Summary and Analysis of Ozymandias by P. B. Shelley

Overview of the Poem

Percy Bysshe Shelley, one of the greatest British poets of the nineteenth century, wrote the epic poem “Ozymandias.” It was first published under the pen name “Gilrastes” in 1818 in The Examiner of London.

This poem is a profound reflection on the transience of human strength and the certainty of death and forgetfulness. Shelley expertly portrays the idea that even the greatest of civilizations will eventually fall to ruin by the use of florid and ornate language, leaving behind only relics of their past glory to be remembered by future generations. A witness to this eternal truth, the speaker of the poem testifies to the transience of earthly authority and the utter futility of human ambition as he comes upon the broken pieces of a once-great statue of the ancient Egyptian ruler Ramesses II.

Background of Ozymandias

The historical origins of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias” lie within the annals of ancient Egyptian civilization and the ubiquitous presence of one of its paramount rulers, Ramesses II, who was referred to as Ozymandias in Greek culture.

The reign of Ramesses II, situated in the 13th century BCE, was marked by his conquests in warfare, his magnificent architectural feats, and his extensive realm stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Nile delta. In spite of his immeasurable wealth and power, the king and his empire eventually succumbed to decay and obscurity, much like the statue in Shelley’s poem, found in a desolate wasteland, shattered and broken.

The poem functions as a symbol of the ephemeral nature of human authority, signifying that even the most illustrious and grandiose of realms shall ultimately transmute into mere debris and recollections. The poem also alludes to the cyclical nature of history, where empires rise and fall and power changes hands from one generation to the next, a reflection of humanity’s eternal quest for permanence and stability in a world forever in flux.

Summary of Ozymandias by P.B. Shelley

In Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” the narrator encounters a traveller from an antique land who relates the story of a sculptural masterpiece that was once erected in the desert sands. The statue was a monument to the mighty king Ozymandias, renowned for his vast empire and seemingly unstoppable power. Yet, despite the grandeur of this monument and its dedication to a conqueror of nations, it lay in ruins, a testament to the transience of all things human.

The once-great statue was now little more than a shattered fragment of stone, its once-majestic countenance now reduced to a sneer of “cold command,” a remnant of a long-forgotten era. The inscription upon the pedestal, once so full of pride and self-assurance, now only spoke of the artless boast that all that remained of Ozymandias’s greatness was the desolate desert and the broken statue.

In this somber meditation on the brevity of human power and greatness, Shelley reflects on the futility of human ambition and the ultimate power of time to lay low even the most mighty of conquerors. Despite the bold declarations of greatness inscribed upon the pedestal of the statue, nothing remains of Ozymandias save for the desolate sands and the shattered fragments of stone.

The poem serves as a symbolization of the ephemeral character of human aspiration and the transitory essence of human achievement, a formidable symbol that every entity, no matter its magnitude, will ultimately fall prey to the erosion of time. Despite the conceit of human desires, the granules of time shall persist in their progression and the edifices of our grandeur shall disintegrate into mere particles of earth.

Critical Analysis of Ozymandias by P.B. Shelley

“Ozymandias” is a brilliant example of a Petrarchan sonnet, albeit with a slightly altered rhyme scheme. Conforming to the classic sonnet form, it comprises fourteen lines, each written in iambic pentameter.

The rhyme scheme of “Ozymandias” is one of distinction, with a pattern of ABABACDC EDEFEF. This deviates from the conventional rhyme scheme of a standard Petrarchan sonnet, where the octave – the first eight lines of the poem – typically follows a rhyme scheme of ABBAABBA. Its sestet, or the final six lines, does not have a fixed rhyme scheme, yet it commonly alternates between rhyming every other line or features three unique rhymes.

Shelley’s defiance of this conventional rhyme scheme is what sets “Ozymandias” apart from other Petrarchan sonnets and contributes to its enduring legacy. It is speculated that his intention for doing so was to symbolize the corruption of authority and those in positions of power.

The incomparable sonnet, “Ozymandias,” is a tour de force of artistic brilliance and satirical prowess, crafted by the legendary bard Percy Bysshe Shelley. With his remarkable mastery of the English language, the poet casts a piercing gaze upon the oppressions of political tyranny and the tyrants who wield such power.

The narrative of the poem is conveyed through the artful device of a monologue, in which the speaker engages in discourse with a mysterious traveler from a far-off, archaic realm. The traveler recounts a tale of a statue that has been reduced to ruins by the relentless march of time. The two magnificent pillars of stone, once towering and resplendent, now lay shattered and alone amidst a sea of golden granules, amidst the desolate dunes of the desert.

