AQA Conflict Poetry: model answer

Compare how two of the poems you have studied present conflict

In both ‘Ozymandias’ and ‘Storm on the Island’ conflict between man and nature is presented.  However, while in Heaney’s depiction this immediate and violent, for Shelley the conflict is more gradual but also more damaging.  In both poems, man is presented as erroneously believing he has control over nature; however, while for ‘Ozymandias’ this is through ignorance and arrogance which eventually leads to destruction, in ‘Storm’ it appears to be foolish naivety which is quickly dispelled by the power which nature wields.

In ‘Ozymandias’ nature is depicted as conflicting with man, reclaiming its power over time.  The ‘two vast and trunkless legs of stone’ are symbolic of the stubborn and vast power exerted by this king. In the conflict between man and nature, nature has won: the statue which had been intended to show perpetual power ‘lies’ ‘Half sunk’ in the sand.  The sand, symbolic of nature, is swallowing it up and dominating the landscape completely as the ‘lone and level sands stretch far away’.  The alliteration here reinforces the on-going nature of the sand and, therefore, the enduring power of nature itself.  In this conflict nature has decimated man, as the sand is described as ‘lone’, showing that that all traces of man’s power have been erased here.  However, the symbol of ‘sand’ is also pertinent to Shelley’s reference to time.  The conflict here has been gradual, like the erosion of rock into sand, the destruction of Ozymandias’ power is presented as a natural consequence of the natural passing of time.  Nature is eternal and, as such, will always be the victor.

While nature is the undisputed victor in ‘Storm on the Island’ also, this victory is quickly won and less devastating. The storm is described through the metaphor of a dog fight ‘ the wind dives and strafes invisibly’. Thus the deadly power of the storm is made clear.  The attack is immediate and powerful in this conflict between nature and man: the reader is invited to imagine its power and sound through the sibilance employed by Heaney, reminding us that we too are at nature’s whim – a message reinforced by his repeated use of the pronouns ‘we’ and ‘you’.  And the danger in this instant is emphasised by his use of present tense throughout the poem.  The reader is made to feel that they are at the centre of this conflict between man and nature: an ‘invisible’ enemy which cannot be defeated.

However, unlike Ozymandias, Heaney’s awareness of man’s place in the conflict is clear.  We may be naïve, but we know when to hide.  Despite his initial confident assertion ‘we are prepared’, it is clear from the outset that Heaney realises that the consequences of the conflict could be devastating –

if not he would feel no need to prepare.  The description of their houses as ‘squat’ demonstrate through the personification the need for man to protect himself, hiding or ducking for cover in the on-coming storm. However, the notion that we also take advantage of nature somewhat is evident: through the metaphor man would be seen as an uninvited inhabitant, taking what is not really his and living temporarily and illegally in this place.  In contrast, Ozymandias’ ‘legs of stone [which] stand in the desert’ are symbolic of his stubborn arrogance, his refusal to realise his place in the conflict between man and nature and the final devastating consequences for him.

Indeed, it appears to be the attitude towards nature as an adversary which differs the most in these two poems. While in ‘Storm’ man is naïve, in ‘Ozymandias’ it is his hubris and arrogance which is his ultimate downfall. The ‘stone’ allows the reader to see that Ozymandias’ power was great, but also that he used the natural resource to his own ends in order to demonstrate it.  By doing so, ironically, his reliance on nature and its enduring power is clear to the reader; however, it is not clear to him.  The irony of this is further highlighted by the commanding ‘Look on my works’ juxtaposed with ‘Nothing besides remains.’ It is inevitable that man as mortal cannot defeat nature; however, Ozymandias’ arrogance is ridiculed through the irony.  Through this Shelley’s message is clear: the arrogance, wealth and power of the ruling classes cannot endure; it is not natural. And, as nature is the ultimate victor in the conflict between nature and man, is it not better to admit defeat and look for ways to work with nature.

In contrast, Heaney demonstrates the naivety of man in the simile ‘the sea… spits like a tame cat / Turned savage’.  The enjambment and line break here demonstrate the sudden, quick and unexpected change from companion to attacker.  We see man’s affection for nature, and we see nature’s potential for wild, uncontrollable aggression.  However, rather than disdain, in this presentation of the conflict we feel more sympathy.  The repeated personification of natural elements such as the sea and trees as ‘company’ illustrate his love for nature and his reliance on it.  Here, man is presented as an unwitting but inevitable victim of the conflict between himself and nature. Heaney reminds us of our own mortality, finishing with ‘it is a huge nothing we fear’, but in contrast to ‘Ozymandias’ this is not to reprimand or scorn, but rather to reflect and unite man.  Death is a natural consequence which is alluded to, but does not actually occur.

Both poems present the conflict between man and nature as one which cannot be won.  However, while we are invited to deride and pour scorn on Ozymandias’ arrogance, Heaney unites us all with the same fate.

Below is a colour-coded version of this, note where the mark scheme has been addressed at each point.