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Context The Poet: Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792−1822) was a Romantic poet known for his radical views, most notably his atheism and condemnation of tyranny, including – in his view – monarchical rule (royalty). He was a fierce supporter of the French Revolution. He was often used as a symbol of rebellion as he questioned those that fell into power through inheritance. As he was a member of the Romantic movement, he thought the pen was mightier than the sword and privileged art and literature over the short lived power of individuals.
Before you start, annotate the following… • Visage = a person’s face or reference to an expression. • Colossal = extremely large. • Pedestal = the base or support on which a statue is mounted.
Before you start, annotate the following… • Oxymandias = another name for Rameses II, one of the best known and most powerful Egyptian pharaohs, who ruled over 3000 years ago. • Rameseswas responsible for a huge amount of building works and paid for a sculptor to carve a statue of him with the inscription ‘Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair’. • He wanted his statue built so his powerful rule would be remembered.
Title The title suggests the theme of power as Ozymandias was a powerful figure in Egyptian history. The statue in the poem is Ozymandias, also known as Rameses II. He was a powerful Egyptian Pharaoh (King). Ozymandias As Shelley was known to rebel against powerful figures the reader may immediately assume that this poem will give a cynical account of the Egyptian ruler.
About About: The poem is about Oxymandias. Irony is used throughout the poem to highlight the discrepancy between Ozymandias’ belief that he would remain powerful after death and the reality of the picture of ruin and ‘decay’ we see in the poem: the once-great Ramesesis shattered, ‘half-sunk’ and isolated in the desert that was once the site of a great civilisation of his own creation. It is likely that Shelley told the tale of the fall of this once-great king to make a general statement about politics in his day. Themes:power and the temporary nature of power; ‘pride comes before a fall; the power of art. Tone: the tone is purposefully ambiguous as the narrator and the traveller remain impartial. Shelley uses the ‘voice’ of the king himself to mock the arrogant character of a man who believed he was closer to God and had limitless power.
Ozymandias The poem is written as a sonnet but does not stick closely to the form. This possibly shows Shelley’s determination to rebel against conventions.
Sonnet lines 1-3 The poem starts with the narrator who tells us he met a traveller. ‘Antique’ suggests an ancient land. I met a traveller from an antique landWho said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stoneStand in the desert. Near them, on the sand, The quotation marks signals the ‘voice’ of the traveller. ‘vast’ and ‘trunkless’ set up dichotomy between power and weakness. The size of the sculpture shows Ozymandias’ ambitions for greatness and everlasting glory. ‘trunkless’ is the main part of the body which tells us only the legs stand, while the face lies on the floor.
Sonnet lines 4- 7 Here the poet refers to the face of the statue that lies shattered and broken in the sand. This creates irony as Ozymandias thought the statue would represent his power. ‘stamp’d’ suggests the sculptor didn’t respect Oxymandias. Half sunk, a shatter’d visage lies, whose frown And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command Tell that its sculptor well those passions read Which yet survive, stamp’d on these lifeless things, Shelley compliments the sculptor as a bit of Ozymandias’ statue remains – while there is no evidence of any of the works built by Ozymandias. He compliments the artist’s ability to capture Ozymandias’ cruelty and vanity through art on ‘lifeless’ mediums such as stone. ‘wrinkled’, ‘sneer’ and ‘cold’ reveal a negative portrayal of Ozymandias’ character. It suggests he was a cold hearted and cruel ruler.
Sonnet lines 8-11 The ‘hand’ represents all artists that have the power to ‘mock’ even the most powerful leaders through their art. The hand that mock’d 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!’ The ‘despair’ was originally meant to show that nobody could ever hope to compete with Ozymandias’ glory. He wanted his people to see the buildings he had created and feel fear at his power. However, read now, the word ‘despair’ seems to show the despair the ruler may feel if he saw the ruins. It shows the power of dictators is illusory and temporary. The quotations show that this is Ozymandias speaking. The words are now ironic as the statue no longer boasts power and authority but shows weakness and decay.
Sonnet lines 12-14 The use of caesura (midline fullstop) makes the reader pause for effect – to think/to show the isolation of the statue and the lack of legacy Ozymandias has left as no buildings remain. ‘colossal wreck’ shows a dichotomy between two images – vast but destroyed. Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare, The lone and level sands stretch far away. Alliteration to emphasise the emptiness around the statue. The double alliteration in this line: lone/level and sands/stretch; followed by the assonance on the long ‘a’ vowel sound of ‘far away’ are used to show how lonely and empty and barren the desert is. Again, this is ironic.
Ozymandias The highlighted words show the decay and loneliness of the statue
Links to other poems… • Historical Figures/learning from history: ‘Checking Out me History’ • Loss of power: ‘Horse Whisperer’ • Arrogance and the corruption of power: ‘My Last Duchess’ ‘The River God’