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Although Percy Shelley’s “Ozymandias” is a short poem of only fourteen lines (a sonnet), there are actually three speakers involved.
The first speaker is the narrator’s voice. He gives us these ten words:
I met a traveler from an antique land,
Who said –
He is introducing the man that he met who will tell the rest of the little story.
The second speaker is the traveler who describes the huge statue of Ozymandias that he encountered in the desert. The statue was a pharaoh’s attempt to give himself a sort of immortality by creating a monument to himself that he probably thought would last for ages (which in fact it did). However, by the time the traveler found it, it had been reduced to an almost comical ruin of “trunkless legs of stone.”
During the description he recites what is written on the pedestal:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Technically, since these are the words of Ozymandias, he is himself the third speaker. His proud words, in light of the destruction of his statue, have an ironic ring. No matter how much you wish to attain immortality you will break down in the end. In this way the statue is like the human body and its fate is the same.
One can hear three separate voices in the sonnet "Ozymandias." The narrator, the traveler, and Ozymandias are given words. In addition, there is another message that can be "read," although it cannot be heard.
The narrator is the "I" mentioned in the first line. The narrator only states that he met a traveler from an "antique land." He then repeats what the traveler told him, which consists of the remainder of the poem.
The traveler's words, beginning in line 2, are usually shown in quotation marks. He describes the fallen statue of the ancient Egyptian king. The legs, without a trunk, stand in the sand. The head, toppled off long ago, lies half buried. There is also a pedestal with words inscribed that are still legible. All other vestiges of the king's domain have long since disappeared without a trace. Only desert surrounds the huge, wrecked statue.
The third voice the reader hears is that of Ozymandias. Through the inscription on the pedestal, the king's opinion of himself comes down through the ages. He declares that he is the primary king, above all other rulers. He challenges the "Mighty" ones, his contemporaries, to observe his great works and despair of ever being able to conquer him. They should just give up now, in other words.
Finally, there is another person's message that comes through in the poem, although it is not audible or spoken. It is the message of the sculptor who created the statue. The traveler commends the artist for depicting in the image the feelings of the king. The sculptor could have portrayed a kind visage, or at least an attractive one. But instead, through the frown, "wrinkled lip," and sneer on the king's face, the artist delivers a statement about him: He had a "hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed." This message, though wordless, bore perhaps more truth than the inscription did. The "King of Kings" eventually ceased to rule, but the truth about his his cruel and predatory heart lived on, "stamped on these lifeless things," because of the sculptor's enduring but silent statement.
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