Percy Bysshe Shelley's Ozymandias

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In December 1817, Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote one of the greatest poems in the English language. His poem, Ozymandias, was inspired by seeing a friend of his, Horace Smith, write a poem on a similar topic. Legend has it that Shelley was inebriated when he wrote the poem and that it took under 10 minutes to compose. Ozymandias was inspired by broken colossus of Ramesses II. The poem describes a sobering image to the reader. Through Shelley’s vivid articulation and word choice, the reader can visualize a colossal statue of a proud king lying in broken shards amid the endless desert with only the testimony of a single traveler to carry the knowledge of its existence. The title of “Ozymandias” is used to convey the feeling that acquired wealth and possessions don’t exactly mean immortality. Through usage of vivid imagery and irony, the poet explains that no one lives forever like the possessions they gather and own. For example, he refers to the broken crumbles of the stone statue with only legs and head remaining, lying lifeless in the desert. The face is “Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown, / And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, / Tell that its sculptor well those passions read.” He then goes on to say that “on the pedestal these words appear: / ‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: / Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’” This means that long ago, a statue of a great man stood there, but over the years the magnificent statue has been reduced to rubble and forgotten. Shelley illustrated to his readers that possessions don’t last forever by comparing them to the king. The king believed that his kingdom and his legacy would last forever under his statue’s watchful eye, however, the statue just wasted away in the desert.
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