Stylistic and Comparative Analysis of Ozymandias and Nothing Gold Can Stay

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About this sample


Words: 1105 |

Pages: 2|

6 min read

Published: Dec 12, 2018

Words: 1105|Pages: 2|6 min read

Published: Dec 12, 2018

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Representation of the Theme of Impermanence in the Poems
  3. Conclusion
  4. Works Cited


The concept of impermanence is a familiar theme in the realm of human existence. All living beings undergo the processes of aging and eventual demise, and even the material possessions that humanity employs to enhance life inevitably deteriorate. It is no wonder that poetry frequently delves into this topic, as poetry serves as an artistic medium for capturing the essence of life and its transient nature. Notably, works like Percy Shelley's "Ozymandias" and Robert Frost's "Nothing Gold Can Stay" both adeptly convey the idea of impermanence through the skillful use of rhyme, metaphor, and alliteration.

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Representation of the Theme of Impermanence in the Poems

Alliteration, a poetic device that employs the repetition of consonant sounds, is often harnessed to infuse musicality into poetry. Shelley's introspective sonnet employs alliteration not only to enhance the auditory quality of the verse but also to imbue a sense of robustness to the imposing statue of Ozymandias. The poem compels the reader to enunciate the line, "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert," by emphasizing the consonants "s" and "l." These are soft sounds that, when pronounced without emphasis, may blend indistinctly. By requiring the reader to articulate them deliberately, the poem elicits a pronounced effect. Furthermore, Shelley describes the statue's visage as possessing "cold command," employing the hard consonant "c" to evoke imagery reminiscent of stone. This strategic use of alliteration underscores Ozymandias's strength and serves as a striking juxtaposition against the poem's eventual revelation of the impermanence of even the mightiest.

In "Nothing Gold Can Stay," Frost employs alliteration to impart fluidity to his verses. The poem initiates with harsh consonants in the opening line, "Green is Gold," then gradually transitions to softer consonants, as evidenced in lines such as "Her hardest hue to hold" and "So Eden sank...," before reverting to a more forceful consonant with "Dawn goes down to day." This shift in alliteration mirrors the changing states of nature's foliage, evoking a powerful sense of the transient nature of all life.

Both poets also utilize metaphor to illustrate the impermanence of existence. Frost employs nature as a metaphor, describing the leaves' foliage and asserting that "first green is gold." He goes on to characterize green as nature's "hardest hue to hold." In these lines, Frost masterfully introduces the concept of life's fleeting nature, a theme that resonates universally with individuals. However, the poem does not limit itself to comparing life to nature alone. Frost introduces a subtle biblical reference with the line "So Eden sank to grief." Eden, in this context, serves as a potent metaphor for life's ephemeral quality. It invokes the spiritual and intangible aspects of existence. In the Torah, Eden represents an idyllic world from which humanity was banished after partaking of the tree of knowledge. For many, Eden symbolizes a perfect realm that deteriorated into a less desirable state, one that humanity aspires to restore. Frost skillfully utilizes this reference to reinforce his argument, reminding readers that even sacred symbols of human perfection are depicted as transitory and susceptible to change.

Shelley, despite being the more romantically inclined of the two poets, employs a direct and stark metaphor to convey the transient nature of existence. The poem's narrator describes a statue of a king situated in the midst of a desert. The statue's subject exudes an air of boldness and strength, with its pedestal bearing the inscription, "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings, look on my works ye mighty and despair!" This statue ostensibly serves as evidence of a grand city that has long since vanished, as Shelley proceeds to declare, "Nothing beside remains." Aside from the statue proclaiming "mighty works" and two "vast and trunkless legs of stone," nothing exists in the barren desert. Shelley utilizes this ruin to underscore the impermanent state of not only the once-powerful Ozymandias, but also the material world, as evidenced by the lone statue, which is the sole remnant of the city that once thrived. The poem further reminds readers, through Ozymandias's emphatic assertion of "mighty works," that nothing endures indefinitely, regardless of its strength during its zenith.

Even the rhyme scheme in Shelley's poem conveys the idea of transitory existence through its irregular pattern. While Frost's rhyme scheme in "Nothing Gold Can Stay" appears to be primarily for the sake of poetic fluidity rather than emphasizing ephemerality, "Ozymandias" commences with a rhyme scheme that shifts from perfect rhyme to subtle half-rhyme before eventually returning to perfect rhyme at the conclusion. This concept of recycling word patterns is also discernible in Frost's poem. However, while Frost employs alliteration to evoke the natural world, Shelley focuses on humanity and material possessions, reminding readers that the cyclical nature of existence extends beyond the foliage of leaves. Shelley speaks of the downfall of Ozymandias's civilization, yet by recycling the rhyme scheme within the poem, he may be hinting at the relevance of this downfall to contemporary civilization. While today's empires and nations may flourish as if they will endure indefinitely, Shelley reminds his readers of the impermanence inherent in all things. Ozymandias believed his city would endure forever, yet now it is reduced to nothing more than desolate terrain. Perhaps through the poem's rhyme scheme, Shelley forewarns of a future in which present-day thriving nations may also become barren. As unsettling as this notion may be, "Ozymandias" may offer more than a mere commentary on the fleeting nature of life. Perhaps Shelley reminds readers to cherish the present moment, as in the future, it may no longer be available for appreciation.

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It is possible that neither poet intends to cast a gloomy shadow on the theme of impermanence but rather to highlight a common error: taking the present for granted. Shelley and Frost, despite their differing styles and historical eras, both expound on the same theme. However, there is a likelihood that these poems are not meant to be viewed in a pessimistic light but rather as sources of inspiration. Concealed beneath the stark truth of life's impermanence lies a moral lesson about the value of appreciation, which both Shelley and Frost convey through distinct use of literary elements. Life is ephemeral, and thus, humanity must savor it in the present moment, rather than lamenting its fleeting nature. Carpe Diem!

Works Cited

  1. Shelley, P. B. (1818). Ozymandias. Poetry Foundation.
  2. Frost, R. (1923). Nothing Gold Can Stay. Poetry Foundation.
  3. Griffin, D. (2019). Robert Frost’s "Nothing Gold Can Stay": A Critical Analysis. Owlcation.
  4. Green, M. (2021). The Use of Alliteration in Poetry. The Poetry Society.
  5. New World Encyclopedia. (n.d.). Impermanence.
  6. Horkheimer, M. (1998). Eclipse of Reason. Continuum.
  7. Wilbur, R. (1987). A Critical Analysis of "Ozymandias" by Percy Bysshe Shelley. The Explicator, 45(1), 4-6. doi:10.1080/00144940.1986.9933497
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Stylistic and Comparative Analysis of Ozymandias and Nothing Gold Can Stay. (2023, October 05). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 2, 2024, from
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