How does Shelley present time in "Ozymandias"?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "Ozymandias," time is shown to be constant, sharply contrasting with the way human beings live their lives.

Shelley shows human beings to be finite. They are transitory, entering and leaving. This impermanence is seen in the poem's opening about meeting "a traveller from an antique land." The traveller passes and is far from permanent. Ozymandias is seen in the same way. He believes himself to be meaningful and powerful, someone who can tell others to "Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!" However, his statue has eroded and there is nothing left of his reign. In these examples, human beings are temporal creatures.

In the poem, the only constant is time. It is as consistent as the stretching sand that concludes the poem. Time keeps going as it permanently encompasses the life of human beings. While human beings are impermanent and not lasting, time continues its march. Time was there when Ozymandias ruled and when the statue was built. It continues even after Ozymandias dies and the statue crumbles. Time is there when the speaker meets the traveller, and will be there when both of them die as well. Shelley portrays time as infinite and inescapable. We can see that the permanent nature of time contrasts with the way human beings live their lives.

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the poem "Ozymandias," Shelley illustrates time as permanent, everlasting, and constant, which contrasts with the transitory nature of human existence. The once great statue of Rameses II is depicted as a decaying, broken structure, which is half-buried in the desert sands. The visage of Rameses II is cracked, and the damaged statue is described as being a "colossal wreck." The menacing text that describes Rameses's omnipotence that is written on the base of the statue is ironic and represents man's ephemeral, fleeting existence. The vast, "boundless" desert sands that stretch far into the distance symbolically represent the everlasting, unconquerable nature of time. By juxtaposing the broken statue that was constructed to last an eternity with the endless sands, Shelley is able to convey the message that glory, personal accomplishments, and tyranny are fleeting and will not stand the test of time.