Comparing ‘The Art Of Drowning And Ozymandias’

“Life is a dream walking. Death is going home. ” – Chinese proverb. If life was supposed to be easy, everyone would go through the days knowing the answers to their lives. Nothing would be an unexpected surprise to people, but that is not the case. Instead, we attempt to plan out every day and learn to expect the unexpected. A person can try to plan the best future for him or herself, but when it comes down to it, it is ultimately not in his or her hands. Whether a person is rich or poor, beautiful or hideous, popular or lonely, powerful or shy, that is who he or she is and he or she is wonderful.

Life is worth living no matter which “category” one falls under. But is that all there is to it? Is life just simply one’s ego? People spend their entire life trying to get on the right track to life, but what about when that is all taken away. Questioning the value of a person’s life when he or she is living versus when he or she dies, authors Billy Collins and Percy Bysshe Shelley, bring up extremely valid points in the poems, “The Art of Drowning” and “Ozymandias”.

After reading both poems, one can clearly see the opinion both authors have on a person when they are trying to make something out of themselves, and their opinions on if it truly counts when he or she is alive or dead. When a person passes away, the characteristics and pressure that society put on him or her go away, just like the oxygen did. A dead person turns into a name in the wind that will soon be forgotten. No matter how a person spent their time on Earth, it is no longer relevant when he or she dies. As introduced before, the two poems, “The Art of Drowning” and “Ozymandias” were written by two outstanding authors.

Billy Collins, born on March 22, 1941 in New York City graduated from the University of California, Riverside. He later joined the faculty of Lehman College of the City University of New York and began earning strong critical acclaim for his poetry. (Funk & Wagnalls 1). Some examples of his most famous works are: Pokerface, Questions About Angels, Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems, The Art of Drowning, and many more. The poem previously discussed, “The Art of Drowning” can be summarized by Collins being quite bothered by the fact people think one’s life can flash before his or her eyes.

He believes life is so much bigger than a quick and simple flash and that if one was in a moment where his or her life would flash, it would not truly have time to replay memories throughout his or her life. The second author talked about, Percy Bysshe Shelley was considered by many to be one of the greatest, and one of the most influential leaders of the romantic movements. He was born on August 4, 1792, near Horsham, Sussex. Shelley studied at the University of Oxford until he experienced expulsion and had to transfer to Eton College, where he graduated.

He was a traveler and lived in many cities while producing his works, such as: The Necessity of Atheism, Queen Mab: A Philosophical Poem, Alastor, or The Spirit of Solitude, Hymn to Intellectual Beauty, and Ozymandias, (Calliope 20). Going back to one of the famous poems that was previously discussed, “Ozymandias” can be summarized by Shelly as a meeting with someone who has traveled to a place where ancient civilizations once existed (Egypt). The traveler tells a story of an old broken statue in the middle of the desert.

The statue is stern and powerful, like a ruler. It’s expressed that the sculptor did a good job at expressing the ruler’s personality. Considering both poems are similar in topic, they both seem to have a similar and different tone. While reading both poems, “Ozymandias” and “The Art of Drowning” a sense of bitterness will overcome one. A reader could very well suspect that both Billy Collins and Percy Bysshe Shelley are bitter towards the topic being discussed. Collins does not understand why people believe that a person’s life can flash before his or her eyes.

Taking in consideration that a person’s life consists of a variety of memories, it would take a significant amount of time to even show a preview of one’s life. Collins also believes that he would rather have either an animated film, a slide presentation, an essay, or a model photograph show him his life, rather than having it “flash” as most others say. (Gillogly 26). Collins poem is taken in a very literal sense and he makes it evident he is very bitter about life flashing before his eyes. When it comes to Shelley being bitter, he also has no problem hiding it in his poem.

Although the statue is broken in his poem, he makes it clear that the statue is still stern and very powerful. However, due to the fact that the statue is broken, he is mocked (Funk & Wagnalls 1). This clearly caused him to become very bitter because all he wanted was for people to truly see how powerful the statue was and to not see the brokenness. Although the same tone was found in both poems due to similarity in topics, both poems also had very clear different tones. When a person is looking at the first poem, “The Art of Drowning” he or she can identify that Billy Collins also made a manipulative tone appear:

After falling off a steamship or being swept away In a rush of floodwaters, wouldn’t you hope For a more leisurely review, an invisible hand Turning the pages of an album of photographs – You up on a pony or blowing out candles in a Conic hat. (The Art of Drowning 1). Collins asks the reader in a way that would make one question his or her answer, because he is making it sound glamorous. He does this multiple times throughout the poem, which helps clearly see that he is trying to give off a manipulative tone along with his bitterness. The second tone that can be found in the poem, “Ozymandias” is clear to be arrogant:

And on the pedestal these words appear: ‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kinds: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair! ’ Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare (“Ozymandias” 1). The sculptor believes that he is amazing and has outstanding works. He wants everybody around to know how great he is. To make it even more clear he has written his name by the statue, along with king of kings beside it. Author Percy Bysshe Shelley, has the sculptor make it vividly appear that he is completely full of himself, which is why the tone of arrogant fits perfectly in place.

