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Authority in Ozymandias and The Second Coming
Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Ozymandias" portrays the past power of authority symbolized by the once great world power of Egypt. William Butler Yeats' "The Second Coming" portrays the past power religion once had over the world, gradually lost ever since the end of Shelley's era of Romanticism. "Ozymandias" was written in a time when human rule coupled with religious guidance, but was slowly easing away from that old tradition as they entered the highly progressive era of the Victorians. In his poem, Shelley was comparing the formally powerful Egyptian pharaoh's "antique" and prideful form of rule with the unsuccessful future the "traveller" met in the desert with the ruins of the king's "shattered visage" (Longman, Shelley, p. 1710, l. 1 & 4). In a sense, Shelley was also saying that human rulership was just as easily able to fail as the once great and powerful world rule of Egypt once did, for ages. Yeats also is alluding to this idea, but imposing his view on another type of rule once great for hundreds of years of its rulership, that of Christianity or religion in general. In "The Second Coming" he envisions the "falcon" of humanity drifting away and ignoring "the falconer," Christian religions (Longman, Yeats, p. 2329, l. 2). "The falcon cannot hear the falconer;/ Things fall apart" says Yeats, depicting how human reliance on religion has become cold and disinterested in its lead anymore due to human progress of science, thus their loss of reliance and trustworthiness of religion's claims.
Both Romantics and Modernists felt loss of authority, either from man or man's religious following. Poetry changed what it focused on as those figures lost respect or importance in the public's lives. I believe Yeats sums up my point partially in lines 19 and 20, "That twenty centuries of stony sleep/ Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle.
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Longman citations refer to page numbers of Eng 103 course text, Spring 2001:
Damrosch, David, et al., ed. The Longman Anthology of British Literature:
Vol. B. Compact ed. New York: Longman - Addison Wesley Longman, 2000.