Yet another essay for AP English, this is the one essay I've written so far that I think just might be capable of receiving a 20--a grade only five people in the history of LHS AP English have received. Once again, please do not use this in whole or in part--particularly the thesis--for I would not want to be involved in Academic Collusion.

“Ozymandias” Essay
At its heart, “Ozymandias” is a poem not about the meaninglessness of power, but about how power came to be meaningless. Viewed as a constant, power is unquestionably meaningful; however, power is not a constant, it is a variable, a variable that is inextricably tied to the transient nature of life. As the central paradox shows, no matter how “Mighty” or inspiring of “despair” your “Works” may be, you will eventually die, and your works will eventually “decay” into a “colossal Wreck”. But why is this so? Why must all of our “Works” be left to decay on the “lone and level sands”, “boundless and bare”? The reason is that God has “mocked” mankind—the creation that his “heart…fed”—by making us mortal, just as Shelley mocks the poem itself—his creation—by introducing imperfections into the sonnet form.

Shelley uses assonance and “s” consonance at the beginning and end of “Ozymandias” to heighten the sense of distance, but contrasts this with hard “k” consonance in the descriptions of the “shattered” statue to increase Ozymandias’ “sneer of cold command” and connect it to the “colossal wreck”, thus furthering the central paradox. The first three lines of the poem are dominated by assonance:

I met a traveler from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desart…. Near them, on the sand,

These lines help to give the reader a sense of the immensity of the desert. The second line is particularly effective with “o” assonance between “who” and “two”, “a” assonance between “land” and “vast”, and soft “s” consonance between “vast”, “less”, “legs” and “stone”. However, this assonance is contrasted by the strong “k” consonance of “trunkless”. This strong “k” consonance dominates every image of the statue. The next two lines make this especially apparent:
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
The strong “k” consonance, in conjunction with the cacophony of “shattered” and “sneer”, enhances the power of the image. However, this same consonance that strengthens the images of the statue also connects them to the primary paradox of the poem:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck,...
The “k” consonance of “King of Kings”, and “Works”—just as before—strengthens Ozymandias’ words. These “k” sounds strengthen each image of Ozymandias’ power; however, they also connect each image to “the decay/Of that colossal Wreck” and thus focus attention on the central paradox: that something thinking itself so powerful could be so weak. It is to this central paradox that Shelley directs our attentions and it is through this paradox—in conjunction with the symbols of the eighth line—that all our conclusions will flow.

Shelly hints at the mocking imperfections that God has built into man by blatantly introducing several “imperfections” into the highly structured sonnet form. There are two, standard, highly structured sonnet forms: the Petrarchan, rhyming ABBAABBACDECDE, and the Shakespearean, rhyming ABABCDCDEFEFGG—both use iambic pentameter. Shelley bases “Ozymandias” in this form; however, he introduces several “imperfections” at important points in the poem. For example, the first four lines end with “land”, “stone”, “sand” and “frown” respectively. From this ABAB pattern, one would deduce that Shelly was writing in the Shakespearean form. However, the next four lines end with “command”, “read”, “things” and “fed”, an ACDC pattern where CDCD was expected. Shelly continues to introduce imperfections in the next four rhymes: “appear”, “kings”, “despair” and “decay”, an EDEF pattern where EFEF was expected. Finally, Shelly fails to close with a GG couplet; instead, he continues rhyming EF with “bare” and “away”. Shelly also uses imperfect meter throughout the poem. The first instance occurs with the third line’s trochaic opening “Stand in”; however, the most pronounced instance occurs on the entirely trochaic eighth line, “The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed”. Shelley also uses singular spondees—“Mighty” and “despair”—on the eleventh line: “Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!”. If some amateur poet had written “Ozymandias” we might expect such errors; however, this is not the case, a poet of Shelley’s caliber unquestionably introduced these “errors” for a reason. If we view Shelley as the “sculptor” of the “shattered visage” that is the imperfect sonnet, it can easily be seen that it is Shelley’s hand that “mocked” the sonnet form, and also Shelley’s “heart that fed” the creation of the sonnet. If we extend this analogy and view God as the “sculptor” of the “shattered visage” that is imperfect humanity, it can be seen that it is God’s hand that mocks the potential perfection of man by introducing the imperfection of mortality, and God’s “heart that fed” man’s creation. Just as Shelley mocks the potential perfection of the sonnet by introducing imperfections, so does God mock the potential perfection of mankind by introducing mortality.

Shelley shows that it is the sculptor’s—God’s—mocking of Ozymandias—mankind—with mortality that is responsible for the meaninglessness of power. The central paradox of “Ozymandias” is relatively simple:

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck,...
Shelley is writing about the inherent meaningless of power due to its transient nature. The simple view would be to see this condemnation of power as applying only to Ozymandias; however, a larger and more general view is to perceive Ozymandias as a symbol for all mankind. The most important ramification of such a view is the presence of a sculptor:
...its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
The sculptor—the creator—“mocks”, in the sense of creation, the passions of mankind and is also the “heart that fed” those passions. This would suggest that the sculptor is a symbol for God—the being that created mankind. However, the word “mock” has the dual meaning of both creation and jest. Here again, the central paradox is all important. Everything Ozymandias does in life, all of his “Works” are, in the end, meaningless because his life must end, and his “Works” must “decay”. Thus, it can be seen that God mocks mankind by making us mortal, by making everything that we do meaningless. This is how power came to be meaningless: Godmocked”, created, mankind; however, he also mocked, jested, the perfection of mankind by introducing mortality, leaving all our power and its resulting “Works” to be destroyed by the inexorable entropy of the sands of time.

By viewing Ozymandias in the abstract, as a symbol for mankind, and thus viewing the sculptor as a symbol for God, it can be seen that Godmockedmankind my making us mortal, thus making power meaningless. Similarly, Shelley mocks the highly structured form of the sonnet by purposely inserting many imperfections in the rhyme and meter of “Ozymandias”. Shelley also uses hard “k” consonance in almost every description of the statue to both strengthen the description and to link it to the central paradox. One important point to note is that Shelley qualifies the view expounded in “Ozymandias” as not his own, but “the traveler's” by enclosing most of the poem in quotes, making it a poem within a poem. Thus, all we know is that this is one possible view of power, it is not necessarily the view that Shelley subscribes to.