How is irony used in "Ozymandias"?

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The central piece of irony in this poem is that the statue of Ozymandias was constructed to show off his power and grandeur, but when the poem's narrator stumbles across it, in what seems to be much further in the future, it is mostly ruins in a remote desert. The poem highlights the reality that all of humankind and our creations are ephemeral. No matter a person's status or power in their day, they will eventually perish.

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Both situational and dramatic irony are used to convey the poem's central purpose: that all human beings and all human achievements are temporal and fleeting. No matter how prideful we are or how powerful we actually are in life, because our lives are impermanent, so are our achievements and our power.

Situational irony is created when what we would expect to happen differs from what actually does happen. This statue of Ozymandias, or Pharaoh Rameses II, was fifty-seven feet tall, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. It was commissioned in order to display the pharaoh's power and might, yet now it lies shattered and forgotten in the sand, which is itself symbolic of the passage of time. We would not expect such a grand statue to be reduced to such detritus, and this is what constitutes the irony as well as shows how the poem conveys the idea that, in time, even the "greatest" of us can be forgotten.

Dramatic irony is created when the reader knows more than a character does. In this poem, if we think of Rameses II as a character, then we certainly know more than he does. He seems not to have realized that the sculptor who crafted the pharaoh's "sneer of cold command" was judgmental of rather than awestruck by him; further, Rameses II must have believed the inscription on the pedestal, not knowing or realizing that time would render him and his "Works" forgotten. He thought that his fame and stories of his might would live forever, but they have not. This also helps to convey the poem's meaning.

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"Ozymandias" by Percy Bysshe Shelley is a poem told by an anonymous narrator who encounters a traveler who tells of a fallen and shattered statue in a remote area in the desert. The statue is of Ozymandias (also known as Ramesses II or Ramses the Great). The irony is situational.

The point of the statue is to emphasize the greatness of the Pharaoh and the way his works and his fame, like the stone of the statue, will endure forever. That expectation is reflected in the inscription: 

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!

The pharaoh and his kingdom have both dwindled to the point that they are only remembered as curiosities by idle tourists and inspire thoughts about the nature of art and the skill of the sculptor rather than awe and despair in response to the pharaoh himself. In fact, the main lesson of the statue is that art outlasts its subject, but even so all humans and their creations are ephemeral in nature, subject to decay and corruption. 

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The narrator of Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley is obviously well-traveled and interesting as he comes from "an antique land," suggesting that he is perhaps mysterious and exotic and seemingly knowledgeable. He   reflects on the scene before him and immediately recognizes the irony in what is left of "Ozymandias, king of kings..." in the form of his broken and derelict statue. Far from reflecting his grandeur, Ozymandias's statue is a testament to his pride and arrogance and it is ironic that even the sculptor could see it when he was working; to the point that the sculptor sculpted the " frown, And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,..."

Further irony is present as, the king (Ramses II), does not even recognize it in the finished product; when the sculpture is completed. He is far too vain. The king thinks that the sculpture reveals his greatness to the point that other significant rulers whom he calls, "the Mighty," will "despair," as they cannot match his importance. Ozymandias is also convinced that he will be remembered in history as a great ruler whereas, in fact, he is exposed as a tyrant.

The fact that the "shattered visage," still exists but only to discredit him and lies apart from, "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone..." adds to the mocking tone of Shelley's poem. They, the stone blocks, are imposing but, without a head, they signify nothing and it is fitting that such a manipulative king should suffer this fate. The statue becomes offensive and, "a colossal wreck" suffering "decay." There is nothing majestic in these descriptions.

The words on the inscription intensify the insult because anyone who  looks "on my works," will be less than impressed with what surrounds the statue; noting more than, "The lone and level sands," which are "boundless and bare."  

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The central irony in this poem is that Ozymandias's statue was intended to project his greatness. But when the onlooker sees it, it is not only shattered, but it lies in the midst of a wasteland. There is an inscription on the statue, which reads as follows:

My name is Ozymandias, king of kings; Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!

