To pause and ponder
If something intangible is forgotten, does it cease to exist? Every moment of every day, profound things happen that slip into obscurity simply because we don’t take the time to remember. I have a terrible memory, but hate forgetting. The idea behind this blog is simple: Thoughts, moments, quotes, anything, could be sent here, at any time in the day. I don’t want to forget the world I live in now. And I don’t want you to either.

Van der Sandt

1:44 AM

Wow but these people STUMP all over the place

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Going to Abu Dhabi

1:42 AM

I've signed the contract. Please oh please dont let me have made a mistake.

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Either Or

11:58 PM

M told me today that if I go to abu Dhabi, he doubts he will be able to wait for me. That he has been thinking, and whenever someone goes away, the couple breaks up. So he has been hanging on too much. And he cant be the only one fighting for us. He said he was done fighting and my decision is my own.
Tonight he told me to remember that while I think that untill I have made a decision, I have both worlds, to him it feels like he has nothing. He said every night he goes to sleep, wondering if he'll have a girlfriend the next day.

I told him I dont think I can stay. What would I be staying for?

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10:03 AM

Cool word for city in the sky: errorists
(from the xbox game remember me)

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8:51 PM

"You will recognize your own path
when you come upon it, because you
will suddenly have all the energy and
imagination you will ever need."

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Ozymandias - Notes and analysis

3:21 AM
Please note: all information gathered from other sources. Body of content taken from http://www.shmoop.com/ozymandias/


Contents

. 3

 

Ozymandias

In A Nutshell
Late in 1817 Percy Shelley and his friend Horace Smith decided to have a sonnet competition – that's right folks: a sonnet competition! For the subject of their sonnets, Shelley and Smith chose a partially-destroyed statue of Ramses II ("Ozymandias") that was making its way to London from Egypt, finally arriving there sometime early in the year 1818. In the 1790's Napoleon Bonaparte had tried to get his hands on the statue, but was unable to remove it from Egypt. That's partly because it weighs almost 7.5 tons. Shelley, like Napoleon, was fascinated by this giant statue. Here's a picture of it.

Shelley published his poem in January of 1818 in The Examiner, a periodical run by his other friend Leigh Hunt (pronounced "Lee"). Smith published his poem less than a month later, with a title almost as long as the poem itself: "On A Stupendous Leg of Granite, Discovered Standing by Itself in the Deserts of Egypt, with the Inscription Inserted Below." You can take a look at Smith's poem 
here.

While Shelley has a reputation for radical and experimental poetry, "Ozymandias" is a pretty "tame" poem compared to many of his other works; it is written in a well-known and widely-used form – a fourteen-line sonnet – and doesn't say anything too offensive like "We should all be atheists" (Shelley was expelled from 
Oxford for writing a pamphlet advocating just this).

Why Should I Care?

Why read this poem? As a sonnet, it has only fourteen lines, but in this limited space, Shelley explores a number of issues with enduring relevance. "Ozymandias" explores the question of what happens to tyrant kings, and to despotic world leaders more generally. As we all know, nothing lasts forever; that means even the very worst political leaders – no matter how much they boast – all die at some point. If Shelley were writing this poem now, he might take as his subject the famous statue of Saddam Hussein that was pulled down after the dictator was overthrown. Like the fallen statue in Baghdad, the broken-down statue of Ozymandias in Shelley's poem points to the short-lived nature of political regimes and tyrannical power. 

But, Shelley doesn't just come out and say "nothing lasts forever" and "there is always hope." He writes a sonnet with a really cool rhyme scheme. Just try reading the poem out loud, and you'll see what we mean.

Ozymandias: Text of 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 shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd 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.

Ozymandias Summary

The speaker describes a meeting with someone who has traveled to a place where ancient civilizations once existed. We know from the title that he’s talking about Egypt. The traveler told the speaker a story about an old, fragmented statue in the middle of the desert. The statue is broken apart, but you can still make out the face of a person. The face looks stern and powerful, like a ruler. The sculptor did a good job at expressing the ruler’s personality. The ruler was a wicked guy, but he took care of his people.

