Mnemonic Images for Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley

One of the recent Memory Challenges was to memorize the poem Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley. If you haven’t read my blog post about memorizing Shakespeare, you might want to read that first.

To start, here’s the poem:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Because the poem is short, I didn’t use the method of loci, but just attached some mnemonic images to keywords and combined that with repetition. It is almost-perfect iambic pentameter, so it’s often easy to catch mistakes by exaggerating the meter.

Much of the poem is visual and I just visualized the scene. Here are some of the mnemonic images that I used as cues:

I met a [Mette, a Danish girl] traveller from an antique [antique furniture] land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near [image for the number 214, “NIR”] them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
Tell [175, “TEL”] that its sculptor well those passions read [passionfruit-red]
Which yet survive [witch-yeti-surfer], stamped [rubber stamp] on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked [I visualized the white that flashes on mockingbirds’ wings] them and the heart that fed [heart with fangs, a character that I used when memorizing Hamlet’s famous soliloquy].
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains [the intriguing choice of words is memorable]. Round the decay [rounding up a decaying sculpture]
Of that colossal [Colossus from the X-Men] wreck, boundless and bare
The lone [The Lone Ranger] and level sands stretch far away.

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Shelley

I really enjoyed memorizing this poem and will probably try memorizing some of Shelly’s longer poems soon. To find out more about the background of Ozymandias, check out the Wikipedia article.

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