AQA Ozymandias: The debris of power!
Submitted by Janet Lewison on 20 March 2011
There is something rather surreal about the imagery in this poem. I am not particualrly visual and yet the combination oft he 'trunkless legs of stone' and the 'lone and level sands' conjures up something between Salvador Dali and Monty Python for me. It is this juxtaposition between the indifferent timelessness of the natural world with the futile architecture of ambition -that make the poem so arresting. We stop as readers and spectate on this ancient debris testifying to the accidental and most transitory nature of power. It is another illustration of the death bed revelation. And what we wonder would we have written beneath our own severed head? How far would our strivings stretch before us, mocking and all too aware of our futility and insignficance? What also is revealed here in this ironic sonnet through the fragmentation of the original mighty 'body' of Ozymandias? Fragmentation underlines the incoherence of Ozymandias' identity and values. Dictatorship perhaps had already 'dismembered' his human self, so that this monument to his power and ostensible immortaility emphasises his inhumanity and personal estrangement from his community. And he is so lonely now. How isolating is such ambition ? His first circles of hell? Marooned in a shifting desert that is slowly burying his vanity forever, an unnamed traveller returns to testify to Ozymandias' fate. How ironic too that such a traveller is unnmaed and probably without fame or fortune yet returns to civilisation like a missiionary with news. And then we do not know if the narrator of the poem is Shelley the poet or another figure trapped within the narrative. Stories captured within stories so truth and myth slip and slide bewteen each other and all that we remember of the once powerful Ozymandias are his trunkless stone legs. A poem without shelter or solicitude?