Analysis of Ozymandias

Analysis from Aaron Biterman and Bill Brower.

December, 2000


Imagine this scenario: three English men sitting around a table at a drunken party. The men bet each other that each of them could come up with the best poem in the alotted time of fifteen minutes. The poem's topic was Egypt. The poem Ozymandias was the response of Percy Bysshe Shelley to the bet.

The first vital point to note is that the poem is an Italian sonnet in a traditional 14 line, 8-6, set-up with iambic pentameter. It encapsulates a great story about Ramses, the past king of Egypt.

The poem was written around 1800 and the fact that it was written in an "antique land" (1) illustrates that the author was attempting to distance himself from Ramses, indicating the faded view of the past king Ozymandias.

Great opposition, irony and sarcasm appears when it is said, "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!" Nothing beside remains." This negative connotation shows that there once was a vast kingdom, but now that kingdom has disappeared. Neither property nor the king himself is immortal, the sonnet indicates.

When it is said that the "lone and level sands stretch far away" (13-14), the reader realizes that perhaps the sand is more vast now than the empire is.

Finally, when breaking down the word "Ozymandas" in the original greek, we realize that the kingdom no longer exists. Ozy comes from the Greek "ozium," which means to breath, or air. Mandias comes from the Greek "mandate," which means to rule.

Hence, Ozymandias is simply a "ruler of air" or a "ruler of nothing". It is then obvious that the King of Kings spoken of in the poem is actually nature itself. Nature never disappears and nature represents the immortality not represented by the Ramses or any other individual or possession.


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