This inscription, however, seems ludicrous in its modern surroundings. Rather than making the onlooker contemplate the majesty and power of the great Ozymandias, which was its intent, the inscription and indeed the entire scene leave one contemplating how short life is, and how time makes victims of us all. So, ironically Ozymandias's statue has exactly the opposite effect that the king intended.

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What is the irony in the poem "Ozymandias"?

Irony takes place when a given situation turns out to be quite different than initially expected, especially in a humorous or poignant way. As was mentioned in the previous post, the irony of the poem lies in the fact that there is nothing left to show for Ozymandias's reign. Throughout the poem, Shelley describes the decaying remains of the statue dedicated to the tyrannical Ramesses II. All that is left of the statue is a crumbled pair of stone legs and a detached stone face that has sunk into the sand. The inscription on the pedestal reads, "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look at my works, Ye Mighty, and despair!" The irony of this statement is that there are no longer any "works" left to marvel at. Evidence of Ozymandias's imperial accomplishments has diminished with time, and there are no remains of his former glory. Shelley's poem explores the transience of power, empire, and legacy.

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What is the irony in the poem "Ozymandias"?

The irony in Ozymandias pivots on these lines: "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my work, ye Mighty, and despair!" Ozymandias, once a powerful Egyptian tyrant, had a huge statue built of himself and inscribed it with those lines. Ironically, the statue is now broken and scattered, and the once mighty kingdom is an empty, barren desert. While Ozymandias meant people, especially powerful people, to tremble before his enormous statue with the "sneer of cold command" on its "visage" (face), and to be frightened by his immense city and powerful army (his "works"), he now has nothing. He is nothing.

The irony is that instead of trembling and despairing at his power, the mighty should now tremble and despair at Ozymandias's loss of power, because this too will happen to them. Rulers may think they are safe and secure, but in reality they will be broken. Ozymandias meant his words to mean one thing: as is always the case with irony, they ended up to mean something different from what he intended. 

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How does irony play a role in "Ozymandias" by Percy Byssche Shelley?

"Ozymandias" by Percy Byssche Shelley is a poem in sonnet form which chronicles the rise and ultimate fall of a great king's empire as well as the evaporation of his fame, something this arrogant king assumed would live forever. It is a warning to anyone who thinks their fame and glory will last forever.

We have the image of a once-grand stone statue; it undoubtedly stood in a prominent place in the middle of the king's vast empire. Perhaps it even stood on the edge of his holdings, a physical presence of the mighty king to all who were about to enter his empire. Now it stands, broken, in the middle of a vast desert. 

..."Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed."

The statue now consists of two legs on a pedestal; the head of the once-great king lies next to the crumbling structure, half buried in sand and shattered almost beyond recognition. The look on his face tells us the man who built this empire was a ruthless and imperious man, one who probably built his empire through cruelty and greed. The speaker of the poem notes that the sculptor accurately captured the mocking and scorning sneer of this once-mighty king.

We learn the name of this king, Ozymandias, when we read the inscription on the base of the statue.

"And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'"

This is one of the great ironies of the poem. This one-time colossal statue was here to mark the empire of this king who wanted everyone to look at what he has accomplished and be intimidated by the spectacle. No doubt it was, at least for a time, an effective deterrent to those who wanted to threaten this king and his holdings. Ironically, 

"Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away." 

This former grand empire, the apparent source of intimidation and power to all who came near, is now a wasteland. Nothing is left but the meaningless but ironic warning to occasional desert wanderers. 

One other irony is that this is a warning to all who think the things they create will last forever, which is essentially what writers, musicians, and artists wish for their creations and themselves. Ironically, then, this poet is reminding himself that what he creates (this poem) is not likely to last, even as he writes it for that very purpose.

And, in one final irony, this particular poem has lasted, since we are still reading it and talking about it today.

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