On the pedestal near the face, the traveler reads an inscription in which the ruler Ozymandias tells anyone who might happen to pass by, basically, “Look around and see how awesome I am!” But there is no other evidence of his awesomeness in the vicinity of his giant, broken statue. There is just a lot of sand, as far as the eye can see. The traveler ends his story.
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said...
  • The poem begins immediately with an encounter between the speaker and a traveler that comes from an "antique land."
  • We're not sure about this traveler. He could be a native of this "antique" land, or just a tourist returning from his latest trip.
  • We don't know where this encounter is taking place; is it on the highway? On a road somewhere? In London? Maybe if we keep reading we'll find out.
  • "Antique" means something really old, like that couch at your grandmother's or the bunny ears on top of your television. The traveler could be coming from a place that is ancient, almost as if he were time-traveling. Or he could just be coming from a place that has an older history, like Greece, Rome, or ancient Egypt.
…Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies…
  • Here the traveler begins his speech. He tells the speaker about a pair of stone legs that are somehow still standing in the middle of the desert.
  • Those legs are huge ("vast") and "trunkless." "Trunkless" means "without a torso," so it's a pair of legs with no body.
  • "Visage" means face; a face implies a head, so we are being told that the head belonging to this sculpture is partially buried in the sand, near the legs. It is also, like the whole statue, "shatter'd."
  • The image described is very strange: a pair of legs, with a head nearby. What happened to the rest of the statue? War? Natural disaster? Napoleon?
…whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
  • The traveler now gives a fuller description of the "shatter'd visage" lying in the sand.
  • As it turns out, the "visage" (or face) isn't completely "shatter'd" because one can still see a "frown," a "wrinkled lip," and a "sneer."
  • We still don't know whom this statue represents, but we do know that he was upset about something because he's frowning and sneering. Maybe he thinks that the sneering makes him look powerful. It conveys the "cold command" of an absolute ruler. He can do what he wants without thinking of other people. Heck, he probably commanded the sculptor to make the statue.
  • After briefly describing the "visage" (3), the lines shift our attention away from the statue to the guy who made the statue, the "sculptor."
  • "Read" here means "understood" or "copied" well. The sculptor was pretty good because he was able to understand and reproduce exactly – to "read" – the facial features and "passions" of our angry man. The sculptor might even grasp things about the ruler that the ruler himself doesn't understand.
  • The poem suggests that artists have the ability to perceive the true nature of other people in the present and not just in the past, with the benefit of hindsight.
  • "Tell" is a cool word. The statue doesn't literally speak, but the frown and sneer are so perfectly rendered that they give the impression that they are speaking, telling us how great the sculptor was.
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed
  • The poem now tells us more about the "passions" of the face depicted on the statue.
  • Weirdly, the "passions" still survive because they are "stamp'd on these lifeless things." The "lifeless things" are the fragments of the statue in the desert.
  • "Stamp'd" doesn't refer to an ink-stamp, but rather to the artistic process by which the sculptor inscribed the "frown" and "sneer" on his statue's face. The word could also make you think of the ruler's power. Had he wanted to, he could have stamped out any of his subjects who offended him.
  • "Mock'd" has two meanings in this passage. It means both "made fun of" and "copied," or "imitated." "Hand" is a stand-in for the sculptor. So the sculptor both belittled and copied this man's passions.
  • "The heart that fed" is a tricky phrase; it refers to the heart that "fed" or nourished the passions of the man that the statue represents. But if you think these lines are unclear, you're right. Even scholars have trouble figuring out what they mean.
  • The passions not only "survive"; they have also outlived both the sculptor ("the hand that mock'd") and the heart of the man depicted by the statue.
  • Note the contrast between life and death. The fragments of the statue are called "lifeless things," the sculptor is dead, and so is the statue's subject. The "passions" though, still "survive."
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
  • The traveler tells us about an inscription at the foot of statue which finally reveals to us whom this statue represents.
  • It is "Ozymandias," the figure named in the title. "Ozymandias" was one of several Greek names for Ramses II of Egypt. For more, see "What's Up with the Title."
  • The inscription suggests that Ozymandias is arrogant, or at least that he has grand ideas about his own power: he calls himself the "king of kings."
  • Ozymandias also brags about his "works." Maybe he's referring to the famous temples he constructed at Abu Simbel or Thebes. He could also be calling attention to the numerous colossal statues of him, such as the one described in this poem.
  • Ozymandias's speech is ambiguous here. On the one hand he tells the "mighty" to "despair" because their achievements will never equal his "works." On the other hand, he might be telling the "mighty" to "despair" as a kind of warning, saying something like "Don't get your hopes up guys because your statues, works, political regimes, etc. will eventually be destroyed or fade away, with nothing to recall them but a dilapidated statue half-buried in the sand."
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
  • After the traveler recites the inscription, he resumes his description of the statue and the surrounding area.
  • We are reminded again that "nothing" remains besides the head, legs, and pedestal; as if we didn't know the statue has been destroyed, the traveler tells us again that it is a "colossal wreck."
  • The very size of the statue – "colossal" – emphasizes the scope of Ozymandias's ambitions as well; it's almost as if because he thinks he's the "king of kings" (10), he also has to build a really big statue.
  • To complement the "decay" of the statue, the traveler describes a desolate and barren desert that seems to go on forever: the "sands stretch far away."
  • The statue is the only thing in this barren, flat desert. There was probably once a temple or something nearby, but it's long gone. The "sands" are "lone," which means whatever else used to be "beside" the statue has been destroyed or buried.
  • Several words in these lines start with the same letter; for example "besides," "boundless," and "bare"; "remains" and "round"; "lone" and "level"; "sands" and "stretch." Using multiple words with the same initial letter is called alliteration. For more, see "Sound Check."

