Literary Analysis of Shelley’s “Ozymandias”

Published: 2021-08-03 04:10:08
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The traveler describes the broken statue of Ozymandias in the middle of the empty desert, with its pedestal praising his great power. In this poem, Shelley intrigues the reader to think about the temporary nature of human power: its ultimate fate to collapse as time passes by. The poet Shelley uses imagery to reveal the aftermath of Ozymandias’ downfall. By describing the statue as “trunkless” (2), the poet indicates that the statue is broken, having no body attached to its legs. Furthermore, the poet describes the statue’s face to be “Half sunk” (4) and “shattered” (4) in the sand.
This scene indicates that the head of the statue is decapitated. Also, various diction helps setting the imagery in this poem. The diction “lifeless” (7) and “wreck” (13) demonstrates the statue to be completely ruined. Lastly, the poet paints nothing but a “boundless” (13), “bare (13), “lone and level sands” (14) around the statue. By showing this wide deserted field of sand, the poet indicates the results of Ozymandias’ collapse, having his kingdom disappear, leaving nothing but lonely sand behind.
By depicting the downfall of Ozymandias through the imagery of broken statue and vanished kingdom, Shelley indicates the ephemeral nature of human power. The imagery drawn by Shelley in “Ozymandias” establishes symbolism. The image of the broken ruins of the statue symbolizes the downfall of Ozymandias. Through this symbolism, the poet reveals the king’s downfall to disgrace and eventually becoming incompetent to even support himself. In line 2, the poet draws an image of the statue’s decapitated head lying in the sand: the “Half sunk, a shattered visage lies” (4). This decapitated ead symbolizes the king’s downfall to disgrace. The king, who used to be mighty and feared, now is in disgrace by having his head chopped off. This decapitated head also symbolizes that Ozymandias is now completely dead. Furthermore, in line 2, the poet depicts two broken legs of statue, standing in the desert without a body: “…Two vast and trunkless legs of stone / Stand in the desert” (2-3). These broken legs of the statue symbolizes Ozymandias collapse, dramatically falling from one in “command” (5) of his entire kingdom to a weak incompetent one who cannot even stand on his own feet.
Lastly, Ozymandias himself symbolizes any human authority, illustrating that every authority is destined to fall. Through this symbolism, and by showing Ozymandias’ failure despite how his power seemed everlasting in the past, the poet reveals the fleeting nature of human power, ultimately destined to be fall. Lastly, the irony created by Shelley demonstrates the ephemeral nature of human authority, regardless of the greatness or the size of the power.
The words on the pedestal, “My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings: / Look on my works, ye mighty and despair” (10-11), contradict with the surroundings of the pedestal such as the “shattered visage” (4), “Two vast trunkless legs of stone” (2), and the “boundless” (13), “bare (13), “lone and level sands” (14). While the quote on the pedestal shows adoration for Ozymandias, suggesting that his mighty power is invincible and divine, the surroundings of the pedestal contradicts with the statement written on the pedestal.
Ozymandias’ ‘holy’ statue is destroyed and his kingdom is completely vanished, leaving only a plain desert behind. Furthermore, the pedestal’s words also go against the source of the tale of Ozymandias. Again, the pedestal claims that Ozymandias is the “King of Kings” (10), therefore having a widely known infamous presence throughout the world. But though the pedestal indicates that Ozymandias was a well known figure, his tale was only heard from a traveler from far away. This irony indicates the downfall of Ozymandias; a king once well known and feared by people, is now only known by an outsider from long distance away.
Through the irony created by Shelley, having the words contradict with the surroundings of the pedestal and the source of the story, Shelley indicates the ultimate fate and the ephemeral nature of human power. Historical figures in the past and even people today strive to achieve success and power. However, through illustrating a downfall of a mighty king in his poem “Ozymandias”, Percy Bysshe Shelley reveals the ephemeral nature of human power regardless of the power’s size or greatness.
As many other historical figures met their ultimate fate, Ozymandias also faced his downfall, eventually becoming from an infamous ruler to a forgotten helpless figure. By drawing a vivid image of the aftermath of the collapse of Ozymandias, Shelley grabs the reader’s attention and reveals the symbolism of the poem. Finally, these imagery and symbolism guide the reader to see the irony of the poem, helping he or she to realize that this so called invincible power fell into pieces over time. Through the downfall of Ozymandias, the poet intrigues the reader to rethink about our nature to strive for success and power.

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