"Ozymandias", By Percy Shelley Essay

1954 words - 8 pages

Percy Shelley indited "Ozymandias" in competition with his friend, Horace Smith, who also composed a sonnet concerning the ruined statue. Shelley's was published in the "The Examiner by Hunt in January 1818"1. Although "Ozymandias" detached style differs from the exalted tone of most of Shelley's oeuvre, it pleased Desmond King-Hele enough for him to honour it with a comparison to Shakespeare's poetry: "Few of Shelley's sonnets can bear comparison with Shakespeare's, but in 'Ozymandias' he successfully challenges the master on his favourite ground, the ravages of time."2 In this essay I hope to illustrate how the "music" of "Ozymandias" is integral to conveying its meaning. I intend to provide a close reading of "Ozymandias", focusing chiefly on, but not limiting the analysis to, its "musical" qualities. I also plan to briefly examine the poem apropos to Cleanth Brooks' "Language of Paradox" and some criticism of Shelley by T.S. Eliot.
Shelley constructed his sonnet with a Petrarchan octet and sestet, and an original rhyme scheme (ABABACDCEDEFEF), which reflects the monument's ruination in its gradual shift in rhyme from the end of the octet to the beginning of the sestet. In "Ozymandias", a divergence exists between the poem's form and its content, as the cohesive sonnet, with its assured iambic pentameter, innovative rhyme scheme and extensive use of alliteration contrasts with the "colossal wreck", "Half sunk"(4) in the sand. Shelley's accentuation of the theme of decay through the cohesion of the poem is redolent of Cleanth Brooks', "The Language of Paradox", wherein "...even the apparently simple and straightforward is forced into paradoxes by the nature of [the poet's] instrument"3. The poem's disparity also extends to its structure on the page, as the use of enjambment gives it an ordered appearance, however, upon reading the poem, we realise this enjambment compels the reader's eyes to flit across the page between lines, which are broken into fragments by commas: " Near them, on the sand, / Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown, / And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,(3-5)". This fragmentation of the line forces the reader to mirror the "antique"(1) traveller's experience of descrying the monument's ruined pieces on the sand. Shelley also harnesses the sonnet's prescribed form to create disparity, inserting the affix: "-less" to accord with the syllable-count. He uses this technique thrice with the words: "trunkless"(2), "lifeless"(7), and "boundless"(13). Deliberately using the negative morpheme: "-less" three times instead of a synonym is evocative of "The Language of Paradox", as "-less" indicates both absence and presence by simultaneously appearing on the page to satisfy the sonnet's accentual-syllabic structure, while also denoting absence within the context of the poem. For example, "trunkless"(2) draws attention to Ozymandias' dismembered body whilst complying with metrical constraints. The language of the poem...

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