In developing an insightful central theme, Percy Shelley avails of two potent literary tools, imagery and irony, to jolt readers with a striking epiphany. Imagery for one, navigates the audience to what is truly emphasized in the poem: literary art as opposed to physical, plastic art. It also serves to characterize a key figure in the poem—Ozymandias—whom is ascribed as having cold, arrogant, and pretentious qualities. The speaker juxtaposes the words inscribed on the pedestal with the image of dilapidated monuments and the bare boundless sands which surround it. When these two vivid descriptions contrast, the visual imagery, through this juxtaposition, actually buttresses situational irony. In fact, situational irony dominates and governs the reader’s very impression of the former pharaoh at the conclusion of the poem; worn down and disintegrated, Ozymandias’ monument portrays an image of wreckage and unimportance; whereas, the poem itself portrays an image, which withstanding time, has successfully attempted what Ozymandias himself desired: everlasting fame and a lasting legacy. By using imagery and irony, Shelley conveys the idea that poetical verses, linguistic expressions, and literary legacies outlast those of monumental and architectural form.
Interestingly enough, Shelley employs the phrase “antique land” (1) to start out; the diction in this instance highlights the setting, and our perspective of time, for antiquity denotes the belonging to the past and not being modern. The style in which the poem is rendered is reminiscent of a folk tale’s recital since we are told the story through an obscure traveller and the reader is naturally drawn into the mysticism and mystery. However, in this way, Shelley distances the audience further from king Ozymandias and creates additional obscurity to the former pharaoh.
Shelley’s word choice and style of imagery characterizes Ozymandias. Whilst portraying the former king in a certain light, Shelley seeks to establish a basis for a potential kick at irony later in the poem; hence, we’re justified in taking a moment in observing some of the pharaoh’s traits. In line four, the word “sneer” (5), per se, gives the reader a sense of arrogance and haughtiness. That is, the connotation and context one may encounter the word "sneer" (5) is rarely to attribute humility or graciousness to a said character. In this case, it’s more than obvious that the intention is to associate the aforementioned qualities, haughtiness and even arrogance, with the primary character in our poem—Ozymandias. The choice of diction in this line acts almost as a prelude to what will be further associated with the shattered, contemptuous visage that has been so far described as half sunken into the ground.
Upon line 8, we may draw a parallel from the qualities which were imputed on Ozymandias, haughtiness and arrogance, with the expression “the heart that fed” (8). Ozymandias’ heart feeds off the prospect of a sculptor’s...