Eternity of Nature in P.B. Shelley’s “Ozymandias”

We are dealing with a poem: Ozymandias by P.B Shelley. We interpret the very poem from the perspective of rhetoric.

Eternity of Nature in P.B. Shelley’s Ozymandias

This rhetorical analysis makes an attempt to explore “Ozymandias” as a poem about the eternity of nature. The analyzer claims that Shelley has written this poem to show the permanency of nature with the contrast of human beings and their vainglory in their produced things as well as their position. He claims it because while reading it, he finds some lines which show the permanency of nature, and the ephemeral nature of the man-made things as well as human beings themselves. To justify this claim, he draws some pieces of evidence from the same poem and out of it as well. Along with this claim, he also wants to explore the rhetorical strategies of the poem like, logos, ethos, pathos, purpose, audience and the like of the poem. These strategies can be used to persuade readers.

Eternity of Nature in P.B. Shelley's “Ozymandias”

Source: Ozymandias – a poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley, youtube

Now, ecological consciousness becomes essential to human beings. Here, ecological consciousness means to respect the natural world- plants, trees, animals, insects, even to non-living things as well. We should accept that everything is connected to everything else. In the domain of nature, we all livings, as well as non-living things, are interconnected. We must not forget the value of the other things and we should realize their role in our existence. It is the fact that nature is eternal and has its own rules and regulations but we ourselves take as the masters of nature which is not good. We should be preservers rather than the destroyers. So, the ecological consciousness of this poem guides us to dismantle our anthropocentric belief.

The persona of this poem tells a story of meeting a man who has traveled from an antique land. The traveler relates to seeing the ruins of a colossal statue of the king Ozymandias. The statue is broken apart and its face is also shattered and half sunk. There is nothing left but the lone ruined statue of the once powerful king. The persona describes what the traveler told him. This persona is merely the go-between relating information from the traveler to the readers. And death is at the heart of the poem which comes for everyone whether s/he is a king, a queen or a citizen. The message of the poet lies in the transient nature of things and the everlasting power of nature. And the statue of the king Ozymandias represents the idea that nature rules over all.
Some critics have reviewed on the same poem, Ozymandias. Firstly, M. K. Bequette writes, “Smith‟s poem cultivates a definite sense of time and space with the use of known geographic locations such as Egypt and London . . . by contrast, Shelley‟s sonnet is rich and suggestive. There is no precise time and place: the demolished statue lies in “an antique land” in a „desert‟” (30).1 Here, Bequette has differentiated the poems of two different poets namely, Shelley and Horace Smith. And he has praised Shelley‟s poem for being suggestive in tone.

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Ozymandias - poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Source: TES cover Image
Secondly, H. M. Richmond writes, “Pococke‟s descriptions are, in fact, a test case for the identification of possible sources for Shelley‟s Ozymandias . . . if we examine the central part of Pococke‟s chapter on Thebes attentively it soon appears that he is an ideal candidate for the role of the „traveler‟ (68- 69).2 Here, Richmond has tried to name the „traveler‟ of the poet who is the source of Shelley‟s poem. And he says that Pococke is the true source of this poem.
1 M. K. Bequette, “Shelley and Smith: Two Sonnets on Ozymandias,” Keats-Shelley Journal vol. 26, 1977. p. 29-31.
2 H. M. Richmond, “Ozymandias and the Travellers,” Keats-Shelley Journal vol. 11, 1962. p. 65-71.
he critics, Bequette and Richmond have analyzed this poem in terms of its difference from Smith‟s poem, and its source respectively. The analyzer, unlike critics, wants to expose the ecological consciousness of this poem; eternity of nature which is not done by the above-mentioned critics. Especially, he wants to find out some points like, how nature is presented in this poem, what is the reason behind using king Ozymandias as its main subject, and how the use of ethos, pathos, logos and the like play their role in this poem.
Just a few lines are enough to understand the depiction of nature‟s permanency. This poem is remarkable for its spare and stark imagery; the poet is determined to recreate the barren desert landscape, the poetic counterpoint to the morbid and deserved fate of Ozymandias: the pompous fool. It portrays the images of sculpture in the middle of the desert so that the reader can visualize the scene. In its octave, Shelley writes,
I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, 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. (1-8)3
Here, the persona meets a traveler who comes from an antique land. This „antique land‟ is an imagery term which brings to mind a country like Greece or Egypt. This phrase also indicates the oldness of the land and it indicates the eternal nature of the land. This antique land is there, before the origin of human beings and remains after the disappearance of the human species. The traveler sees the sand where „two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand‟ and a
3 P.B. Shelley, “Ozymandias” (Kirtipur: Oxford Books, 2014), p. 2. ( Compiled by CDE of T. U. as Course packet of primary Texts for ENGL 553.3 Literary Criticism)