Ozymandias Analysis

Ozymandias Symbolism, Imagery & Wordplay

Symbol Analysis
Because the poem is inspired by a statue of Ramses II, we shouldn't be surprised to find so many references to this statue and to sculpting more generally. The "colossal" size of the statue is a symbol of Ramses's lofty self-promotion royal ambition. But statues and sculpture aren't all bad in this poem; they are also a vehicle for the poet to explore questions about the longevity of art, and its ability to capture "passions" (6) in a "lifeless" (7) medium like stones (or painting or even poetry).
·         Line 2: The traveler describes two "legs of stone" with no torso, our first indication that the statue is partly destroyed.
·         Line 4: The head of the statue is "shatter'd" and partially buried in the sand. "Visage" is a stand-in for the statue's head. (The use of one part of any object or entity to describe the whole is called synecdoche.)
·         Line 6-7: The sculptor was pretty good at representing Ramses's "passions" in the statue, which are "stamp'd" or engraved in stone. Even though the stones are "lifeless," they paradoxically give life to the "passions" that still "survive." There are three words in these two lines that start with "s"; the use of multiple words starting with the same letter is called alliteration.
·         Line 8: The "hand that mock'd" is another reference to the sculptor and the work of imitation he performs. "Hand" is another example of synecdoche, in which a part (the hand) stands in for the whole (the sculptor).
·         Line 9: Describes the base of the statue and the boast engraved on it.
·         Line 11: The inscription refers to "works," which might be a reference to other statues, works of art, or monuments commissioned by Ozymandias. This line is ambiguous; Ozymandias could be telling the mighty to despair because their works will never be as good as his or he could be telling them to despair because their works will all eventually crumble just like his. Ozymandias clearly doesn't intend this second meaning, but it's there whether he wants it or not. That's called dramatic irony.
·         Line 13: The poem again reminds us that there is a huge statue in the desert that is now a "colossal wreck."
Symbol Analysis
The statue that inspired the poem was partially destroyed, and the poem frequently reminds us that the statue is in ruins. The dilapidated state of the statue symbolizes not only the erosive processes of time, but also the transience of political leaders and regimes.
  • Line 2: The "legs" of the statue don't have a torso ("trunkless").
  • Line 4: The statue's head is "shatter'd" and partly buried in the sand.
  • Line 11: The inscription implores the viewer to "look on" Ozymandias's "works." One of those "works" is the statue described in the poem, and it's only a pair of legs and a "shatter'd" head.
  • Line 12-13: The statue is described as in a state of "decay" and as a "colossal wreck."
  • Line 13-14: We're assuming this statue wasn't always in the middle of nowhere – there must have been some kind of temple or pyramid nearby. Not anymore; the area around the statue is "bare" and the desert is "lone," or empty. The traveler calls our attention to the barrenness of the desert through the extensive use of alliteration (beginning multiple words with the same letter): "boundless and bare," "lone and level," "sands stretch."
Symbol Analysis
There is a lot of death in this poem; the figure represented in the statue is dead, along with the civilization to which he belonged. The statue is destroyed, and so it too is, in some sense, dead. And yet amidst all the death, there are several images of life that give the poem a sense of balance, however slight.
  • Lines 1-2: Most of the poem describes a statue, but these first two lines describe an encounter between two living people, the speaker and a "traveler from an antique land."
  • Line 6-7: The description of the "sculptor" making a statue introduces another living figure into the poem, as does the reference to the "passions" of Ozymandias. Furthermore, even though the sculpture is "lifeless," the passions still "survive."
Symbol Analysis
While most of the poem describes a statue, the traveler makes a point of telling us that Ozymandias's "passions" still survive: they are "stamp'd" on the statue, giving all those who view the statue a sense of what Ozymandias's disposition was like, or at least what it was like when the statue was made.
  • Lines 4-5: The poem describes the features on the face of the statue and, by extension, the features of Ozymandias. He must have been angry about something because his face has a "sneer," a "frown," and a "wrinkled lip."
  • Line 6: We are told that the sculptor "well those passions read," that he was somehow able to capture them fairly well in his statue.
  • Line 8: The "heart" is the organ most often linked to feelings and passions; it "fed" the passions depicted in the statue. Because the heart didn't literally "feed" the passions, "fed" here is a metaphor.

