Percy Bysshe Shelley was one of the major English Romantic poet and he is regarded as the great lyrical poet in English language.Shelley also wrote prose fiction and essays on political,social and philosophical issues.Shelley’s poetry reflects passion,beauty,imagination,love,creativity,political liberty and Nature.He advocated Catholic Emancipation,republicanism,the extension of the franchise,freedom of speech,equal distribution of wealth and an end to aristocratic and clergical privilege.Shelley’s advocacy of non-violent resistance was largely based on the French Revolution and rise of Napoleon and his belief that violent protest would increase the prospect of a military despotism.Among his best known works are “Ozymandius” (1818),”Ode To The West Wind”(1819),”To A Skylark”(1820) and the political ballad “The Mask Of Anarchy”(1819).
“Ozymandius” is Shelley’s most famous and most anthologised poem. Shelley conveys his own concept about power through this poem .The poem functions as a political commentary by Shelley on the increasing cruelty and repressions of regimes during his time,especially the empire of his homeland,Great Britain.Ozymandias is the Greek name for the Egyptian Pharoah Ramses ,was a renowned and powerful king.The poem is essentially devoted to a single metaphor: the shatterd ,ruined statue in the desert wasteland with the inscription on it.The statue symbolizes the transience of power.Ozymandius is a metaphor for the ephemeral nature of political power.Common themes that Shelley incorporated into his works include; the hatred of kings,faith in the natural goodness of man,the belief in the corruption of present society,these are clearly shaped by French Revolution.Shelley was born in 1792 and grow up during the time of French Revolution and Napoleonic wars .Shelley observed England’s more unscrupulous tactics from their countless military engagements to their championing of the slave trade and Britain’s financial domination over the rest of Europe and naval superiority .These incidents influenced him to include themes of transience of power in his writings.
The poem is a recollection of the persona of the poem having met a traveller who hails from an antique land.The poem alludes ,how the powerful kings and heroes lose their significance of power as time passes.Shelley mocks the boastful tyrants ,the ruined statue is now merely a monument that shows the insignificance of humanbeings to the passage of time.Ozymandias’ statue have crumbled and turned to dust by the passage of time,only a work of art and a group of words remains there.As Shakespeare does in his sonnets ,Shelley demonstrates that art and language longlast than the other legacies of power.The sonnet is in the form of a story told to the speaker by a traveller from an antique land itself shows the level of obscurity of Ozymandias’s position.Shelley is deconstructing the statement of the King :”King of Kings”, by the description of the ruined statue.First he describes about the shattered visage and then the face itself with its frown and wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command.
Shelley conveys the idea that power is temporary,even that of great rulers who may believe their power is immortal.By giving a verbal picture of the ruined statue Shelley reminds the powerful people that their power is only temporary, inspite of what kind of power they possess.However, people may wish to think that their power is immortal,they are only deceiving themselves.Readers are introduced to the figure of sculptor and how explicitly he sculpted the facial expression of the King that alludes his passion for power.The poem is relevant in the present day,as Shelley gives the lesson about the fate of powerful figures of the past.The persona of the poem doesnot himself preach;instead he merely quotes the words of another person,by this he conveys his own opinions.Shelley uses visual imageries to emphasis the theme of his poem; transience of power.
The poem conveys the aspects that, everything in this world is time bound and not immortal except art and Nature.Shelley uses irony when he lets Ozymandias speak for himself by reporting the inscription on the pedestal of that statue; “My name is Ozymandias,King of Kings; Look on my works,ye Mighty and despair”.Finally traveller says that “Nothing beside remains”.The king’s engravings shows his power,prestige and boastful character.The statue symbolizes a great boastful ruler,whose glory and empire have now vanished.Through the description of an egotistical tyrant,Shelley portrays that all people,leaders and empires ,no matter how great they are ,will eventually succumb to time and come to an end.The juxtaposition of the words ‘survive’ and ‘lifeless’ in line seven highlights the absurdity of power.This paradoxical element strenghthens the overall theme of the poem.
P.B. Shelley was an atheist and the phrase ‘king of Kings’ ,the same title used to refer to Jesus Christ ,in a way he questions the power and authority of religion.The capitalisation of the word ‘work’ also alludes to Ozymandias believing himself to be a divine being.The King’s statement is ironic ,as he demands the people to despair instead of admiring or respect his works .There is also irony in using the capitalisation in the word ‘wreck’,by this Shelley mocks the achievements of King that turned insignificant by the passage of time.Time is boundless,it will continue to go on but the supremacy of power will be lost as time goes on.It also reminds the reader of their own impermanence in their existence.The conclusion of the poem describes the setting of the desert as “boundless and bare” and “lone and level”,the using of this alliteration emphasizes the landscape around the crumbled statue.
Shelley’s mocking and sarcastic tone reveals his belief that power is not permanent and can be lost by illuminating the transience of Ozymandias’s power.Some critics argue the poem is not an explicit criticism of the British Empire,the political parellels that can be drawn and the lessons taught by the poem are timeless.The ideas of power in “Ozymanias” can also be found in Shelley’s other poems.Supporting liberty and ridiculing large political powers are major themes in both Shelley’s “England 1819” and “The Masque Of Anarchy”.Shelley states that the power and glory are all illusory.The colossal wreck of that sculpture mirrors that no power is permanent ,regardless of how powerful a ruler believes himself to be.Comaparing ”Ozymandius “ with Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “Khubhla Khan”, where Coleridge aligns the ruler’s “stately pleasure dome ” with poetic vision whereas Shelley opposes the statue and its boast to his own powerful negative imagination.