Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Ozymandias

Shelley’s Ozymandias is a masterful telling of the temporality of even the greatest things. It does not follow the pattern of any one category of sonnet, with a very interesting rhyme scheme of ABABACDCEDEFEF. This allows old rhymes to gradually be replaced by new ones, and links the octet and sestet by softening the impact of the volta.

It begins by having the speaker tell the tale of hearing a story from a traveler who went to Egypt and saw a broken statue lying in the sand, “two vast and trunkless legs of stone / Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand, / Half sunk, a shattered visage lies,”. This brings to mind ancient ruins of great fallen empires, specifically the Pharaohs of Egypt. The traveler then describes how though the statue is fallen, broken, and half covered in sand, the emotions captured by the sculptor still remain on the lifeless stone. He describes the statue as having a “wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,” as well as the remaining objects representing “the hand that mocked them and the heart that fed”. This suggests that the ruler that the statue represents was not a kind ruler. Shelley also uses toys with differences in speaker and subject to bring the reader back through time to imagine first the statue, then the sculptor making it, and finally the subject the statue was sculpted from, even down to his personality and characteristics. In the sestet, Shelly presents a great irony by describing the inscription on the pedestal: “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: / Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”. This inscription is a powerful boast from the ruler claiming that he has built many great works, works that will remain through all time.

However, Shelley opposes this in the 12th line when he follows up the quote saying that nothing now remains of Ozymandias’ great works, nothing but sand for all around. This is a statement by Shelley, that no matter how wealthy, powerful, or great a leader or civilization is, time will still overcome, and one day all shall fall.

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