What does Shelley teach us about mighty rulers and the passage of time in "Ozymandias" by Percy Bysshe Shelley?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Percy Bysshe Shelley's reflective sonnet captures themes of the impermanence of time, the mutability of life, and the transience of power. As a Romantic, Shelley felt that the poet should be an arbiter of morality and political order; thus, his verse communicates the fallacy of many a powerful leader that he will be immortalized in history. Ozymandias--Greek for Ramses, a powerful Egyptian pharaoh, once worshiped as a god, now is long dead and his mighty statue is broken and isolated in a desert. In fact, the speaker happens upon only by chance, having been told by a traveler that there is a monument not far away.

My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains.Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Of course, the beauty of Shelley's verse is enhanced with its language that conveys both meaning and image. The last two lines of the sonnet move quickly with the use of alliteration ["boundless and bare," "lone and level" and "sands stretch"] and imagery [the decaying statue and the now deserted land void of all life], that evoke the empty expanse of the desert and a forgotten time.

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