Explain the "irony" in the poem, "Ozymandias." by Percy Blythe Shelly

Essay by seraphemeUniversity, Bachelor's March 2003

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Irony in Ozymandias

Shelly produces a wonderful piece of irony in Ozymandias. When looking at Ozymandias we should look at the Greek breakdown of the name. "Ozy comes from the Greek 'ozium,' which means to breath, or air. Mandias comes from the Greek 'mandate,' which means to rule," notes Biterman in his analysis of the poem. The fact that the derivative of the great Ozymandias's name is Ruler of Air is where the irony begins. When one looks upon what was written on the base of the statue and then to what has become of that statue and all that surrounds it one sees how ironic that name really is.

It is easiest to begin from the inscription on the base of the statue as it gives us the best insight into the man it represents. 'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!(lines 10-11)' This quote infers his belief that no one will ever surpass his works.

One might even conclude from this that he would even challenge God himself. We then can go back and look at how Shelley described the statue. His description tells us what condition God leaves the model of this mocking fool: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand, Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown, And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command.(lines 2-5)" The condition of the statue in itself shows that Ozymandias was not the greatest ruler there ever was.

In looking at the condition of the statue and his words after you really do see the irony of the situation. All which this great king accomplished and what he once was has eroded into the sand leaving nothing but "two vast and trunkless legs of stone." God allows only the legs and words to stand so that he might prove a point. The point Shelly tried to raise in the poem was that God will outlast all those who attempt to make a mockery of him.

Shelly writes, "Tell that its sculptor well those passions read Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed.(lines 6-8)" On this point I would have to agree with Joe Kelly in his belief that Ozymandias's heart fed on the passions of his people. If he had nurtured his people instead of oppressing them their passion would have been with maintaining his memory, instead of destroying it.

There is a great deal of irony in Ozymandias' shattered visage on the sand. The king who so terrified those he commanded for so long no longer has any power, yet, his face still tries to dominate all he sees. The very actions that brought to him a period of glory also brought the destruction of what he worked so vigilantly on. Once finished the reader can look back and realize how ironic the entire situation is; at one point this ruler was (or believed himself to be) the most powerful man to have ever lived, and now people look at his lifeless shrine and realize the truth. As long as this poem goes on being read Ozymandias will live on.

Works Cited

Biterman, Aaron J. " Analysis of Ozymandias." Dec. 2000. 23 Mar. 2003 .

Kelly, Joe. " Mighty Works in Shelley's "Ozymandias"." 23 Mar. 2003 < http://www.cofc.edu/~kellyj/explication.html>.