Ozymandias by P B Shelley Marks 10 & 5

Ozymandias by P B Shelley


  1. Attempt a critical analysis of the poem “Ozymandias” by P. B. Shelley.

Ans. The central thematic concerns of Shelley’s poetry are largely the same themes that defined Romanticism, especially among the younger English poets of Shelley’s era: beauty, the passions, nature, political liberty, creativity, and the sanctity of the imagination. What makes Shelley’s treatment of these themes unique is his philosophical relationship to his subject matter which was better developed and articulated than that of any other Romantic poet with the possible exception of Wordsworth-and his temperament, which was extraordinarily sensitive and responsive even for a Romantic poet, and which possessed an extraordinary capacity for joy, love, and hope. Shelley fervently believed in the possibility of realizing an ideal of human happiness as based – on beauty, and his moments of darkness and despair (he had many, particularly in book-length poems such as the monumental Queen Mab) almost always stem from his disappointment at seeing that ideal sacrificed to human weakness.

Shelley’s intense feelings about beauty and expression are documented in poems such as Ode to the West Wind and To a Skylark, in which he invokes metaphors from nature to characterize his relationship to his art. The center of his aesthetic philosophy can be found in his important essay A Defence of Poetry, in which he argues that poetry brings about moral good. Poetry, Shelley argues, exercises and expands the imagination, and the imagination is the source of sympathy, compassion, and love, which rest on the ability to project oneself into the position of another person. He writes,

A man, to be greatly good, must-imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and of many others. The pains and pleasures of his species must become his own. The great instrument of moral good is the imagination; and poetry administers to the effect by acting upon the cause. Poetry enlarges the circumference of the imagination by replenishing it with thoughts of ever new delight, which have the power of attracting and assimilating to their own nature all other thoughts, and which form new intervals and interstices whose void forever craves fresh food. Poetry strengthens the faculty which is the organ of the moral nature of man, in the same manner as exercise strengthens a limb.

No other English poet of the early nineteenth century so emphasized the connection between beauty and goodness, or believed so avidly in the power of art’s sensual pleasures to improve society. Byron’s pose was one of amoral sensuousness, or of controversial rebelliousness; Keats believed in beauty and aesthetics for their own sake. But Shelley was able to believe that poetry makes people and society better; his poetry is suffused with this kind of inspired moral optimism, which he hoped would affect his readers sensuously, spiritually, and morally, all at the same time.

2. What is the theme of the poem “Ozymandias” by P.B. Shelley?

Ans.The Heroic, Visionary Role of the Poet: In Shelley’s poetry, the figure of the poet (and, to some extent, the figure of Shelley himself) is not simply a talented entertainer or even a perceptive moralist but a grand, tragic, prophetic hero. The poet has a deep, mystic appreciation for nature, as in the poem “To Wordsworth” (1816), and this intense connection with the natural world gives him access to profound cosmic truths, as in “Alastor; or, The Spirit of Solitude” (1816). He has the power-and the duty-to translate these truths, through the use of his imagination, into poetry, but only a kind of poetry that the public can understand. Thus, his poetry becomes a kind of prophecy, and through his words, a poet has the ability to change the world for the better and to bring about political, social, and spiritual change. Shelley’s poet is a near-divine savior, comparable to Prometheus, who stole divine fire and gave it to humans in Greek mythology, and to Christ. Like Prometheus and Christ, figures of the poets in Shelley’s work are often doomed to suffer: because their visionary power isolates them from other men, because they are misunderstood by critics, because they are persecuted by a tyrannical government, or because they are suffocated by conventional religion and middle-class values. In the end, however, the poet triumphs because his art is immortal, outlasting the tyranny of government, religion, and society and living on to inspire new generations. The Power of Nature : Like many of the romantic poets, especially