Ozymandias: Rhyme, Form & Meter

We’ll show you the poem’s blueprints, and we’ll listen for the music behind the words.

Sonnet in Pentameter

"Ozymandias" takes the form of a sonnet in iambic pentameter. A sonnet is a fourteen-line poem, whose ideal form is often attributed to the great Italian poet Petrarch. The Petrarchan sonnet is structured as an octave (8 lines) and a sestet (6 lines). The octave often proposes a problem or concern that the sestet resolves or otherwise engages. The ninth line – the first line of the sestet – marks a shift in the direction of the poem and is frequently called the "turn" or, for you Italian scholars, the volta. While the rhyme scheme of the octave is ABBA ABBA, the rhyme scheme of the sestet is more flexible; two of the most common are CDCDCD and CDECDE.

The other major sonnet form is the Shakespearean or English sonnet; it too has fourteen lines, but is structured as a series of three quatrains (of four lines each) and a concluding couplet (consisting of two consecutive rhyming lines). The Shakespearean sonnet is in iambic pentameter and follows the rhyme scheme ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. 

Shelley's sonnet is a strange mixture of these two forms. It is Petrarchan in that the poem is structured as a group of eight lines (octave) and a group of six lines (the sestet). The rhyme scheme is initially Shakespearean, as the first four lines rhyme ABAB. But then the poem gets strange: at lines 5-8 the rhyme scheme is ACDC, rather than the expected CDCD. For lines 9-12, the rhyme scheme is EDEF, rather than EFEF. Finally, instead of a concluding couplet we get another EF group. The entire rhyme scheme can be schematized as follows: ABABACDCEDEFEF.

The poem is written in pentameter, meaning there are five (penta-) groups of two syllables in each line. While you've probably heard of iambic pentameter, Shelley's poem makes it really hard to use that designation. Iambic pentameter means that each line contains five feet or groups, each of which contains an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable, as in this line: 

half-sunk, a shatt-er'd vis-age lies, whose b>frown (4)

Many of the lines in the poem, however, refuse to conform to this pattern. Take line 12 for example:

No-thing be-side re-mains: round the de-cay

The line begins with a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable; this is called a trochee, and it's the reverse of an iamb. After the initial trochee, we get two iambs, but then we go back to a trochee with "round the," finally ending with an iamb; there's no name for this jumping around! This refusal to conform to any specific meter is evident throughout the poem, and makes it difficult to classify with a simple formula like iambic pentameter.

