Comparison of Poems the Magpies and Ozymandias

In the two poems, The Magpies by Denis Glover and Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley a common theme is that of man’s immortality. In The Magpies this theme is made especially apparent through the comparison of the immortality of Elizabeth and Tom with nature’s ability to remain constant due to its continuous regeneration. Meanwhile, in Ozymandias a king has a statue built however just like him the statue does not survive and is actually left abandoned and forgotten in the desert.

This theme of immortality is also shown through a range of techniques such as the structure, choice of language, imagery, movement and sounds. Likewise, this theme is illustrated through the distinctive tone of the author in each poem. The poem The Magpies has a very set structure of six four-line stanzas. In each of these stanzas the last two lines describe the sounds of the magpies, while the first two lines are about Tom and Elizabeth. The second line of each stanza also rhymes with the last line of each; “The magpies said”.

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For instance in the first stanza the second line is, “The bracken made their bed”.

This rhyming of the lines about Tom and Elizabeth with “the magpies said” links the two together and creates the idea of the magpies watching everything Tom and Elizabeth do. Likewise the structure of the last two lines being about the magpies enhances the idea that the magpies are constant and despite the time that has passed, “the pines grew overhead” the magpies are still there while Tom and Elizabeth’s lives come to an end, “Elizabeth is dead now” The poem Ozymandias is also written in the format of an iambic pentameter and has an irregular rhyming pattern throughout.

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The rhyming pattern helps to link the poem together and create a sense of flow and almost lyrical rhythm. For example the first line, “an antique land,” rhymes with the third line, “on the sand”. The poem is also not broken into stanzas like The Magpies and is instead presented as a sonnet made up of an octet and a sestet. In the octet the question that is posed is, ‘who does the statue in the desert represent?’ as the statue is only described as “trunkless legs of stone” and a “shatter’d visage”.

In the sestet this question is then answered through the quoting of the words found on the plaque on the statue’s pedestal, “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings”. The structure of this poem is interesting as in the sixth line the poem reads, “its sculptor well those passions read” however it is not until the tenth line that the man the statue is of is named. This arrangement of the poem creates the idea that although Ozymandias was the one who commissioned the statue to be built and claims it as his, “Look on my works”; it is not really his works that have survived but those of a nameless sculptor. In the poem, The Magpies the choice of language is interesting as it is very simple and straight to the point. It also has some contradictions in the features used, for example it states “Elizabeth is dead now” while when describing Tom’s declining mental state it uses the euphemism “Old Tom went light in the head”.

The use of the onomatopoeia of the magpies calls, “and Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle” enhances how irritable the magpie’s calls are and the repetition of this exact same sentence illustrates how the magpies are constant and unchanging. However, the very last refrain of the magpie’s ends with “the magpies say” which creates the idea that even now and into the future, the magpies will continue to live on the farm that Tom and Elizabeth left so long ago. This is in keeping with the theme of the poem which is man’s mortality as it shows how human lives are limited while nature as a whole is constantly regenerating so can outlast any individual. Unlike The Magpies, the poem Ozymandias uses much more descriptive and poetic language. For instance the country that the traveller is from is described as “an antique land”. As the reader assumes that the traveller is from the land where the statue stands this metaphor emphasises the idea that the country has a long, rich history.

Likewise, the smashed face of the statue is described as “a shatter’d visage”. Alliteration is also a language feature that is used regularly throughout this poem. For example the statue is described as having “a sneer of cold command”. The hard ‘c’ sounds illustrate that Ozymandias was not a kind ruler but one who ruled strongly over his people with very little compassion. In the last two lines of the poem alliteration is also used when describing the physical appearance of the desert such as “boundless and bare” and “lone and level”. This use of alliteration emphasises how isolated the statue is and the soft consonant sounds provoke an image of rolling desert plains unbroken by human civilisation. In the poem Ozymandias the use of adjectives to describe the size of the statue, “vast” and “colossal”, add to the irony of the piece as despite the statues immense size it is nothing compared to the magnitude of the desert and regardless of its size it has still been forgotten.

This relates to the idea of the mortality of man as although Ozymandias’ statue has survived long after his death his statue does not cause the “despair” that he hoped it would but instead is now forgotten by most and mocked by the few who have found “his works”. This also creates an idea of human perception as while Ozymandias saw the statue as threatening, the sculptor saw it as an opportunity to make a mockery of Ozymandias’ egocentric personality. In the poem The Magpies by Denis Glover and Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley a common theme is that of immortality. In both poems this idea is explored through features such as structure and the use of language techniques. The structure of the two poems were different, however each was suited to the authors purpose.

For example in The Magpies the author illustrates the theme of human mortality through the comparison of the length of the lives of Elizabeth and Tom with the seemingly endlessness of the presence of the magpies. Meanwhile, in Ozymandias the poem is arranged in a sonnet which allows the author to let the poem flow despite its irregular rhyme pattern. The use of the chosen language techniques in each piece is also necessary for the emphasis of the theme of immortality. For instance in The Magpies the most significant feature is the onomatopoeia of the magpies call. As this refrain is unchanged throughout the poem it illustrates the point that despite man’s best efforts to tame nature it is often possible for a short time as human lives are limited while nature continuously regenerates.

In Ozymandias the use of alliteration is essential as it allows for a greater understanding of just how isolated and abandoned the statue is. This in turn creates the idea that although Ozymandias had the statue built to immortalise himself and leave a legacy on earth as he was not the sculptor they are not really his works that remain and are remembered but those of an unnamed artist. Both these poems illustrate how people can spend their time on earth working hard to reach perfection or an ultimate goal but in the end it is often impossible and does not allow them to be any more immortal than the next person. Perhaps then people would do better to accept that their time is restricted and work with these limitations to ensure that their time is not wasted in seeking immortality or creating a useless legacy and instead doing what good they can in the short time that they are given.

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Comparison of Poems the Magpies and Ozymandias. (2017, Jan 18). Retrieved from

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