William Wordsworth, Shelley demonstrates a great reverence for beauty of nature, and he feels closely connected to nature’s power. In his early poetry, Shelley shares the romantic interest in pantheism the belief that God, or a divine, unifying spirit, runs through everything in the universe. He refers to this unifying natural force in many poems, describing it as the “spirit of beauty” in “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty” and identifying it with Mont Blanc and the Arve River in “Mont Blanc”. This force is the cause of all human joy, faith, goodness, and pleasure, and it is also the source of poetic inspiration and divine truth. Shelley asserts several times that this force can influence people to change the world for the better. However, Shelley simultaneously recognizes that nature’s power is not wholly positive. Nature destroys as often as it inspires or creates, and it destroys cruelly and indiscriminately. For this reason, Shelley’s delight in nature is mitigated by an awareness of its dark side. The Power of the Human Mind: Shelley uses nature as his primary source of poetic inspiration. In such poems as “The Mask of Anarchy Written on the Occasion of the Massacre at Manchester” (1819) and “Ode to the West Wind”, Shelley suggests that the natural world holds a sublime power over his imagination. This power seems to come from a stranger, more mystical place than simply his appreciation for nature’s beauty or grandeur. At the same time, although nature has creative power over Shelley because it provides inspiration, he feels that his imagination has creative power over nature. It is the imagination-or our ability to form sensory perceptions that allows us to describe nature in different, original ways, which help to shape how nature appears and, therefore, how it exists. Thus, the power of the human mind becomes equal to the power of nature, and the experience of beauty in the natural world becomes a kind of collaboration between the perceiver and the perceived. Because Shelley cannot be sure that the sublime powers he senses in nature are only the result of his gifted imagination, he finds it difficult to attribute nature’s power to God: the human role in shaping nature damages Shelley’s ability to believe that nature’s beauty comes solely from a divine source. –

3. Analyse the symbolism, imagery and wordplay in Shelley’s “Ozymandias”.


Because the poem is inspired by a statue of Ramses II, we shouldn’t be surprised to find so many references to this statue and to sculpting more generally. The “colossal” size of the statue is a symbol of Ramses’s lofty self-promotion royal ambition. But statues and sculpture aren’t all bad in this poem; they are also a vehicle for the poet to explore questions about the longevity of art, and its ability to capture “passions” (6) in a “lifeless” (7) medium like stones (or painting or even poetry)..

Line 2: The traveler describes two “legs of stone” with no torso, our first indication that the statue is partly destroyed. Line 4: The head of the statue is “shatter’d” and partially buried in the sand. “Visage” is a stand-in for the statue’s head. (The use of one part of any object or entity to describe the whole is called synecdoche.) 

Line 6-7: The sculptor was pretty good at representing Ramses’s “passions” in the statue, which are “stamp’d” or engraved in stone. Even though the stones are “lifeless”, they paradoxically give life to the “passions” that still “survive”. There are three words in these two lines that start with “s”; the use of multiple words starting with the same letter is called alliteration. 

Line 8: The “hand that mock’d” is another reference to the sculptor and the work of imitation he performs. “Hand” is another example of synecdoche, in which a part (the hand) stands in for the whole (the sculptor).

Line 9: Describes the base of the statue and the boast engraved on it.

Line 11: The inscription refers to “works” which might be a reference to other statues, works of art, or monuments commissioned by Ozymandias. This line is ambiguous; Ozymandias could be telling the mighty to despair because their works will never be as good as his or he could be telling them to despair because their works will all eventually crumble just like his. Ozymandias clearly doesn’t intend this second meaning, but it’s there whether he wants it or not. That’s called dramatic irony. ●

Line 13: The poem again reminds us that there is a huge statue in the desert that is now a “colossal wreck”. ●

The statue that inspired the poem was partially destroyed, and the poem frequently reminds us that the statue is in ruins. The dilapidated state of the statue symbolizes not only the erosive processes of time, but also the transience of political leaders and regimes.

Line 2: The “legs” of the statue don’t have a torso (“trunkless”).

Line 4: The statue’s head is “shatter’d” and partly buried in the sand.

Line 11: The inscription implores the viewer to “look on” Ozymandias’s “works”. One of those “works” is the statue described in the poem, and it’s only a pair of legs and a “shatter’d” head. Line 12-13: The statue is described as in a state of “decay” and as a “colossal wreck”.

Line 13-14: We’re assuming this statue wasn’t always in the middle of nowhere – there must have been some kind of temple or pyramid nearby. Not anymore; the area around the statue is “bare” and the desert is “lone” or empty. The traveller calls our attention to the barrenness of the desert through the extensive use of alliteration (beginning multiple words with the same letter): “boundless and bare”, “lone and level”, “sands stretch”. There is a lot of death in this poem; the figure represented in the statue is dead, along with the civilization to which he belonged. The statue is destroyed, and so it too is, in some sense, dead. And yet amidst all

the death, there are several images of life that give the poem a sense of balance, however slight.

