Essay on Percy Bysshe Shelley's Ozymandias

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Percy Bysshe Shelley's Ozymandias

In "Ozymandias," Percy Bysshe Shelley uses a ruined statue of Ramses

II to illustrate the negative aspects of the sublime. Edmund Burke identified

as sublime "the experience of contemplating enormous heights and depths but also

the experience of being isolated from other humans" (Ferguson 339). Both of

these themes figure prominently in "Ozymandias."

The poem opens with a mysterious "traveler from an antique land" (1)

describing the demolished statue of Ozymandias (Ramses II). The traveler serves

as the human consciousness required to give force to the ideas of the

destructiveness of nature and the annihilation of mankind.
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The "frown/and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command" (4 - 5),

along with the engraving on the pedestal, "My name is Ozymandias, King of

Kings/Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!" (10 - 11) demonstrate hubris.

Although here nature's power is acknowledged ("ye Mighty"), Ozymandias is

exhorting the wonder of his works, stating outright that his creation is far

superior to that of nature, even though his creations are "lifeless things" (7).

Ozymandias's attempt to surpass nature in his works is contemptuous - his hand

"mocks nature" (8). The statue is destroyed to punish Ozymandias for excessive

pride; the King's boastful statement remains as a warning against hubris to the

mere mortals who may encounter the ruined statue. The fact that Ozymandias's

"passions ... yet survive" (6 - 7) illustrate that humans still believe they are

superior to nature, and believe this at their own risk.

As in "Mont Blanc," Shelley's account of the destroyed statue in

"Ozymandias" recurs to its remoteness from all that civilization involves

(Ferguson 339). This is illustrated by the placement of the statue in the

desert, far from human habitation: "boundless and bare/the lone and level sands

stretch far away" (13 - 14).

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