Wednesday, 9 March 2011

'Ozymandias' - A Closer Look

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert.
Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

I thought it would be interesting to have a look in more detail at the works we discussed during the lecture on Romanticism. This is 'Ozymandias'.

Shelley begins by setting the scene, beginning with the line: "I met a traveler from an antique land/ Who said.." As an audience, we know the text is in fact a description of a conversation between a traveller and a speaker. It's nice that Shelley gives the text a context in this way.

Shelley begins with the travellers speech. He starts by writing: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone / Stand in the desert". Here the speaker starts his description of the statue that lies in the middle of the desert. The language used is very grand ('Trunkless legs of stone', etc.) It's almost as if the speaker is showing respect to the statue. Does its menacing appearance entitle it to this respect?

The image of the partially formed statue raises questions amongst readers. What happened to the other sections of the statue? Shelley only mentions certain parts of the structure. Could the other sections have been damaged through conflict? Natural forces? For example, Shelley's description of the legs as 'trunkless'proves there is no body to the structure. He also goes on to describe the 'shattered visage'. I personally like the image of the visage partially buried amongst the sand.

The traveller gives a more precise description of the 'visage', stating: "whose frown / And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,/ Tell that its sculptor well those passions read". From this description, Shelley describes how the structure is so well constructed its almost as if the facial expression of the visage is insightful and revealing. As Shelley says himself, it's a 'telling' object.

The speaker goes on to describe the inscription at the foot of the structure. "And on the pedestal these words appear: / 'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: / Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'". Readers are now made aware of the fact the stone structure is infact a model of Ozimandias. This was one of the many Greek names given to Ramses II, also known as 'Ramses the Great'. This mas was regarded by many as the most powerful  pharaoh of the Egyptian empire. The inscription at the foot of the structure oozes with a sense of authority and unrivaled strength. "Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

Despite this theme of power and authority, I personally feel the text ends on a rather tranquil, relaxing note. I think the line "The lone and level sands stretch far away" paints a picture of a rather tranquil scene in the middle of the desert.

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