English literature poetry power and conflict questionWatch
Whilst Storm on the Island presents human power in a much more ambiguous way, Ozymandias chooses a much vivider approach.
Initially, both poems open very differently. Storm on the Island opens with a short phrase, “we are prepared.” To begin with readers feel generally confused, as it's not very clear what is happening. This evokes questions in the reader's mind: who is “we”?, how have they “prepared”? And what are they preparing for? Seamus Heaney subtly captivates the reader, making them intrigued to understand what is happening. “We are prepared” also hints at a sense of safety, which deliberately contrasts with later on in the poem. Following this short phrase is a medial caesura, suggesting some hesitation. Perhaps the narrator feels he isn't prepared enough. Possibly, Heaney is hinting at an event human power cannot even prepare for, further hooking the reader. The question provoking opening cleverly creates a sense of ambiguity, a common occurrence throughout Storm on the Island.
In contrast, the opening of Ozymandias is much more vivid than Storm on the Island. Ozymandias opens like a fictional fairy tail, “I met a traveller from an antique land.” To begin with Percy Shelley uses quite prosaic language. Maybe, Shelley - as a romantic poet - does this so his poetry is more accessible. Shelley wants his message to be easily understood to initiate change, as he criticises despotic rule like Napoleon and King George III. Shelley was a supporter of the French Revolution, the devolution of the French monarchy. Furthermore, the narrator hears this from a traveller, he has not actually seen the statue. This mocks human power as this statue - a man-made structure - is not as prominent as Ozymandias (Rameses II) wants it to be. The adjective, “antique” also suggests all the statues and man-made objects are old and irrelevant, suggesting the statue of Ozymandias is not as important as he thinks it is. This fictional-like opening clearly mocks Ozymandias’s and human power, this is also seen throughout the poem.
In addition to Storm on the Islands ambiguous opening, the poem adopts no rhyme scheme and uses one full stanza with enjambment. The use of free verse creates a sense of unpredictability. Perhaps, Heany purposefully does this to liken it to the unpredictable nature of conflict and nature. Heany’s use of enjambment also creates an endless and continuous feeling. Along with the narrator being “prepared” suggests they are familiar with storms.
However, in Ozymandias Shelley uses a sonnet with an irregular sonnet rhyme scheme. Often, sonnets have a strict rhyme scheme, here Shelley may have disobeyed this style to resemble how the power of humans is much weaker than that of natures. Or maybe the poem's irregularity emphasises Shelleys different opinion of absolute power. It was seen as strange to disobey the monarchy, his progressive, radical views were not liked very much at the time.
Seamus Heaney uses a plethora of literary devices to portray his ideas of human power. Heaney purposefully uses an oxymoron, “exploding comfortably.” This juxtaposition of the feelings of fear and safety, creates an unsettling feeling with the reader. The violent verb “exploding” portrays the sea as violent and uncontrollable. This presents nature much more powerful than man. On the other hand, the verb “exploding” may be a reference to the Irish troubles in the late 20th century. Seamus, born in Northern Ireland, lived through the Irish Troubles, a period of conflict and turmoil. The storm itself seems to be a metaphor for the Troubles. In addition to this the first eight letters of Storm on the Island spell ‘Stormont’. This may be a reference to the governmental building in Northern Ireland, another hint at the storm being a metaphor for the Irish Troubles. Additionally, Heaney also uses a simile. The sea “spits like a tame cat turned savage.” This shows how familiar things like a cat become frightening during a storm. It also presents the sea as unpleasant and uncontrollable. This shows human power as much weaker than natures. The visual image also indicates that the sea can be calm and “tame” but now has taken on a rough, “savage” appearance. Again portraying nature as much more powerful than man. The powerful and violent storm represents really how bad the violence in Ireland was and the fear ordinary people had to live through, “spits like a tame cat turned savage” emphasises this.
Similarly, in Ozymandias Percy Shelley uses plenty of literary devices. First of all, Shelley adopts alliteration to describe the deserts which hold the statue of Ozymandias. “Lone and level sands” demonstrates the size of the desert. In addition to this it could demonstrate the vast, unending power of nature and to contrast and belittle human power. Shelley also uses language to portray Ozymandias’s supercilious attitude. Ozymandias “sneer of cold command” emphasises this. The verb “sneer” is a mocking smile, it is like he is mocking his subjects below him. The verb “sneer” also has animalistic connotations, maybe mocking Ozymandias. In addition, “sneer” connotes maliciousness and heartlessness. Along with the adjective “cold” it suggests that he has no sensitivity and only rules for his benefits.
Both poems portray important messages and ideas. To begin with, Storm on the Island clearly portrays the familiarity of terrorism and conflict in Ireland. Heaney deliberately uses a conversational tone and colloquial language to achieve this. For example, “you know what I mean.” This colloquial language makes the reader infer that terrorising events are common and relatable to everyone in Ireland and that it happens all the time. In addition to this the narrator is “prepared” suggesting that they are so used to it now they know how to prepare. It's clear Heaney wants to show how normalised attacks were during the troubles and highlight turmoil caused by the conflict.
Similar to Storm on the Island, Shelley's message is very clear. Shelley portrays nature's power as much more powerful than human power. For example, “decay of that colossal wreck.” Not only is Shelley presenting the statue as a wreck, belittling human power. Decay - a natural biological process - is destroying a human structure. This clearly shows how nature has the ability to destroy anything. Shelley does this to criticise not just Ozymandias but also other tyrannical rulers. In addition to this Shelley uses Ozymandias, the Greek term for the Egyptian pharaoh, instead of Ramasses II his Egyptian name. This might have been purposefully used to further belittle his power.
To conclude, both poems portray human power as weaker than that of natures.
Compare the ways poets present the power of humans in Storm on the Island and in one other poem from Power and Conflict.