Nothing Lasts Forever: Critical Analysis of Ozymandias

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Nothing Lasts Forever:
A New Critical Analysis of “Ozymandias.”
Throughout the history of man, there has always been a select few who wish for immortality. They build awe-inspiring kingdoms, erect massive statues, all in a vain effort to leave their mark on the world. None of them has been successful, thus far, and Ramesses II is no exception. In the poem "Ozymandias," by Percy Bysshe Shelley, a traveler shares his experience at the site of a statue depicting Ramesses II. The statue has fallen into disrepair at the hands of the harsh environment, as well as the eroding process of Time. At first reading, the text presents itself as a poem about the withering away of a once great statue. However, through the use of symbolism, setting, diction, and irony, the poem reveals that while men may strive for immortality, the true “king of kings” (line 11) is Time.

Legs on the human body are necessary for motion and balance, but they also act as an important symbol of Ramesses II’s kingdom. Without these twin apparatuses, the human body is incapable of moving forward. In this respect, the two “vast and trunkless legs of stone” (line 2) found bodiless in the poem symbolize the overthrow of Ozymandias’s empire by Time. Without legs on which to stand, his kingdom has lost its momentum and has subsequently been devoured by the sand. In addition, the top half of the statue—the head and part of the torso—is laying in the sand “half sunk” (line 4). As with the legs, the positioning of the head and torso is symbolic. Ozymandias is gazing at the sky, looking up what remains of his decimated kingdom, a “wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command” (line 5) on his face. To look up to someone else is to acknowledge their position of authority over others. Through the positioning of the statue, Ramesses II is acknowledging that Time has conquered him. His empire has been reduced to dust, claimed by the sands of Time.

The poem describes the setting as “boundless and...
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