By Percy Bysshe Shelley
I met a traveller from an antique land,
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,
5 And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
10 My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings,
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away."
I chose the poem Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley. The main factor in my choice of this piece is the poems ability to convey several different meanings. In addition to telling an intriguing story, this poem also contains an insightful moral. This poem is one of the most famous and well known of Shelleys works. The work was first written as part of a literary contest in December of 1817, and first published in Leigh Hunts Examiner of January 11, 1818. The name of the poem, Ozymandias, is generally believed to refer to Ramesses the Great, Pharaoh of the Nineteenth Dynasty of ancient Egypt. The sonnet includes a paraphrase of the inscription found on the base of the statue. This message reads, "King of Kings am I, Ozymandias. If anyone would know how great I am and where I lie, let him surpass one of my works." This poem was inspired by Shelleys witnessing the arrival in London of a statue of Ramesses II, which had been acquired for the British museum by the Italian adventurer Giovanni Belzoni in 1816.
This poem is written in the voice of an unidentified first-person. The reader could assume that this narrator is the poet, but there is no real indication of this fact. The poems tone is one of mystery and wonder at the tale of the monument and inscription, as well as one of amazement at the greatness of the king. This is contrasted by the tone of desolation felt in the description of the empty desert. Little is said of the speaker in the poem. The major detail and reference to him is that he hears the tale of the traveler. There is some irony present in the moral of the story. The image of a great kingdom reduced to sand forces the reader to consider their own impression made on the world. The irony of this poem is that the contributions and achievements of the reader will eventually meet the same fate as those of the fallen king. The tone of the poem contributes to the significance of the poem because it gives the reader a sense of wonder and awe at the might of the civilization, as well as a feeling of loss when nothing remains of this great kingdom.
Shelleys poem has distinctly virtuoso diction, 1 with a great deal of poetic language. The diction is mainly upper diction and contains a large amount of concrete language. This is seen in such lines as, Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare, / The lone and level sands stretch far away. The statue in the poem is an allusion to the Younger Memnon statue of Ramesses II in the British Museum. There are some shifts from standard word order in the poem, such as in the line, Near them on the sand, / Half sunk, a shatterd visage lies. There is another line that reads, Tell that its sculptor well those passions read. These lines overall help to sustain the form and meter of the poem, but also contribute to the imagery seen in this piece.
A notable connotation in the poem is that of the desert and the boundless sands, which signify the desolation and emptiness of the land where the kingdom once stood. The statue may be a symbol for mans own arrogance, in which man believes that what he creates will last forever. The desert also symbolizes time, as the sand symbolizes the sands of time, and shows that eventually time will destroy all things.
There is a great deal of imagery in this poem. The first image that we are presented with is that of a traveler from an ancient land, who is seen as an experienced and knowledgeable individual. He tells of the statue in the desert, which is accompanied by the image of the empty wasteland of the desert. Also, we see the image of the sculptor, who created the work. The reader sees subject of the monument to be a cold, brutal leader, but one who still had compassion for his people ("The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed"). There is mostly visual imagery in this poem. This may be because the visual imagery of seeing the empty desert may be the most effective way of conveying the meaning of the poem.
This poem is seemingly without any figures of speech. There is an example of overstatement seen in the description of the statue as a colossal wreck, however, this may also be an accurate description due to the size of the statue in reality. This is most likely to give the poem an atmosphere of seriousness and straightforwardness.
The sound in this poem follows an interesting and unique rime scheme of ABABACDCEDEFEF. This can be broken down into a somewhat simpler interlocking rime scheme of ABABA CDC EDE FEF. There is some use of half rhymes in words such as stone and frown, as well as appear and despair.
The poems rhythm is an example of iambic pentameter. There are three lines that are end-stop lines (8, 11, and 14), and the rest of the lines end in enjambment. This is seen in the following lines:
I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: --Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the Desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatterd visage lies,
The form of this poem is unique in the way that the poem is divided into rimed sections. Although a sonnet (14 lines in iambic pentameter), Shelleys poem does not follow the standard rime scheme of a Shakespearean or Italian sonnet, and is considered highly unique for its era. The poem is only one stanza, however the rime scheme is composed of a quintain followed by three tercets. This can also be seen as two unrhymed lines followed by four tercets. This form contributes to the overall idea of the poem because it is unsettling to the reader. The interlocking tercets also may be symbolic of the building of structures by humanity, which will eventually fall to time.
Shelleys poem Ozymandias is a good example of a unique Romantic sonnet. The visual imagery and interlocking rime scheme give the reader mixed emotions and lead them to different conclusions concerning the meaning of the poem. Is the inscription on the monument meant to intimidate a dead civilization with the vastness and power of a kingdom? Or perhaps the inscription is meant instead to show that no matter how great the achievements of men, time will eventually reduce their work to nothing.
1. Fraistat, Neil, Steven E. Jones, and Carl Stahmer. "Percy Bysshe Shelley, "Ozymandias"" Romantic Circles. University of Maryland. 22 Apr. 2007 <http://www.rc.umd.edu/rchs/reader/ozymandias.html>.
2. Newman, Bob. "Guide to Verse Forms - Stanzas." Vole Central. 12 Mar. 2007. Ivan Franko National University. 22 Apr. 2007 <http://www.noggs.dsl.pipex.com/vf/stanza.htm>.
3. "Ozymandias." Wikipedia.Org. 10 Apr. 2007 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ozymandias>.
4. "Shelley's Poetry: "Ozymandias"" SparkNotes. 22 Apr. 2007 <http://www.sparknotes.com/poetry/shelley/section2.rhtml>.
5. "Shelley's Poetry: "Ozymandias"" SparkNotes. 22 Apr. 2007 <http://www.sparknotes.com/poetry/shelley/section2.rhtml>.