Essay about "Ozymandias", by Percy Shelley

Essay about "Ozymandias", by Percy Shelley

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Percy Shelley indited "Ozymandias" in competition with his friend, Horace Smith, who also composed a sonnet concerning the ruined statue. Shelley's was published in the "The Examiner by Hunt in January 1818"1. Although "Ozymandias" detached style differs from the exalted tone of most of Shelley's oeuvre, it pleased Desmond King-Hele enough for him to honour it with a comparison to Shakespeare's poetry: "Few of Shelley's sonnets can bear comparison with Shakespeare's, but in 'Ozymandias' he successfully challenges the master on his favourite ground, the ravages of time."2 In this essay I hope to illustrate how the "music" of "Ozymandias" is integral to conveying its meaning. I intend to provide a close reading of "Ozymandias", focusing chiefly on, but not limiting the analysis to, its "musical" qualities. I also plan to briefly examine the poem apropos to Cleanth Brooks' "Language of Paradox" and some criticism of Shelley by T.S. Eliot.
Shelley constructed his sonnet with a Petrarchan octet and sestet, and an original rhyme scheme (ABABACDCEDEFEF), which reflects the monument's ruination in its gradual shift in rhyme from the end of the octet to the beginning of the sestet. In "Ozymandias", a divergence exists between the poem's form and its content, as the cohesive sonnet, with its assured iambic pentameter, innovative rhyme scheme and extensive use of alliteration contrasts with the "colossal wreck", "Half sunk"(4) in the sand. Shelley's accentuation of the theme of decay through the cohesion of the poem is redolent of Cleanth Brooks', "The Language of Paradox", wherein "...even the apparently simple and straightforward is forced into paradoxes by the nature of [the poet's] instrument"3. The poem's disparity also extends to its...


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...ritical Companion to T.S. Eliot: A Literary Reference to His Life and Work; Critical Companion Series, Infobase Publishing (2007), p.407.

14: Beach, Christopher. The Cambridge Introduction to Twentieth-Century American Poetry, Cambridge University Press (2003), p.49.

15: O'Neill, Michael, "Introduction", in The Oxford Handbook of Percy Bysshe Shelley, ed. Michael O'Neill and Anthony Howe with assistance from Madeleine Callaghan, Oxford University Press (2013), p.3.

16: Shelley, Percy, "A Defence of Poetry", in The Complete Works of Percy Shelley, ed. Roger Ingpen and Walter E. Peck, Ernest Benn (London, 1926-30), Vol.7, p.134-135.

18: Stabler, Jane, "Shelley Criticism From Romanticism to Modernism", in The Oxford Handbook of Percy Bysshe Shelley, ed. Michael O'Neill and Anthony Howe with assistance from Madeleine Callaghan, Oxford University Press (2013), p.671.

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