Percy Bysshe Shelley

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How does Percy Shelley portray life and death in "Ozymandias"?

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In his poem “Ozymandias,” Percy Bysshe Shelley powerfully conveys ideas about life and death through the image of a statue of a once powerful but now long dead and nearly forgotten ruler. Let's look at this more closely.

The speaker once met “a traveller from an antique land” who told him about the statue. It is a wreck. Only its legs still stand in the desert. The statue's head lies nearby, and people can still see the mocking “sneer of cold command” on its face. An inscription on the statue's pedestal is a message from the subject of the statue himself, the great Ozymandias. He calls himself “King of Kings” and tells viewers to “Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

But herein lies the irony and the comment about life and death: All of Ozymandias' works are gone. His broken statue stands in a desert. He is long dead and cannot command anyone any longer. Death has conquered this king of kings. As powerful as he may have been in life, life does not last, not even for the great Ozymandias. His broken, lifeless statue is the only thing left to tell us that he ever existed. While Ozymandias didn't know it (or at least didn't want to admit it), life is fleeting, and death comes to us all.

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