● Lines 1-2: Most of the poem describes a statue, but these first two lines describe an encounter between two living people, the speaker and a “traveler from an antique land”.

Line 6-7: The description of the “sculptor” making a statue introduces another living figure into the poem, as does the reference to the “passions” of Ozymandias. Furthermore, even though the sculpture is “·

lifeless”, the passions still “survive”.

While most of the poem describes a statue, the traveler makes a point of telling us that Ozymandias’s “passions” still survive: they are “stamp’d” on the statue, giving all those who view the statue a sense of what Ozymandias’s disposition was like, or at least what it was like when the statue was made.

Lines 4-5: The poem describes the features on the face of the statue and, by extension, the features of Ozymandias. He must have been angry about something because his face has a “sneer”, a “frown” and a “wrinkled lip”.

Lines 6: We are told that the sculptor “well those passions read”, that he was somehow able to capture them fairly well in his statue.

Line 8: The “heart” is the organ most often linked to feelings and passions; it “fed” the passions depicted in the statue. Because the heart didn’t literally “feed” the passions, “fed” here is a metaphor.


1. Comment on the use of motifs in the poem.


Autumn Shelley sets many of his poems in autumn, including “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty” and “Ode to the West Wind”. Fall is a time of beauty and death, and so it shows both the creative and destructive powers of nature, a favorite Shelley theme. As a time of change, autumn is a fitting backdrop for Shelley’s vision of political and social revolution. In “Ode to the West Wind”, autumn’s brilliant colors and violent winds emphasize the passionate, intense nature of the poet, while the decay and death inherent in the season suggest the sacrifice and martyrdom of the Christ-like poet.

Ghosts and Spirits : Shelley’s interest in the supernatural repeatedly appears in his work. The ghosts and spirits in his poems suggest the possibility of glimpsing a world beyond the one in which we live. In “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty”, the speaker searches for ghosts and explains that ghosts are one of the ways men have tried to interpret the world beyond. The speaker of “Mont Blanc” encounters ghosts and shadows of real natural objects in the cave of “Poesy”. Ghosts are inadequate in both poems: the speaker finds no ghosts in “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty” and the ghosts of Poesy in “Mont Blanc” are not the real thing, a discovery that emphasizes the elusiveness and mystery of supernatural forces.

Christ: From his days at Oxford, Shelley felt deeply doubtful about organized religion, particularly Christianity. Yet, in his poetry, he often represents the poet as a Christ-like figure and thus sets the poet up as a secular replacement for Christ. Martyred by society and conventional values, the Christ figure is resurrected by the power of nature and his own imagination and spreads his prophetic visions over the earth. Shelley further separates his Christ figures from traditional Christian values in Adonais, in which he compares the

same character to Christ, as well as Cain, whom the Bible portrays as the world’s first murderer. For Shelley, Christ and Cain are both outcasts and rebels, like romantic poets and like himself.

2 .Analyze the symbols used in the poem.


Mont Blanc : For Shelley, Mont Blanc-the highest peak in the Alps-represents the eternal power of nature. Mont Blanc has existed forever, and it will last forever, an idea he explores in “Mont Blanc”. The mountain fills the poet with inspiration, but its coldness and inaccessibility are terrifying. Ultimately, though, Shelley wonders if the mountain’s power might be meaningless, an invention of the more powerful human imagination.

The West Wind: Shelley uses the West Wind to symbolize the power of nature and of the imagination inspired by nature. Unlike Mont Blanc, however, the West Wind is active and dynamic in poems, such as “Ode to the West Wind”. While Mont Blanc is immobile, the West Wind is an agent for change. Even as it destroys, the wind encourages new life on earth and social progress among humanity.

The Statue of Ozymandias : In Shelley’s work, the statue of the ancient Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II, or Ozymandias, symbolizes political tyranny. In “Ozymandias” (1817), the statue is broken into pieces and stranded in an empty desert, which suggests that tyranny is temporary and also that no political leader, particularly an unjust one, can hope to have lasting power or real influence. The broken monument also represents the decay of civilization and culture: the statue is, after all, a human construction, a piece of art made by a creator, and now it-and its creator-have been destroyed, as all living things are eventually destroyed.

3. Analyze the setting of the poem.

Ans. This poem has several settings. It begins with a strange encounter between the speaker and a traveler from an “antique land”. We have no idea where this rendezvous takes place, which is very weird. It could be in the speaker’s head, in a dream, on the street, or in the desert; it sort of resembles something that might occur in a youth

hostel or a tavern in London. The first appearance of Aragorn in the Fellowship of the Ring might be a good comparison.

Shortly after this initial meeting we are whisked away to the sands of Egypt, or a barren desert that closely resembles it. And this desert isn’t just barren; it’s really barren. Other than the legs, pedestal, and head of the statue, there’s only sand. No trace remains of the civilization or culture that spawned the statue. It’s a lot like something one would see in Planet Earth: emptiness all around, a few sand-storms here, and that’s about it. It reminds us of movies where people are stranded in the desert and eventually find a little oasis or the occasional tree, except that here we find a partially destroyed statue instead of a little pond.

4. Briefly analyse the poem “Ozymandias”.

Ans. Shelley’s poem describes the remains of Ozymandias’ or Ramses’. II Empire. The poem begins with the author recalling a time when he met a traveler from an “antique” land. Antique is a symbol for the ancient land of Egypt. In the line two, vast and trunkless legs of stand in the desert an enjambment is used. Imagery is used to paint a picture of the remnants of Ramses’ II Egyptian empire. “Two trunkless legs of stone” are the only remains of a stone statue modeled after Ramses that was once 57ft tall. There is no longer a body or a torso, only two legs standing on a pedestal. Next to the trunkless legs, half sunk into the sand and shattered, is what used to be the statue’s face. The face is described to have a “frown and wrinkled lip” and a “sneer of cold command”. These descriptions are symbols of Ramses’ II personality. From the frown and sneer on his face, readers can conclude that he was an angry and fierce ruler. Shelley uses an anastrophe in the phrase “tell that its sculptor well those passions read”. Through the inversion of the normal word order, Shelley tells readers that the sculptor was able to capture Ramses II personality and who he truly was through the statue’s facial expressions.

In the line “The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed”, the author uses alliteration with the letter “t”. Also, Shelley uses the word mock as a pun. In this case, mock is meant to mean both

created and ridiculed. In the phrase, “the heart that fed” the heart symbolizes Ramses’ II emotions and passions and fed is used as a metaphor, because the heart did not literally feed the emotions and passions to the statue.

Shelley then goes on to describe what is engraved on the pedestal. “My name is Ozymandias King of Kings look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”. When broken down the Greek name Ozymandias has an interesting meaning. The root Ozy means air and the root Mandias means to rule. So, Ozymandias literally means “ruler of air”. This is ironic because there is truly nothing left of Ozymandias’ empire but air. This name mocks Ramses II and ridicules his rule and works. King of Kings is an allusion to Jesus and symbolizes how important Ramses II thought himself to be. Through the engraving, Ramses II dared someone to challenge him and his works. However, whoever dared to challenge him would end up defeated and hopeless.

In the lines, “Round the decay of that colossal wreck boundless and bare”, Shelley uses another enjambment. However, the true irony of the whole situation is that nothing remains. All that is left of Ramses supposed great empire is a decaying and shattered statue. The engraving on the pedestal no longer applies, because his works are vanished and destroyed, he is no longer the “King of Kings”.

The last line “the lone and level sands stretch far away” really captures the irony of the sonnet. The once large empire is now just an empty desert, with nothing more than sand for miles and miles. Apart from the destroyed statue there is no other sign that in this desert, there was once a huge and powerful empire.

“Ozymandias” fits with the refusal stage because Ramses II refused his call to be a hero. He became too focused on the present and the difficulties it presented rather than looking to the future as a series of deaths and rebirths. Because of this, his adventure became a negative one. During his reign, Ramses built a worldly empire; in fact, he built more monuments and temples than any other Egyptian pharaoh. However his empire became a “house of death” and completely collapsed and vanished.


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