Explain and critically comment on the following lines from "Ozymandias" by Shelley: "Nothing beside remains. Round the decay / Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare / The lone and level sands stretch far away."
“Ozymandias” is a short poem about a huge subject: power. Percy Bysshe Shelley succinctly conveys the impermanence of power, both for the person who holds it and for the physical and conceptual apparatus through which they wield it. Shelley uses the language to build a strong visual image. Using the poem’s technical features in combination with the meaning, Shelley effectively conveys his message. The poem is in iambic pentameter; its irregular rhyme scheme creates a sense of motion. The primary devices used are alliteration, consonance, and assonance, often in combination and sometimes connected to the rhyme. Alliteration is the repetition of initial consonant sounds; consonance is the repetition within words; and assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds (exact or very close) anywhere in a word.
In much of the poem, the “traveller” has described the ruined statue of a person, with just two legs standing and his face half-buried in sand. In line 11 comes the pharaoh’s inscription about his “works.” In line 13, in calling the detritus a “wreck,” the poet uses both alliteration and consonance to give equivalence to these opposing concepts. Similarly, in line 12, Shelley sums up the absence of remains as “nothing”: its “-ing” uses assonance and consonance to echo “King of Kings,” which ended line 10, again contrasting two opposite ideas. Alliteration and assonance combined includes “beside” and “boundless and bare” and “colossal” with “lone and level”; the “le” sound in “boundless” is likewise matched with that in “level,” and the “-loss” with “-less.”
Shelley’s word choice also intensifies the feeling of emptiness and futility. In just those three lines, he offers “nothing,” “decay,” “wreck,” and “bare.” He also offers the sense of the pharaoh’s solitude in death by personifying the “lone . . . sands.” He also contrasts the statue’s remnants that “stand” (line 3) with the rhyming “level sands.” Finally, he expands the sense of distance in time, offered in line 1 as “an antique land” with the physical distance of “far away,” and he brings the reader full circle by rhyming “land” with “sands.”
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These lines are the last three in the poem. Shelley has just related the traveler's description of Ozymandias's statue, shattered and lying in the dust, but still evoking a sense of the long-dead pharaoh's arrogance and pride. The inscription on the statue tells the onlooker to "Look on my works ye mighty, and despair!" but all of these works are gone, as these lines point out. The "lone and level sands" have swallowed up almost all that remains of Ozymandias's legacy. The final three lines are a poignant meditation on the fleeting nature of human works, both great and small.