The article analyzes the romantic vision of the poem.
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 shattered visage lies, whose frown,
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 hand that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“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.#
The poem’s vision is essentially its ironical treatment of kingly aspirations that, in the course of time, show nothing but “sands” that “stretch away”.
Shelley’s persona recounts what he has heard from “a traveler from an antique land”. He speaks how in the desert one can read on the ruins of a statue of a famous king, Ozymandias, these words: “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings,/Look on my works ye Mighty and despair!” When one, of course, looks around, there is nothing but sands “lone and level” that “stretch far away”. The future looms empty and bleak.
Verbal conflict is achieved through irony which accounts for the high tension that pervades the poem. Four types of irony operate to develop the poem’s romantic vision:
The first is the irony of fate or destiny. Where is the king now? What has happened to his magnificent works? This irony is seen in the betrayal of Time or in the reversal of the king’s expectations.
The second is the irony of situation, as can be referred from the contrast between the “colossal wreck” in the desert sand and the boastful inscription on Ozymandias’ statue.
The third is the irony created by the ambiguity of the word “despair”. Who must despair? One can imagine the king talking to his contemporaries: “Look at my works. Despair, because it is futile for you to equal my greatness or achievement”. When one, of course, looks at Ozymandias’ kingdom, there is nothing but ruins. Is he the one to despair?
The fourth type of irony has to do with the sculptor who is invisible on the scene but whose work remains. The creator is not given credit– he has no face.
By juxtaposing the remnants of the past Shelley conjures in luminous detail through powerful static description a once powerful monarch who is remembered only by a fragmented stone. The reader is taken through a journey through a desolate desert “boundless and bare” where the “lone and lonely level of sands stretch far away.” From the persona’s story, the strange historical setting against which the remnants of the past are arranged side by side, comes eerily alive. His account becomes a unique lens for viewing Time as a reviser, vandal or plunderer of the beautiful and irreplaceable: youth, power, fame and glory.
To show how Time becomes the most effective cosmetologist and equalizer, Shelley assembles the fragments that reveal a grim-faced king whose “wrinkled lip” curls into a “sneer of stern command”. The passion stamped on the face “yet survives”. He was Ozymandias, self-proclaimed “king of kings” hurling a challenge to the “Mighty” to contest him in achievements. He was unchallenged or uncontested in life. No likeness of himself or of his greatness did he bring to this awesomely wide expanse of the desert sand: ” Nothing beside remains.”
The reader can feel the arrogance of the dead. Impliedly, one should strive to die proudly when it is no longer possible to live proudly. Death is a distant rumor to the proud and mighty, but of course, all humans go the way of the flesh. The mighty and proud are humbled in death. For a while they lie “half sunk” (half-remembered) but in the end none of their vaunted power remains. The human value hinted at is the temporariness of power. Time, the greatest designer of nature, does not comprehend greatness.
Ozymandias’ language is the expression of the rebellious spirit on one hand; on the other hand, it is the expression of Shelley’s ingenuity, of his romantic lyricism as a radical visionary whose electric lines cause the reader’s fingers to vibrate with the flush of his exquisite senses.###
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