Literary Devices in The Poem "Ozymandias"

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About this sample


Words: 575 |

Page: 1|

3 min read

Published: Jun 13, 2024

Words: 575|Page: 1|3 min read

Published: Jun 13, 2024


Percy Bysshe Shelley's poem "Ozymandias" is a masterful example of Romantic poetry that employs a variety of literary devices to convey its themes of impermanence and the hubris of human ambition. First published in 1818, the sonnet has since been celebrated for its evocative imagery and profound message. This essay will explore the various literary devices Shelley employs, such as imagery, irony, symbolism, and alliteration, to enhance the poem's impact and communicate its themes effectively.

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One of the most striking literary devices in "Ozymandias" is imagery. Shelley uses vivid descriptions to paint a mental picture for the reader, allowing them to visualize the decaying statue in the desolate desert. The lines "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone / Stand in the desert" and "Half sunk, a shattered visage lies" immediately conjure images of a once grand statue now reduced to ruins. This imagery serves to underscore the theme of impermanence, emphasizing that even the mightiest of human creations are subject to the ravages of time. Additionally, the "sneer of cold command" etched into the statue's face conveys the arrogance and tyranny of Ozymandias, further reinforcing the poem's message about the fleeting nature of power.

Irony is another key literary device that Shelley masterfully employs in "Ozymandias." The poem's central irony lies in the contrast between Ozymandias's grandiose claims and the reality of his faded legacy. The inscription on the pedestal, "Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!" is starkly ironic given the surrounding desolation. Rather than inspiring awe and fear, the ruined statue serves as a cautionary tale about the futility of human pride and ambition. This irony is heightened by the fact that the once-great king's achievements have been reduced to nothing more than "boundless and bare" sands, illustrating the ultimate insignificance of human endeavors in the face of time's inexorable march.

Symbolism also plays a significant role in conveying the poem's themes. The statue of Ozymandias itself is a powerful symbol of the transient nature of political power and the inevitable decay of human accomplishments. The "colossal wreck" represents the inevitable decline that awaits all empires, no matter how mighty they may seem at their peak. Furthermore, the desert setting symbolizes the vast, indifferent forces of nature that render human achievements insignificant. By juxtaposing the remnants of Ozymandias's statue with the endless expanse of the desert, Shelley highlights the contrast between human pretensions to greatness and the enduring reality of nature's dominion.

Alliteration is another literary device that Shelley uses to enhance the poem's rhythm and musicality. For example, the phrase "boundless and bare" employs alliteration to emphasize the emptiness and desolation of the scene. Similarly, the repetition of the "l" sound in "lone and level sands" creates a somber and reflective tone, reinforcing the poem's themes of loss and impermanence. These subtle uses of alliteration contribute to the overall mood of the poem and help to draw the reader's attention to key ideas and images.


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In conclusion, Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Ozymandias" is a richly layered poem that uses a variety of literary devices to explore themes of impermanence, hubris, and the inevitable decline of human achievements. Through vivid imagery, powerful irony, evocative symbolism, and carefully crafted alliteration, Shelley creates a haunting and thought-provoking reflection on the transient nature of power and the enduring forces of time and nature. By analyzing these literary devices, readers can gain a deeper understanding of the poem's message and appreciate the skill with which Shelley conveys his timeless themes.

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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Literary Devices in the Poem “Ozymandias”. (2024, Jun 13). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 20, 2024, from
“Literary Devices in the Poem “Ozymandias”.” GradesFixer, 13 Jun. 2024,
Literary Devices in the Poem “Ozymandias”. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 20 Jul. 2024].
Literary Devices in the Poem “Ozymandias” [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2024 Jun 13 [cited 2024 Jul 20]. Available from:
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