Shelley, a harbinger of revolution, drew inspiration from the tumultuous events of the French Revolution, and he transformed the very concept of time itself. In the poem, time is personified as a conqueror, the ultimate nemesis of temporal monarchical power and sovereignty. Through his inimitable wit, the poet skewers the statue, suggesting that its “wrinkled lip” betrays the true nature of the king, a symbol of domination and tyranny. The sculptor, with his art, mocks the king, reflecting his political tyranny through the very stone that represents him. The final irony, as so brilliantly conveyed by Shelley, is that this symbol of power is but a mere reflection of “the heart that fed” it.

This magnificent sonnet serves as a dazzling satire of temporal physical power. Shelley masterfully employs irony to lay bare the hypocrisy of political domination. The pedestal of the statue bears the inscription, “My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!” This declaration of temporal political power is rendered all the more absurd by its decay and loss over time, for the present reality is a desolate wasteland, with nothing remaining but the decay of the statue, surrounded by boundless and barren desert sands stretching endlessly into the distance.

Literary Devices Used in Ozymandias

Shelley masterfully employs a plethora of imaginative linguistic devices in order to captivate and entrance his audience. These include, but are not limited to:

1)  Enjambment

Percy Bysshe Shelley uses the adaptable method of enjambment with a fluidity and finesse that is nothing short of awe-inspiring in his classic work of literary genius, “Ozymandias.” Using this method, in which a sentence or thought is carried on past the line break, gives Shelley’s poetry a sense of motion and rhythm and carries the reader along with the flow of her words.

Shelley’s use of enjambment, which flows naturally, creates a dense tapestry of meaning by tying together the disparate parts of his message. The lines flow into one another, leading to a crescendo that reveals the whole picture in all its splendour.

By using enjambment, Shelley is able to increase the impact of his poetry and give “Ozymandias” a more profound message. Use it wisely, and you can retell the story of the great King Ozymandias and the brutal dictatorship that led to his downfall. Shelley uses enjambment to create a compelling story that stands the test of time.

2) Metaphors

The poem “Ozymandias” makes use of a number of metaphors. Ozymandias’s characterization as a “King of Kings” is a common one because it suggests the political authority and dominance that he exercises. Time is a destructive force that drags down all temporal authority, and the words “Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!” use this metaphor effectively. Some may interpret the “sands” on the statue as a metaphor for the ephemeral nature of power and the pointlessness of seeking political office. The monument itself may be seen as a metaphor for the arrogance and self-importance that come with political power.

3) Irony

The irony in Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias” comes primarily from the inscription on the pedestal of the statue described by the speaker. “I am Ozymandias, King of Kings; behold my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” it proclaims. The contrast between this boast of Ozymandias’ greatness and power and the statue’s current state as “two vast and trunkless legs of stone” is stark. The statue, which has been broken down to its legs, stands alone in the desert. The irony of Ozymandias’ claims to greatness and power, which have been disproved by the passage of time, is thus symbolised by the inscription on the pedestal.

4) Allusion

In the poem “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley, there is an allusion to King Ozymandias, who was an ancient Egyptian Pharaoh, Ramses II. The name Ozymandias was one of the many names that Ramses II took, and it means “God’s Majestic Power”. The pompousness of political leaders who think their legacies would outlast them in the form of monuments and other achievements is mocked in this poem. King Ozymandias is a metaphor for the fleeting nature of power and the inevitable decline of any human being, including those who think themselves to be strong and immortal.

Themes in Ozymandias

Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley explores a variety of themes, including:

1) The transience of power and the fleeting nature of human achievement

The poem presents the image of a once-great king and his mighty statue, now reduced to rubble and forgotten by history. This highlights the temporary nature of power and fame and the way that time can erase even the most impressive accomplishments.

2) The corrupting influence of power

The poem suggests that King Ozymandias was a cruel ruler who oppressed his people and used his power for evil. The irony of the statue’s inscription, “Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!” highlights the hypocrisy of his grandiose claims.

3) The futility of materialism and the pursuit of wealth

The King’s aspirations for wealth and power, the poem implies, were ultimately meaningless, and that history will eventually forget his achievements.

The emphasis on the vanity of wealth serves as a sobering reminder that all material possessions, no matter how valuable, will eventually be forgotten. Shelley’s use of the statue of Ozymandias as a symbol of materialism serves as a warning to those who pursue wealth and power above all else, and serves as a reminder to us all that the only things that truly endure are the values we hold in our hearts, such as compassion, kindness, and wisdom.

4) The power of time and the forces of nature

The poem personifies time as a powerful and unstoppable force that can destroy even the mightiest works of man. The image of the wind and sand erasing the statue of Ozymandias emphasizes the ultimate triumph of nature over human achievement.

5) The importance of memory and legacy

The poem is a reminder of the importance of preserving the memory of great works and the lessons they can teach future generations. Despite the passage of time and the decay of the statue, the story of King Ozymandias lives on and continues to evoke a sense of awe and contemplation.