What's the alliteration in Ozymandias by Percy Shelley?

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gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Alliteration is a stylistic device in literature, where multiple words in a sentence or phrase start with the same consonant sound. The words beginning with the same consonant sound occur in a series and are close together. Percy Bysshe Shelley uses alliteration several times throughout his famous poem "Ozymandias" to create rhythm and tone throughout the piece. One example of alliteration takes place at the end of the second line and into the third line of the poem. Shelley writes,

"Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand."

Shelley also uses alliteration in the fourth line of the poem by writing,

"Half sunk, a shattered visage lies . . . "

In both examples, Shelley begins multiple words starting with the consonant "s" sound, which are positioned close together. When Shelley is describing the decaying statue, he once again uses alliteration by writing,

" . . . cold command . . . "

Shelley also uses alliteration in lines seven and eight by using words in a series beginning with the "s" and "t" sounds. Shelley writes,

"Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed".

In the last two lines of the poem, Shelley uses alliteration by repeating words that begin with the "b" and "l" sounds. Shelley writes,

"Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare The lone and level sands stretch far away."

droxonian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

You can probably identify alliteration without much assistance. Alliteration is simply a literary device where the same initial letter is repeated in several words within close proximity. However, a better question is why the poet uses alliteration, and what effect he is aiming for. When we see alliteration in any poem, the first thing to do is establish why the author chose to alliterate using that particular letter—what does it add to the poem? What sensation or mood does that letter evoke in the reader?

The difference between "stone / Stand," for example, and "sand...sunk...shattered" can be readily identified. The sound "st" is a solid, stoic one, suggesting something that is steady and of enduring construction. This sense is belied, however, by the shattered visage sunk in the sand. This alliterative series suggests a certain softness, shifting sands slithering or slipping away—the complete opposite of the endurance suggested by a word (and a material) like "stone."

What has happened to the statue, then, is not what Ozymandias expected. Instead, it has disappeared into the soft sand. The ruler was a man of "cold command" (the hard c sound here emphasizes the coldness, the sense of clipped reserve described by the "sneer" that precedes the alliteration) and believed he could make his mark forever. But the "lone and level sands" stretch out "boundless and bare" beyond what remains of his works, which is, of course, very little.

dneshan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Alliteration is the repetition of the consonant sound at the beginning of consecutive words or words that are close together in the line of poetry.  The first example of alliteration in "Ozymandias" by Percy Shelley is in lines 3 - 4 with the words "stone" and "stand".

     "Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone 
      Stand in the desert…. Near them, on the sand,"

A second example begins in line 4 and ends in line 5 with the words "sand" and "sunk".

     "Stand in the desert…. Near them, on the sand,
       Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown"

The third example is in line 8:

     "The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed"

Line 10 also contains an example -- "'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings".