Those who have read “Frankenstein” or at least known about the character, must be familiar with Marry Shelley, the creator. Her last name takes the family name of her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, a distinguished poet from Sussex. Besides poems, he also wrote essays, lyrical dramas of epic scope and translations which were not well recognized as his achievement as a poet. This time, I would like to talk a bit about his work, a poem entitled “Ozymandias”. This poem is pretty short and it is categorized as a sonnet. Although it is short, but it is considered as Shelley’s most notable short poem. How can it be more famous than his other poems? I will try to analyze it after you read the poem.
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and 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;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is 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.
And below is the translated version of the poem based on my interpretation:
Aku bertemu seorang musafir dari negeri kuno
Yang berkata: “Ada arca kaki besar tanpa badan
Yang berdiri di padang pasir. Di sampingnya, di atas pasir,
Setengah terkubur, ada wajah yang telah hancur tergeletak, yang lipatan,
Dan kerut bibirnya, serta ejekannya yang bernada perintah,
Seolah bercerita bahwa sang pemahat menciptakan dengan baik ekspresi tersebut
Yang masih ada, dan diabadikan pada benda tak bernyawa,
Tangan yang menciptakan dan hati yang penuh tekad;
Dan di dasar arca tertulis:
“Namaku Ozymandias, raja diraja,
Lihatlah kekuasaanku, para kawula yang hebat, karena kau akan tunduk!”
Tak ada lagi apapun. Di sekitar reruntuhan patung
Yang mulai dimakan usia, lapang dan kosong
Hanya ada padang pasir terbentang.
The translated version cannot fulfill the rhyme ABABACDCEDEFEF because I cannot find the similar dictions in Indonesian which can form the rhyme. Therefore, I hope that those who read the poem at least can understand the surface content of the poem. To understand the true meaning of a poem, we cannot simply just read it once or twice. It need couple times of reading and often has to be accompanied by the historical or social background of the poems’ setting.
The poem does not follow either the Petrarchan (Italian) sonnet or Shakespearian (English) sonnet. However, it adopts the concept of octave (the first eight lines) and sestet (the remaining six lines) of the Petrarchan. The alteration of the 8th line to the 9th line is called “turn” and it marks the development of the poem up to the ending.
Ozymandias is the Greek for a statue of King Ramses II from the 13th century BC. The first persona of the poem met a traveler who had visited an antique land. The traveler told him that there was a huge shattered statue which started to decay in the desert. Although gradually being wrecked by age and weather, the face of the statue was still capable of resembling the subject of the statue. The subject was a powerful person. The words “whose frown and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command” explain the greatness of the subject who used to give orders and commands. The greatness was shown through the inscription on the pedestal of the statue that he was “Ozymandias, king of kings”. “Mighty” people should watch the statue to know how great he was because they would “despair” seeing his power.
The qualities were captured well by the sculptor and “stamped on these lifeless things”. The hand of him “mocked” the greatness and the heart was “fed” with passions. The word “mocked” was considered as to “imitate” with a certain irony (Webb, 1998; 99).
However, the grandeur of the statue which delivers the message from the past about how great the king was is continually degraded. The greatness of the king was lost to weather and age. In the beginning of the poem, dictions “trunkless”, “half sunk”, and “shattered” proves the decay of an old civilization and kingdom which had ever been triumphant before. What remains in the surroundings are merely “level sands stretch far away” which accompanies the lone statue in its struggle upon the age.
The poem has a message that all great civilizations and dominating power will decay no matter what. They will be eroded by either age or new civilization. Moreover, Shelley communicates that only words can endure the age. The inscription on the pedestal is still able to tell the onlookers that the subject of the statue was a powerful person back in the time while the statue itself was eroded by time.
Webb, Timothy. 1998. Percy Bysshey Shelley. London: J.M. Dent.