Speaker Point of View

Who is the speaker, can she or he read minds, and, more importantly, can we trust her or him?
There are several different voices in this poem that put some distance between us and Ozymandias. First there is the speaker of the poem, you know the guy who meets the traveler from an "antique land." It's almost as if the speaker has just stopped for the night at a hotel, or stepped into an unfamiliar bar, and happens to bump into a well-traveled guy. The speaker doesn't hang around very long before handing the microphone over to the traveler, whose voice occupies the remainder of the poem. One can imagine a movie based on this storyline: the speaker meets a strange guy who then narrates his experiences, which make up the rest of the film.

We don't know a whole lot about this traveler; he could be a native of the "antique land" (1), a tourist who has visited it, or even a guy who just stepped out of a time machine. He seems like one of those guys you'd meet in a youth hostel who has all kinds of cool stories but no real place to call home other than the road; he is a "traveler" after all, and he clearly knows how to give a really dramatic description – just note the bleak picture that is painted of the "lone and level sands" stretching "far away" (14) to see what we mean.

Most of the poem consists of the traveler's description of the statue lying in the desert, except for the two lines in the middle where he tells us what the inscription on the statue says; and while the traveler speaks these lines, they really belong to Ozymandias, making him, in a sense, the third speaker in this polyphonic (or many-voiced) poem.

Ozymandias Setting

Where It All Goes Down
This poem has several settings. It begins with a strange encounter between the speaker and a traveler from an "antique land" (1). We have no idea where this rendezvous takes place, which is very weird. It could be in the speaker's head, in a dream, on the street, or in the desert; it sort of resembles something that might occur in a youth hostel or a tavern in London. The first appearance of Aragorn in theFellowship of the Ring might be a good comparison.

Shortly after this initial meeting we are whisked away to the sands of Egypt, or a barren desert that closely resembles it. And this desert isn't just barren; it's really barren. Other than the legs, pedestal, and head of the statue, there's only sand. No trace remains of the civilization or culture that spawned the statue. It's a lot like something you'd see inPlanet Earth: emptiness all around, a few sand-storms here, and that's about it. It reminds us of movies where people are stranded in the desert and eventually find a little oasis or the occasional tree, except that here we find a partially destroyed statue instead of a little pond.

Sound Check

Read this poem aloud. What do you hear?
"Ozymandias" sounds a lot like the conclusion of a Shakespearean tragedy; the final lines of the poem are especially reminiscent of something you might hear as the curtain is about to fall at the end of the play, or as the credits are about to roll at the end of a sad movie. The way in which the poem emphasizes destruction and barrenness makes it read like something you'd hear at Ozymandias's funeral. The last lines in particular call attention to the poem's themes in a really catchy way (note all those memorable, alliterative phrases!), making the poem seem very much like those last words you hear as you're about to leave the theater

What’s Up With the Title?

"Ozymandias" is an ancient Greek name for Ramses II of Egypt. It is actually a Greek version of the Egyptian phrase "User-maat-Re," one of Ramses's Egyptian names. Why not just call the poem "User-maat-Re," you might ask? Well, this is Shelley, who had studied ancient Greek; it is therefore no surprise that he chooses to use the Greek name "Ozymandias," rather than the Egyptian name.

Ramses II was one of Egypt's greatest pharaohs, and many of the most famous tourist sites in Egypt, including the temple of Abu Simbel and the Ramesseum in Thebes, were built or planned during his incredibly long tenure (he lived until he was 90!). He is known not only for his building program, but also for several ambitious foreign military campaigns and for his diplomacy, especially with the Hittites, another important ancient people.

Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Calling Card

What is the poet’s signature style?