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the broken face also lies in the sand. The statue has lost its charming as the king lost his power and position but the sand as one of the forms of nature remains forever.
Its sestet, latter lines also show the eternity of nature in comparison with human vanity. Shelley writes,

And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name of Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare.
The lone and level sands stretch far away”. (9-14)4

In this sestet, the line; „My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings‟ shows the proudness as well as vainglory of the king Ozymandias. But his vanity remains no longer. Now, his kingdom and kinghood do not have any existence which shows the ephemeral nature of human being and his power. Here, the ruin of the king Ozymandias who was once the „king of kings‟ is shown. Furthermore, it is a fact that the statue of Ozymandias is made by a sculptor but his work cannot be everlasting. That statue is ruined and scattered into many parts on the sand and it has also lost its attractiveness and become valueless. „Colossal wreck‟ shows the ruined condition of the extremely large statue. It is surrounded by the sand which is stretched far away. So, the disappearance of the king, his kingdom, destruction of his statue, and the loss of aura of the sculptor‟s art but the existence of nature prove the eternity of nature which is still there without any fear of being disappeared.
Many of us recognize that human life is deeply governed by the forces that have their roots in the sky, soil, and water. We emphasize nature: sky, soil, and water to show our dependency upon them. But, the king Ozymandias takes himself above the others. „My name
4 Ibid., Ozymandias.

is Ozymandias, King of Kings‟, this line shows his neglect to other things like, soil water and sky which were around him? As a result of ignoring the fact that his life was governed by nature, he was doomed and even the statue is also broken out into many pieces.
Now, let‟s analyze its rhetorical strategies which are used to persuade us, for example, pathos, ethos, logos, purpose, and audience. About its pathos, Shelly has used the words like, „antique land‟, „two vast and trunkless legs‟, „shattered visages‟, „wrinkled lips‟, „the decay of the colossal wreck‟ and so on which evoke the pathos of the readers. These help him to build the bridge between his readers and himself and to sustain his poem. I think he is successful in using pathos because we still read it due to its call to our pathos.

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Ozymandias - poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley
About its ethical part, the poet has the authority to write about it because he had already been established as one of the canonical poets before composing it. And the research of Wikipedia finds that Shelly has written it in 1817, soon after the announcement of the British Museum‟s acquisition of a large fragment of a statue of Ramesses II, Ozymandias. Here, the poet also shows his honesty by presenting it as he has known about it from someone else. He does not claim that he has seen it. In the poem as well, the narrator says that a traveler from an antique land said to him about the statue of Ozymandias. And what he hears from a traveler, he presents that in the same word of a traveler which is Shelly‟s respect to his readers.
Shelly also has used logos to make us believe him. For this, he has used some hard facts, for example, the narration of the real traveler from the antique land. He has narrated about it with full of facts, such as „two vast and trunkless legs‟, „a shattered visage‟, „wrinkled lips‟, „the decay of the colossal wreck‟, „the pedestal‟ and so on which directly support the damage of the statue. So, the use of facts makes us believe in it easily.
The purpose of writing it can be many, but its main purpose may be to awaken us and to show the way to the people of the present era that take themselves above nature and neglect its power. So, it is clear that its audiences are also those people who may be in power and feel

happy in their vainglory, and other people who are also innocent but at the edge of indulging in the same practice- believing themselves as the powerful ones.
In conclusion, because of the purpose of the poetry- and for that matter, of all literature- is to expand the perception of readers. So, Shelley tries to show the reality to human beings that nature is eternal and we- human beings are ephemeral. So, we must not feel proud in our temporary achievements because one day those achievements will be lost, and everyone has to die, whether that is a king or a sculptor, and then we have to be mixed in the sand, nature. Thus, this poem is not just about the nature of king Ozymandias and his present condition but also about the ability of a poet to make the audience realize the eternity of nature. Overall, it shares the theme of the transience of human glory, and the permanence of nature with the help of strategies, namely, ethos, logos, and pathos in the proper manner.

written by Manoj Nepali


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