Ozymandias: Literary Techniques And Devices

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Shelley’s “Ozymandias” does use irony to explore the temporary nature of things. Specifically, the use of literary devices and word choice in the poem suggests the theme of power and human nature’s inability to last forever.

The author uses strong and specific vocabulary to paint a vivid image of the atmosphere to show the theme of temporary nature seen in the poem. He uses words such as “vast”, “trunkless” and “shattered visage” that create a visual image of the broken statue and its disassembled body parts, indirectly connoting the broken empire left behind in the desert and how things do not last forever. The words “frown” and “wrinkled lip” describe the appearance of Ozymandias, as the author clearly chooses these critical words to show the reader that Ozymandias was a prideful, arrogant man. This interpretation is further supported by the phrase “sneer of cold command” that creates a stronger image of Ozymandias’ personality through the alliteration “cold command” that makes a very sharp tone that is almost intimidating and scary.

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The sentence “My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; Look on my Works, ye Mighty and despair!” connotes the statue being a portrait of King Ozymandias, also known as the Egyptian King Ramesses II, who was famous for being a very powerful king who was even nicknamed “Great Ancestor”. The portrayal of Ozymandias with the pedestal as mentioned in the poem creates a strong connotation of power and might. In addition, the wording of the sentence with words like “Mighty”, “my Works” and “despair” almost makes Ozymandias seem like a god or a higher being. However, most of the other descriptions in the poem contrast this grand mighty representation of Ozymandias by creating a solemn and dead yet mysterious atmosphere of the lost history of the once great empire that stood before as well as the irony of the situation of how he once had so much power but was now in shambles, with these strong words on the pedestal being meaningless now. It seems as if Shelley is trying to imply that the more power one has, the easier one can lose it and be destroyed. The line “The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed” implies the arrogance of Ozymandias which was recorded by the sculptor’s grand skills, as stated in the poem “Tell that its sculptor well those passions read which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things.”

“Ozymandias” also consists of many different types of literary techniques and devices that further support the idea of using irony to show the theme of the temporary nature of things. The use of alliteration in “boundless and bare” creates a long, drawn-out sound like an echo that shows the lonesome and sad atmosphere in the desolate desert. Not only is alliteration present in the poem, but also assonance in the words “stand” and “sand” inline-three that is used to set a mood and a tone of a long period of time as the sound of the words sound lengthened when read aloud. The location of the statue is in a desert tells that the environment is isolated and obsolete, showing the power of time in this secluded place, as the sand and heat eroded the statue. The use of surroundings is also the symbolism of how things can be so full of life and power can transform to become dull and abandoned. The sonnet also has a unique form with rhymes and iambic pentameter used by the writer to show the progress of time, as supported by the last line “lone and level sands stretch far away”, giving the connotation of the end of time and distance. The line “Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck…” also continues to support the theme of the long-gone grand and almightiness, with nothing left behind.

The entire poem of “Ozymandias” is a metaphor in itself as the statue represents power and how the broken remains of the statue represent the destruction because of time. Through this poem, Shelley has shown that life is not eternal and no matter how much one has, it can fade away over time. Power and human nature are temporary, as seen by Shelley’s descriptions of the statue of King Ozymandias that is ruined and left to turn into dust. The statue not only represents power but also life itself as a personification, as even a lifeless figure cannot withstand the test of time. The use of a strong and carefully curated vocabulary by Shelley depicts a distinct image of Ozymandias to be a tyrant who had all the power in the world but the irony in this poem actually shows the figure’s current and broken state without any power. Human nature is symbolized by Ozymandias himself as well, illustrating this idea that humans are greedy and want to live on forever, even though it is not possible. However, Shelley actually implies that although humanity is temporary in power, art and language are something that can be passed on for generations. This is seen in the artistic abilities of the sculptor carved on the sculpture and how even though the figure was ruined, the beauty of the statue was still visible. Language can be seen in the words stamped on the pedestal and although the statue has probably been in the desert for ages, the traveler can still understand and read the words as language is lasting.

In conclusion, Percy Shelley’s “Ozymandias” uses irony from the specific word choice and literary devices in the text to show that nothing is eternal and everlasting as time takes everything away. This can be seen from the contrast of ideas within the poem itself, from the descriptions of Ozymandias to be almighty and great as compared to the current being of the fractured figure that is now in ruins, proving that power cannot be held forever as it is part of nature for things to come to an end.    


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