Wallace Stevens Wiki

Shelley's "Ozymandias"

An Idea of Ozymandias

Ozymandias is a character appearing in canto VIII, of the "It Must Change" section in "Notes Toward A Supreme Fiction." In this section of the poem, a traveller, Nanzia Nunzio, confronts Ozymandias, presenting herself rather brazenly as "the spouse," Ozymandias' female counterpart.

Who is Ozymandias?

Ozymandias is the title character in Percy Bysshe Shelley's eponymously titled poem, "Ozymandias." Here, Ozymandias is an ancient king or emperor, whose once colossal but now ruined statue is discovered by a traveller in the desert. The traveller notes the plaque attached to the statue, which reads "Look on my works ye mighty and despair", a sentiment undoubtedly intended sincerely at the time of its inscription, but now rendered ironic: a testament to the hubris of mankind and the transient nature of human endeavor.

What is Ozymandias Doing in This Poem?

According to Stevens, the "poem about Ozymandias is about illusion as value" ("Letters" 431).  As Stevens explains, "if we are willing to believe in fiction as an extension of reality,  or even as a thing itself in which we must believe, the next consideration is illusion as value. Under the name of escapism, this is one of the problems that bothers people" ("Letters" 431). Given Stevens' comments, the marriage between Ozymandias and Nanzia Nuncio becomes intelligible as a symbolic union in which Ozymandias stands in for ultimate reality while Nunzio stands in for the poetic imagination. The idea seems to be that, stripped of needless ornament and wedded to reality as, in Stevens' terms, "the base," poetry becomes the necessary double of reality in the mind, "a fictive covering" that renders the inchoate real both perceptible and sublime as it "weaves always glistening from the heart and mind" ("Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction" viii.20-21).