Long, Complicated Sentences

Shelley loved to write really long sentences, and this poem is no exception. The second complete sentence, which begins in line 3, is a good example. The sentence has a lot of separate clauses that resemble complicated Latin sentences from two thousand years ago. The main clause is the statement that a "shatter'd visage" lies in the sand near the legs; the rest of the sentence – you know all that stuff about the "frown" and "sneer of cold command" and how the sculptor was so good that the passions have outlived both Ramses and the artist – is all extraneous information that merely adds to or supplements the first assertion. This long, central sentence gives the poem an epic feel, even within the confines of a decidedly un-epic poetic form, the fourteen-line sonnet. Shelley always had grand ambitions.

Tough-O-Meter

We’ve got your back. With the Tough-O-Meter, you’ll know whether to bring extra layers or Swiss army knives as you summit the literary mountain. (10 = Toughest)

(2) Sea Level

"Ozymandias" is a relatively straightforward poem; there aren't many strange words, except for "mock'd." At times the syntax can be a little tricky; for example, the first eight lines are two sentences, the second of which has a lot of clauses that have to be sifted through and assigned their proper function. Other than that second sentence, though, the poem doesn't go much above sea level, making it one of the more readable Shelley poems.

Ozymandias Trivia

Brain Snacks: Tasty Tidbits of Knowledge
Napoleon tried to steal the statue that inspired "Ozymandias" and left a hole in its right side. (Source)
Shelley was part of a larger group of friends that frequently engaged in sonnet-writing contests. The members included Leigh Hunt and John Keats. (Source)
Shelley used the pseudonym (fake name) "Gilrastes" when he published "Ozymandias" in the Examiner. (Source)
Shelley's body is buried in Rome but his heart is buried in England. (Source)
The graphic novel and movie Watchmen features a superhero named Ozymandias.

Ozymandias Steaminess Rating

Exactly how steamy is this poem?

G

This poem doesn't really have much to do with sex.
When poets refer to other great works, people, and events, it’s usually not accidental. Put on your super-sleuth hat and figure out why.
  • Diodorus Siculus, Historical Library Book 1, Chapter 4 (Lines 10-11)

Ozymandias Themes

"Ozymandias" is obsessed with transience; the very fact that the statue is a "colossal wreck" (13) says loudly and clearly that some things just don't last forever. But the poem isn't just about how really big statues eventually succumb to the ravages of time; the statue is a symbol of Ozymandias's ambition, pride, and absolute power, and thus the poem also implies that kingdoms and political regimes will eventually crumble, leaving no trace of their existence except, perhaps, pathetic statues that no longer even have torsos.
Questions About Transience
1.    Do all political regimes necessarily pass away? Are there some that just won't go away?
2.    How does the poem view the permanence of art? Do artistic "works" necessarily "decay" like the statue of Ozymandias?
3.    Is the poem's view of transience and impermanence hopeful or despairing?
4.    Are there any signs that the poem laments the destruction of the statue and the loss of the civilization that produced it?
Chew on This
Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.
Even though the poem is obsessed with transience and impermanence, it also suggests that a work of art, however fragmentary, leaves a record of what has passed away.
In the inscription on the pedestal Ozymandias calls himself the "king of kings" while also implying that his "works" – works of art like the statue, pyramids, that sort of thing – are the best around (10). Ozymandias thinks pretty highly of himself and of what he's achieved, both politically and artistically. The fact that he commissions this "colossal" statue with "vast legs" points to his sense of pride, while the statue's fragmentary state indicates the emptiness (at least in the long term) of Ozymandias's boast.
1.    The statue in the poem sounds like a really cool work of art; isn't it to be expected that Ozymandias would take pride in such an artistic wonder?
2.    Is there any indication that the sculptor takes pride in his work?
3.    If Ozymandias was pharaoh during a particularly prosperous period of Egyptian history, is it at all possible that he really was the "king of kings"(10)? Could he have been better than any other king around?
4.    Does the poem suggest that pride in itself is bad? Or is it just bad when indulged in by a tyrant like Ozymandias?
Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.
Ozymandias's proud statement that he is the "king of kings" aligns him with a number of power-hungry villains, like the Biblical Satan, or even Sauron from Lord of the Rings.
"Ozymandias" was inspired by a statue, and it's no surprise that art is one of this poem's themes. The traveler makes a point of telling us that the statue was made by a really skilled sculptor, and the poem as a whole explores the question of art's longevity. The statue is in part a stand-in or substitute for all kinds of art (painting, poetry, etc.), and the poem asks us to think not just about sculpture, but about the fate of other arts as well.
1.    If even a durable statue like the one described in the poem eventually crumbles, what happens to other kinds of art that use flimsier materials – like poetry and painting?
2.    The traveler refers to the destroyed statue as a heap of "lifeless things" (7). Is the statue "lifeless" because it's in pieces, because it is "trunkless" and headless and is thus no longer a complete body? Or is it "lifeless" because it's made of something inorganic (stone)?
3.    The sculptor is said to have accurately rendered the passions of Ozymandias's face. Is the only way to judge a work of art by how "real" it looks, by how much it resembles that which it represents?
4.    What kind of connection exists between a work of art and the civilization or culture that produced it? Can art tell us anything about the culture that produced it?
Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.
The sculptor is similar to the reader of the poem because both engage in the processes of reading and interpretation.
"Ozymandias" describes a statue, and statues are made from rocks and stones found in nature. While the poem explores the way in which art necessarily involves some kind of engagement with the natural world, it also thinks about how nature might fight back. The statue's head is half-buried in the sand, after all, and we are left wondering what role the erosive force of dust storms, wind, and rain played in its destruction.
1.    Does all art necessarily use materials from nature, like rocks, stones, and paper?
2.    Besides getting its raw materials (paper, rocks, stones) from nature, in what other ways does art interact with the natural world?
3.    Do you feel that nature is punishing Ozymandias for his pride by destroying his statue? Why or why not?
Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.
"Ozymandias" suggests that the relationship between art and nature is a double-edged sword: while the natural world furnishes the artist with raw materials, it also has the power to reclaim those materials by later destroying the work of art.

