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Ozymandias (Percy Shelley)- AQA Power and Conflict Poetry
Percy Shelley (1792-1822) is one of the most famous poets of all time. He was part of an influential group of poets known as The Romantics. Shelley had a pretty wild early life. He came from a very wealthy family and was in line to inherit a fortune. However, Oxford University expelled him for writing about atheism and, as a result, his father later disinherited him. At around the same time he married and eloped to the Lake District. A few years later he set off around Europe with a different woman, Mary Shelley (who would go on to write Frankenstein). Percy Shelley later drowned while on a sailing trip to Italy.

Shelley had quite radical views. One interpretation of Ozymandias is that the poem criticises people or organisations that become too big and powerful and think they can’t be challenged.

The speaker tells us that they met a traveller from an ancient land and that they told him the story contained in the poem. The traveller had come across the remains of a big statue in the desert. This statue was shattered and partly covered by the sand. On the foot of the statue were the words: “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: look on my works, ye Mighty and despair!” – showing the huge pride and arrogance of Ozymandias. The words and the arrogance of the king seem meaningless now – to the speaker and the reader – as the statue is a ruin and nothing of Ozymandias’ power remains.

Ozymandias is a sonnet, but it is slightly unusual as it doesn’t have the same rhyme scheme or punctuation that most sonnets use. In Ozymandias there is often an irregular rhyme and punctuation splits some of the lines. The poem is written in iambic pentameter.

You only hear the speaker’s own words for the first line and a half up to the colon. After that the words are those of the traveller. The poem is one 14-line stanza, split up with plenty of punctuation.

Although the rhyme scheme isn’t completely regular it is quite powerful in places. For example the final words of line one and three (land / sand) rhyme and so do the first and last words of line three (stand /sand). This use of rhyme adds emphasis and creates a powerful image of the shattered statue. Similarly the rhyme in lines 12 and 14 (decay / away) end the poem with a sense of emptiness and destruction.

The core image in this poem is that of the huge statue which now lies in ruins. Shelley creates a really effective image for the reader, with the remains surrounded by desert. This emphasises the fact that the once great power of Ozymadias has completely gone.

Shelley is most likely using the image and example of Ozymadias and his statue to give a general interpretation of political power and public opinion. The key ideas here are that:

even those who seem to be the most powerful will eventually fall;
time eventually overcomes even the most powerful; and
art and literature are where the true, lasting power lies – the statue itself and the words inscribed on it have long outlasted Ozymandias.
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