Comparison between Ozymandias and London 


Both poems exhibit the theme of corruption amongst a poorly governed society. They both convey this in nuanced ways stemming from the post Romantic era, where creativity was becoming vestigial as a result of the Industrial Revolution. 


William Blake offers us a first-person account of his journey through a bustling London street, commenting on the “marks of weakness and marks of woe” in “every face he meets”. The superlative of “every” demonstrates that the issues he observes as a result of a corrupt governance are ubiquitous and affect the masses. Alongside, he ascribes powerful metaphors to illustrate the difficulties faced by the people of the time including the “blood down palace walls”, the “mind forged manacles” and the partial oxymoron of “marriage hearse.” These serve as a chastisement of the monarchy, and a reprisal of the limitations asserted onto the people by an oppressive government which left the people with diminutive freedom and hope for change: “mind forged manacles.” 

Percy Shelley also presents a first-person account of his experience with a corrupt despotic ruler King George III metaphorised by a statue Ozymandias. The statue is presented with “a wrinkled lip and a sneer of cold command” and has emblazoned on his pedestal “King of Kings.” By constructing this poem, Shelley is rebuking the nature of absolute political power and despotism. By presenting us with the statue in which “nothing beside remains” he is illustrating the ephemeral nature and futility of this type of fascist arrogance, demonstrating how nature and time will overtake even the greatest of rulers. This is ironic as the title translates to ‘Ruler of Air. “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair! The imperatives here indicate Ozymandias’ dictating manner. The verb “despair” shows he wants his subjects and enemies to view him with fear and envy. The irony is that there is nobody in the desert to view his crumbling statue and he is the one in despair. 

A further comparison can be made between the two poems in their ironic structures. Ozymandias is bestowed in sonnet form, a form traditionally used to express love. It is compiled of 14 lines, concordant with the traditional form where an idea is set up in the first 8 lines and then philosophised in the remaining 6. Many lines of Ozymandias are written in iambic pentameter, where you have one syllable stressed followed by an unstressed one. However some of the lines do not conform to this: “Nothing beside remains round the decay” emphasising Percy Shelley’s sense of rebellion that he features his poem around. 

Blake also structures his poem ironically, he crafts 4 equal stanzas with a consistent ab rhyme scheme , presenting the idea of order and organisation. However, when you analyse the poem, the negative semantic field and disconsolate imagery presents the contrary to this “hearse” “weakness” “woe.” 

In conclusion, both authors use literary arts to communicate their dismay at the disparaging effects of power. Ozymandias allegorises the impermanence of power and London exhibits the corrosive effects of the industrial revolution, and the exploitation by those we either elect or trust to be in power. Both works are littered with literary techniques and powerful imagery leading both of these authors to be admired and merited today as their works have transcended time, unlike Ozymandias.