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Legacies In Ozymandias And When I Consider How My Light Is Spent

1687 words - 7 pages

The Petrarchan sonnets “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley and “When I Consider How My Light Is Spent” by John Milton both consider a man’s legacy after death. However, both poems talk about a man’s legacy from very different perspective and come to their own conclusions. In “Ozymandias”, a traveler describes a broken statue of King Ozymandias (the Greek name for the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II) and the barren ruins surrounding the statue. Ozymandias believes that his legacy will last forever. Through the sonnet, Shelley implies that legacies are transient and even the most powerful of men fall in the face of time. “When I Consider How My Light Is Spent” is about the internal reflection of the speaker on his legacy as he worries whether or not God would approve of it. The poem comes to the conclusion that a man does not need to have an impressive legacy to be a good servant to God. They need only be willing to serve God to make him happy. Clearly these poems, while both contemplating a man’s legacy, show different ways of how a man can feel about his legacy (arrogance or anxiety). However in the end both poems conclude that a legacy, in the end, is of little importance.
Both poems show two different ways that someone can think about their legacy. In Shelley’s “Ozymandias”, Ozymandias is arrogant about his legacy assuming that, not only will it last forever, but that it will strike awe into future onlookers. This impression is mainly given by the quotation marks around the inscription on the statue as it implies that these are the words of the Pharaoh. By calling himself the “king of kings” (Shelley, 10) you get a sense of his enormous pride because being the king of kings is as high as you can go on the social hierarchy scale. His lack of modesty is highlighted by the fact that Ozymandias gives himself the title of king of kings which is not something a humble person would do. Ozymandias then continues to say that the “Mighty” (Shelley, 11) should “despair” (Shelley, 11) because compared to him, they are of no significance. It is clear from this inscription that Ozymandias believes that his legacy will last long after he is gone.
This is greatly contrasted by the speaker in Milton’s “When I Consider How My Light Is Spent”. It is first important to mention that the author of this poem, John Milton, suffered from glaucoma and eventually went blind. Due to this information, it can be implied that Milton’s gradual loss of sight was a source of inspiration for this sonnet and that Milton is the speaker of the poem. Therefore the word “light” (Milton, 1) can metaphorically take on multiple meanings such as his talent (as it is the light that he brings to the world) or his vision (as one goes blind the world becomes increasingly darker and the ability to see light decreases). Milton losing his vision would be an impediment to his talent (which is his writing) so when he worries that he has spent his “light” (Milton, 1) unwisely it essentially means...

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