllables in each line - 10 syllables. Divide this into five pairs. Iambics means that the second one is each pair stressed. i MET / a TRAV/ ler FROM/ an ANT/ ique LAND.

  • Iambics have the effect of creating a strong and never-ending pace, suggesting that time keeps going and you can't stop it. Iambics mirror the human heartbeat, which gives us a sense of Ozymandias trying to stay eternally alive but failing.

 

Analysis

  • l. 1: The word 'traveller' suggests the man he has met comes from far away, and 'antique' suggests the land is old and outdated. 'Antique' is also usually used for objects, suggesting that they are going to find some antique object in this land as well.

  • ll. 2-3: 'Trunkless' means lacking a body, while 'vast' means extremely big and wide. The line presents us with the image of a broken statue lacking the top half, although the legs still stand there, pointlessly. The 'ellipsis' after 'desert' suggests a pause where the reader is meant to linger on something, e.g. where is other half of the statue. We might think the dot dot dot could symbolize the desert stretching away. This creates suspense and mystery.

  • ll. 3-4: Near the legs, on the sand, another part of the statue lies - the statue's head. 'Half-sunk' suggests the face is being swallowed up by the sand, while 'shattered' emphasizes how broken the statue is and it is no longer a complete statue. Assonance of ‘a’ sound is shattered throughout the line, mirroring the fragments of the statue.  

  • The face is described as serious and unfriendly, with a 'frown' and a 'wrinkled lip', using assonance to 'wrinkle' the words together and so mirror the lips of the statue. Polysyndeton provides emphasis using rule of three (tricolon). The face is seen to be squashed and unpleasant, and the 'sneer of cold command' suggests that he is proud and looks down on all those around him. 'Cold command' uses alliteration to create an effect of a harsh sound, which represents how harsh Ozymandias is, and how 'cold' he is.

  • The expressions of Ozymandias suggest that the sculptor accurately portrayed the emotions of the man who he based the statue on, and the poet tells us that these 'yet survive', juxtaposed with the fact that they survive by being 'stamped on' 'lifeless things', as it is just the statue and not the man which survives. Also because the statue is now broken up as well.

  • 'The hand that mocked them' could have two meanings, either referring to Ozymandias 'mocked' people regularly, or the fact that the sculptor imitated his expressions, and now the statue also mocks Ozymandias because he is dead while it survives. 'The heart that fed' may refer to the heartlessness of Ozymandias, and the fact that the sculptor put his heart into work.

  • ll. 9-11: The inscription on the pedestal shows Ozymandias' wish to portray how powerful he was, inspiring envy and suffering through jealousy. But this is ironic because his statue is no longer whole, it has been destroyed by time, so the reader might despair about the inability of art or humans to survive through time.

  • l. 12: 'Nothing beside remains' can also be read in two ways - after he dies there is nothing left of him, and there is nothing left besides the statue beyond the ‘remains’ of the dead. Caesura (punctuation in the middle of the line) makes us pause to think about it, being cut short like the statue was.

  • l. 13: 'colossal Wreck' emphasizes the size of the statue, yet juxtaposes it with the fact that the Statue is a 'Wreck', which is capitalised to emphasize what a massive wreck it was!

  • ll. 13-14: A lot of alliteration and sibilance is used to create interest in these lines, and sibilance also shows or mirrors the snake-like nature of Ozymandias, yet also mirrors the sound of the wind through the sand, emphasizing the bare nature of the landscape. Also shows how none of his work has actually remained, emphasizing how nothing is there anymore but the wind.

  • Long vowel sounds at the end of lines emphasize the idea of something stretching far away, showing how the emptiness goes on forever. This creates in the reader the sentiments of fear for their own lives and also a sense of sadness and hubris. Hubris means pride which is brought low, and is a very apt word for Ozymandias.

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