AP English Language and Composition
The poem Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley is a great example of the use of symbolism and imagery in literature. It was published in 1818 and still remains an essential part of classic literature education.Throughout the poem, we see several themes get symbolised; passion, sculpting, destruction and life. Each of these themes can be seen multiple times in the poem. Each theme is also very important to understand why Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote the poem and what his ideas and thoughts behind writing it were.
and is a crucial part of understanding the meaning of the poem beyond the literal sense.
As far as poetry goes, life and death seem to be a very popular theme. This is only reinforced by the fact that it can be in Ozymandias. There is a lot of death in the poem. The person the statue is supposed to represent is dead. The civilisation from which the statue came is dead. The statue itself is depicted to be destroyed, and so, in a way it, too is dead. Despite the fact that there is a lot of death in the poem, there is a slight amount of life that balances it out ever so slightly. The first reference is in line 1-2, where the speaker tells of the "traveler from an antique land." The second reference takes place during the poem as a whole; even though the subjects of the poem are for the most part “dead,” there is still the idea that the statute survives to tell the tale of a thousand years ago.
Even though there is a lot of death in the poem, the speaker makes sure to point out the fact that the “passions” and feelings of the statue still survive. They are “stamp’d” onto the statue’s face. The author also makes a point of telling us all the features of the statue, things such as the “sneer,” the “frown,” “and the wrinkled lip.” These images very effectively symbolize the feelings of the statue, not only to the reader, but to the speaker, as well. You know the speaker feels the same way about the poem because the speaker seems to know that even though the statue and everything about it is as good as dead, it’s feelings are still alive.
The statue in the poem is inspired by Ramses II of Egypt, so it’s not surprising that we see a lot of imagery and symbolism dealing with the important sculpture. For one, the size of the statue is very important. In the poem, it is described as being a “colossal” statue. The sheer size of the statue symbolises the fact that Ramses II was of very high status, he was the king, therefore his statue towered over other statues, similar to the way his ego would have towered over those of people around him. He probably had a big ego, too. The statue also serves as a way for the speaker to ask questions about the life of ideas and art as opposed to the flimsy and comparatively short lived existence of a statue that is already broken and destroyed.
The delivery of a poem like Ozymandias is a performance not to be taken lightly because it is so full of death and destruction. You need to be delicate, as to not make it so somber that you don’t also notice the ever so slightly uplifting themes to the poems as well.. It is also a great responsibility because in the telling of a story like Ozymandias, you are revealing the true power of ideas and emotions and feelings. You are exposing to the world to the fact that you can build something and it can be completely and totally destroyed, but the idea behind it and the feelings it expressed will always be there, they’ll shine through the destruction for years, even centuries to come. There will always be stories about it and it will always somehow find it’s way into the mind of people. Perhaps a long time into the future, people will still be discussing something you created today; Just as we still read and admire Ozymandias and the reasons that Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote it.