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Discussion of the Limited Nature of Life in Ozymandias and London

In both ‘Ozymandias’ and ‘London’, both poets highlight the theme of Mortality as a way to convey the key message of human power. This is conveyed in “London” where Blake talks about the death and suffering of people through the regular rhyme scheme which could reflect the regularity of oppression by my powerful beings ‘behind palace walls’. Similarly, in “Ozymandias” Shelley talks about the death of a civilisation by overthrowing Rameses; As suggested by ‘a shattered visage’. However, despite this, due to the semantic fields displayed by the poet, human power is implied to be eroded down into worthlessness (like the existing statue of the king/pharaoh) and human power is no match for the power of the elements.

In addition to this, both poets convey a sense of someone dominating; thus emphasising the scale of human power and as a result, someone with greater power occurs in both poems. In “London” the rich have this upper hand against the poor which highlights how the rich control the poor. This is suggested by, ‘How the chimney-sweepers cry’ (which is almost a mocking tone). The purpose of this pathos created by the poet in comparison to Ozymandias is showing how in one instance, human power can end reigns of dictators, however on the other hand, human power can damage society and can create barriers between classes as reflected in the context of the French Revolution. Moreover, in “Ozymandias” the great leader (Rameses) is said to have this strength over his enemies and his own people, but the fact that the poem is written as an indirect, first person recount i.e. ‘I met a traveller’, creates the impression that humans overall have so much power, that they have made Rameses’ reign, a very distant memory in ‘the antique land’ (the desert).

In my opinion, both poets highlight the power of humans as a way to express anguish at how much this power has been abused into creating fascist societies. In “Ozymandias” Shelley writes about a fallen empire, a civilisation that must have gone downhill because now there is no sign of it as suggested by the alliterative language of ‘boundless and bare’. In “London” Blake tells us that the poorer people of this city are going through a bad time and their empire has fallen like Ozymandias’s empire, but in this case London has not collapsed. Blake suggests that as the rich hide ‘behind palace walls’, there is a colossal moral decline with ‘harlots’ and an overall melancholy and gothic tone i.e. ‘hearse’. Furthermore, Blake writes about how London had drifted to a time of poverty and disease due to the human power of dictators that are to cowardice to view what their city has become i.e. ‘Marks of weakness, marks of woe’. Linked to this quote, human power is also conveyed to be evil by the poet here as it is an example of degradation and the oxymoron of ‘Marriage hearse’. Whilst the powerful are happy, as connoted by ‘Marriage’, the oppressed are sad, as connoted by ‘hearse’, and this is a recurring motif which suggests that the poor deserve to be and will always be looked down upon.

Next, the two poems, both give a feeling of depression and melancholy to the reader suggesting that excessive human power results in a complete scarring of a setting. Shelley emphasises different types of imagery to create this effect such as: ‘The hand that mocked them and the hearts that fed’, thus suggesting that people were almost forced to do acts they did not want to, just so that the king could become more corrupt as a result of human power. In addition,

Blake writes about how everyone is sad and weak after being oppressed as demonstrated with ‘marks of woe’ and ‘blights with plagues’, which suggest that powerful people result in a loss of basic values such as caring for others.

I believe that great arrogance is perhaps that most important theme linked to human power in both poems. For instance: In “Ozymandias” the king shows that he is arrogant, by calling himself the ‘King of kings’ on the pedestal. He also expresses how great and powerful a ruler he is with ‘look on my works’. This quote is significant in the poem as a whole in my opinion because it shows how power corrupts and distorts the mind into thinking everything around him is great due to his own doing, where as it is only good because he ruined others’ lives into forming everything for him! Similarly, in “London”, the arrogance of the church compares to this as human power has autonomy over who enters- which is wrong as suggested by ‘black’ning Church appals’ of the poor and oppressed in society.

However, to conclude, the poems differ with regards to human power in “London”, as the rich betray the poor, because they have put their name on everything as if they own it and in “Ozymandias” the sculptor betrays the king when the statue is being made by mocking him and implying that he has no legacy ‘colossal wreck, boundless and bare, the lone and level sands stretch far away’. Because of this, I strongly believe that on the whole, both poets attempt to convey the message that human power is ok, but too much can corrupt anyone and ruin the lives of many people through slavery or inequality for example as emphasised by the unequal rights of the poor and the rich division as well as the King who orders people to work for him.

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