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The poem “Ozymandias” is a wonderful example of irony. Percy Bysshe Shelley use the elements of imagery and alliteration to first give the reader the sense of a “vast” ruin in the desert. Shelley then uses alliteration to describe the character of the person the ruin represents. Finally, Shelley introduces a wonderfully ironic line that is reinforced by the other elements in the poem.
Imagery is an important element of “Ozymandias”. The entire poem is a recollection of a description given to the speaker of a ruin in the desert. Therefore, the poet must use strong imagery to give the reader the sense that they are actually there. First, the speaker describes the ruin as “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone (Shelley 2).” Which gives the reader a sense of how big the ruin is, and explains that it is a ruin. One wouldn’t expect to see a structure consisting of legs alone, therefore it can be inferred by the reader that the structure being described is in fact a ruin. The next line points out to the reader that the setting for the poem is “in the desert.” Having a sense of where and what it is the poet wishes the reader to see the speaker then goes on to describe the character of the individual this statue represents.
Line 4 tells the reader that along with the “trunkless legs of stone” there lies a “a shattered visage.” The character of the individual whom the visage represents is affirmed through alliteration. The speaker describes the bust lying in the desert having a “sneer of cold command.” This is a very deliberate use of alliteration by the poet in order to emphasize the fact that the visage was that of an irreverent man. The poet addresses the question of whom this visage could belong to with two simple words, “cold command”. Somehow it is clear to the speaker, or rather the “traveler from an antique land”, that the person this statue represented was a particularly callous individual. This description becomes important when the poet introduces irony in the last few lines of the poem.
The description of the ruin and that of the man it represents is important because it serves as a set-up for the irony the poet introduces in line 12. In lines 10-11 that the statue was once a monument to the ruler “Ozymandias, King of Kings.” Through a proclamation on the base of the pedestal Ozymandias once warned all who viewed this monument to “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair! (Shelley 11).” The wonderful irony in line 12 comes when the speaker says, “Nothing beside remains, round the decay.” Even Ozymandias, in all his greatness, could not predict that his monument to self would fall to ruin leaving him to look the fool.
The irony of the long since forgotten ruler Ozymandias turns out to be a bit of justice for the manner in which he ruled. Ozymandias is not remembered, and certainly no one “despairs” his “works.” Instead the opposite is true, which turns out to be quite the fitting ending to a awful legacy such as that which belonged to Ozymandias. It could even be interpreted that the poet intended to teach a small lesson to other rulers, or perhaps was taking a jab of current rulers. The idea of a legacy and iron-fist rule do not coincide. It is better for one to practice humility and perhaps be remembered, than for one to be boastful and remembered a fool.
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