Percy Bysshe Shelley’s sonnet, “Ozymandias” shares the experience of a voyager who had just travelled across an old, cultural and heritage place. The voyager describes to the poet what he saw there by outlining about a forceful ruler who had been endeavoring for power so much that he overlooked his definitive fate. The work creates a striking, yet relatable picture of a man's pride, which he considers it as lasting, overlooking the fact that every one of his assets will evaporate eventually with time: “Nothing beside remains” (Shelley, l. 12). By integrating story inside a story, the poet beautifully tells us about materialistic world that fails to comprehend the irrefutable strength of eternal time, and where self-conceit beliefs take precedence over the brutal reality.However, the poem begins with the speaker who “me[ets] a traveller from an antique land” (1), and this traveler discloses to him a tale about an extraordinary ruler named Ozymandias. The opening lines addresses the importance of the experience of the traveler who had traversed across a place which has a prestigious history, priceless culture, and unique, as very less people have ever visited it.
After a brief introduction of the traveler, brings an incredible curve into the story, as from here on the traveler starts narrating as the new griot in the story. By utilizing redolent dialect, he exemplifies about what he saw in the empty and erratic desert:
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, (2-5)
By the time the traveler came across the kingdom in desert, what he saw was a gigantic pair of legs of a statue whose upper body as missing, which was obliterated, and fragments of a statue were all that were remained. He portrays the monstrous statue of the king relatable to the incredible power he had, and the high regard he held for himself. Another part of the statue, the face was shattered with a portion of its face submerged under the layer of sand in the desert. Although the face was ruined, he was still able to recognize his facial expressions signifying self-vanity convictions the King held about his power and possessions.
In the wake of giving the description of the of the statue, the traveler was so mesmerized by the aesthetic abilities of the sculptor that he says, “Tell that its sculptor well those passions read” (6). The traveler admires the sculptor’s work on the statue that how efficiently the latter has carved the face on a stone, where all the statue has been demolished with time but the bold facial expressions of the King “yet survive … on th[e] lifeless thing” (7). While commending the craftsman he relates those articulations on statue recapturing the King’s real-life passions: “Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, / The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;” (8). The traveler was astonished by the way, the sculptor was able to put all vehemence into the sculpture, which were in the heart of the King.
While describing about the sculpture the speaker comes across a dramatic irony of the words on the pedestal: “My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; / Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!” (11-12). The words on the pedestal suggest that Ozymandias was contemptuous, hubris, egoist and desperately sought to establish his supremacy over others. His way to achieve an unceasing name and popularity by raising a statue blundered because he wasn't able to anticipate the reality of inescapable time, as it was altogether pulverized when the traveler went there.
Speaker uses the big sculpture as a metaphor for the pride in all the human beings, stating that such mammoth statue cannot withstand the power of time as “[n]othing beside remains” (12). This poem is a brilliant satire on human pride and suggests the bigger the pride is the bigger is the loss, signifies the “colossal [w]reck” (13). Therefore, keep the pride low because obscurity is the predetermination of humankind, as nothing is permanent, everything blurs away with time, be it you, your assets or any man-made things, everything will in the end will vanish: “The lone and level sands stretch far away” (14). Shelley use of sarcasm in the poem stating the legend on the pedestal, provides consolation in the minds of readers that all obnoxious things have an end. The use of alliterations such as, “cold command” (5), “boundless and bare” (13), “lone and level” (14), etc. outlines some of bold facts, making meaning clearer and more important. The poet in the sonnet explains by instantiating distinctive and ironic pictures in the mind of readers that nothing is everlasting, and time is the ultimate unbeatable truth.
- Shelley, Percy Bysshe, and Theo Gayer-Anderson. Ozymandias. Hoopoe Books, 1999.
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