What are the figures of speech used in "Ozymandias"?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Ozymandias" by Percy Bysshe Shelley is an unusual sonnet.  It has fourteen lines; yet, in the three quatrains of the poem, the thought from each is carried over to the next quatrain.  The couplet is not two lines unto themselves nor do the couplet lines rhyme.  His rhyme scheme is atypical of the usual sonnet rhyming pattern.

The poem is told in first person. The narrator remembers meeting a man from an aged land who tells a story. The traveler came upon the ruins of a gigantic statue. The legs were still standing. However, the face of this statue was partially down in the sand. It portrayed a man with a scowling frown. He obviously had been a great leader. The sculptor was able to see into the character of the leader and his passions. But the stones are lifeless.

The statue's pedestal had been engraved with a quote:

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair

The great king Ozymandias [an ancient name for Rameses  the II] wanted to be remembered for the great architecture and other things that he brought to Egypt. Sadly, the sand, wind, and time brought all of it down to ruins and much of it became buried beneath the sand.

When the traveler looks at the pedestal and sees the ironic phrase, it seems pathetic and almost humorous. The entire poem is a metaphor for the foolishness of a man who thinks that anyone can harness time.  Ozymandias boasted of his accomplishments, which now are nothing but fodder for the sand and the wind.

A mighty king had a statue labeled so that people would know that his kingdom was wondrous in its beauty. Now, it is in ruins with most of it completely gone. Left are the legs, part of the face, and a pedestal with an engraving addressing his fabulous accomplishments. If the pharoah, could only see what was left to show mankind, what would he think?

The poem has a couple of lines of alliteration:

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away

which emphasize the loneliness and barren ruins out in the middle of nowhere.

The irony of the entire reference to Ozymandius becomes the center of the poem. The great Rameses II and his statue lay in ruins from the natural deterioration from sand and time.

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