Ozymandias Questions and Answers
by Percy Bysshe Shelley

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Compare how the poets Shelley and Blake present ideas about power in “Ozymandias” and “London."

The poets Shelley and Blake present similar ideas about power in their poems "Ozymandias" and "London." Shelley uses a faded statue of a tyrant to show that all kingdoms fall. Blake looks at how people in power restrict the poor in London. Both show that power upheld by violence is bad for society.

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In both poems, false thinking that bases power on fear and violence is show to be a problem. Blake explores this through showing a London society living in "woe," while Shelley shows this through irony, focusing on how an ancient tyrant and his kingdom have fallen.

Both Shelley and Blake are Romantic poets, radicals for their era, and critics of the powerful. Blake, in "London," however, focuses on powerful institutions and how they oppress the powerless in London of his time period. Shelley focuses on an individual tyrant from antiquity to critique the pretensions and illusions of the powerful.

In stanza three of "London," Blake's speaker mentions the institutions of the Christian church, which he calls "blackening," the army, and the royalty or aristocracy, symbolized by the word "Palace," who reign amid the misery he describes, and are, implicitly responsible for it. Around them, London is filled with the poor, such as chimney sweeps and prostitutes. The speaker sees "Marks of weakness, marks of woe" in "every face" he passes. "Mind-forg'd manacles"—false mindsets or ideologies—hold people down. The current situation, in which the powerful institutions have created misery, brings unhappiness to "every" person, including the wealthy. As the poem suggests, people choose this sorry state by not challenging the way society is structured. Envisioning a better world might mean everyone could throw off their "manacles."

In "Ozymandias," a traveller sees the broken statue of a once-great king who demands visitors to look around at his kingdom and power and tremble with fear. Now, nothing of the kingdom is left except for a vast sandy desert and the ruined statue. The poem is cautioning that the might of all tyrants will fail, in Shelley's world as in the past. The poem critiques the arrogance of the powerful people who think they are invincible and can rule forever. Shelley shows that this is an illusion.

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