Ozymandias Questions and Answers
by Percy Bysshe Shelley

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What is the shift in "Ozymandias" by Percy Bysshe Shelley?

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The first line and the very beginning of the second line are the only words directly from the speaker of this poem himself, who tells of his encounter with the traveler. This traveler, who speaks within the quotation marks that open on line 2 and close on line 14, is the "traveller from an antique land" referred to in line 1. Thus, a shift takes place from the first speaker to the second speaker in line 2. That second speaker then vocalizes the words on the pedestal of "Ozymandias, King of Kings": "Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!" These words are not his own; they belong to the statue, and so they represent a second shift in speaker. The second speaker then resumes his speech, a description of the area around the statue's pedestal, on line 12, and he continues until the end of the poem.

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The first eight lines in "Ozymandias" set the stage. The person speaking in the poem relates the comments of the "traveler," who describes the incredible remains s/he encountered, half visible and half buried, in the desert sand. The traveler attempts to explain the appearance of the pieces of stone and the impression created as to the attitude of the person portrayed by the now-broken statue.

The next three lines shift dramatically, as the words of the statue come alive to proclaim that attitude to all who observe it. In reading the legend on the pedestal, the impression of a "sneer of cold command" is confirmed; one can almost hear the mocking attitude which the frowning lips would have conveyed as the statue's model proclaimed, "My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings! Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

The final three lines shift back to the original position. The traveler reports that nothing but the pieces of broken rock remain. The power and might of Ozymandias, now a "colossal wreck" in "decay," are being covered by the "lone and level sands."

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