The tones throughout both poems, whether similar or different, could not have been possible without the word choice both authors chose to use. Billy Collins and Percy Bysshe Shelley are both well known for their outstanding pieces, and what makes them so special is their diction. In both poems, casual conversation words can not be found. These authors take it above and beyond to the next level to intrigue a person when he or she is reading. Collins and Shelley make it clear that they both find it very important to make their pieces stand out, no matter how long or short the poem may be.

Billy Collins grabs a reader’s attention in this specific poem by getting inside his or her head. He asks questions to make a person question him or herself. It does not stop there though. Collins uses a variety of creative words and phrases to grab a reader’s attention. Some examples can be found in, “The Art of Drowning” consist of: startle, crushing, desperate, brilliance, bolt, darting, weedy disarray, and many more. Part of the reason why his poetry is so intriguing to readers is not just because of the language, it is because he is such an oral poet.

He knows what things will actually sound like in front of other people and how to grab one’s attention. (Sofer 8). Percy Bysshe Shelley was nothing short of Billy Collins when it came to using a good choice of words. He is well known for his works and his diction proves why it is that way. Shelley’s most famous line, “My name is Ozymandias, king of kins” was used in his poem, “Ozymandias”. It seems he was influenced by an account of Thomas Legh’s “Narrative of a Journey in Egypt and the Country beyond the Cataracts” (The Economist 125). A poem can not be a true and exciting poem if the reader can not vividly picture what is happening.

Imagery plays such an important role when it comes to writing and poetry. Billy Collins and Percy Bysshe Shelley made sure to be very well educated on the fact that in order for their poems to be something extravagant, they needed to allow the readers to follow along and picture exactly what is going on. Knowing that both authors have no problem when it comes to choosing the perfect words to fit in their poems, one should know that their poems will not disappoint when it also comes to imagery. Especially because if they did not have such excellent word choice, one would not be able to create such a movie in his or her mind.

When it comes to comparing Collins and Shelley and their imagery, it is fairly simple. They are both great at making it happen for a reader. The description words and phrases make it clear, especially after breaking the poems down and understanding them more. In Collins piece, he is writing about life flashing before one’s eyes. Instead of talking about what it means when someone’s life flashes, he descriptively compares it to what he would rather have happen. He talks about the panic when life flashing happens and compares it drowning.

He lists other options that sound much better to him, such as: a leisurely review, an album of photographs being flipped by an imaginary hand, a short film, and a slide presentation. When he lists off these options, a person pictures it all happening in his or her mind. He also compared a person’s existence to an explosion to create another mental movie in a reader’s mind. When it comes to Shelley reaching the goal of imagery, he does not disappoint by any means. Although his poem, “Ozymandias” is not as lengthy as “The Art of Drowning” he creates just as great of a mental picture as Collins.

Considering his poem was written hundreds of years ago, it has to be broken down a little bit more. He does not compare his piece to anything else, but his descriptive words and phrases do the job for imagery just as well. Shelley writes about how on the sand, a shattered visage lies, half sunk, which when broken down is discovered to be a broken statue. He talks about the face of the statue to be a frown with a wrinkled lip and a sneer of cold command. He mentions how the people around mocked the statue due to the brokenness, which makes a reader picture people standing around laughing and pointing at a broken statue.

The most powerful imagery is when he talks about the name that appears. He vividly explains the sculptor stating his name is Ozymandias, king of kings. When the sculptor tries to explain how great his works are, Shelley proves he is not all what he seems to be the sculptor having no proof. He explains that he is mighty and so are his works, but when the people look around they see nothing but sand in the area. If taken to a more dramatic meaning, one could picture the statue as life and how it can be broken and destroyed, people will mock it and in the end it does not matter once it is gone, because it will be forgotten.

He uses words such as: colossal wreck, boundless and bare, shattered, wrinkled, sneer, and mocked to give off such a powerful image to reader’s. The powerful poems, “The Art of Drowning” and “Ozymandias” give off such a bigger meaning than one originally expects. They both relate in such a variety of ways, from their meaning, tone, diction, and imagery, they truly resemble each other to an extent, but also have their differences to make them shine. The tone and meaning behind both poems is extremely clear after thoroughly breaking each down.

Even though the two had a similar and different tone, they both had the same meaning. When it comes to life, it is precious and can be destroyed in the matter of seconds. One does not get to take the time to explain how great his or her life was. One does not get the opportunity to watch his or her life in some sort of movie or photo album right before he or she is gone forever. It is gone just in a second and there is nothing to do about it. A dead person turns into a name in the wind that will soon be forgotten. No matter how a person spent their time on Earth, it is no longer relevant when he or she dies.