Ozymandias Quotes

Find quotes from this poem, with commentary from Shmoop. Pick a theme below to begin.

Ozymandias Transience Quotes Page 1

How we cite the quotes:
(line numbers)
Quote #1
I met a traveler from an antique land (1)
The very fact that the "land" is "antique" suggests that it is outdated, kind of like dial-up internet. The speaker implies that the traveler is coming from a place that is more primitive or older than the speaker's, a place that used to be home to a civilization and culture that has passed away.
Quote #2
…Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies (2-4)
The statue is on its last legs; it has no torso, and the surrounding desert is doing its best to bury the "shatter'd" head. We are not told how the statue has come to be in this state, though we might infer that since it is located in an "antique land," perhaps it too has succumbed to the erosive force of time, like a lot of antiquities. This ancient object, too, is about to vanish; one can't help thinking that the legs will eventually suffer the same fate as the "shatter'd visage."
Quote #3
Nothing beside remains; round the decay
of that colossal wreck (12-13)
Not only is most of the statue gone, but there isn't anything else around. The temples, palaces and whatever else might have adorned this landscape have all disappeared, leaving "nothing" but two legs and a head. "Decay" is an important word here; it implies that the statue has been slowly rotting or crumbling over a long period of time, and that it will eventually be completely destroyed or buried. It also suggests that the statue was once living, perhaps implying something about the status of art and its eventual fate.

Ozymandias Pride Quotes Page 1

How we cite the quotes:
(line numbers)
Quote #1
...whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command (4-5)
We know that later in the poem Ozymandias will brag about the greatness of his works, but here he seems less than satisfied with something, as if he thinks his works could be better. We can imagine the sculptor hammering away at the statue and Ozymandias giving him a dirty look because something about it just isn't right. Alternatively, perhaps Ozymandias was perpetually frowning because his empire just wasn't good enough, or big enough.
Quote #2
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair" (10)
There is a lot of arrogance in this statement, and it's almost as if he were saying that his name means "king of kings." He brags about his "works" (statues like the one described, pyramids, etc.) as well, telling the "Mighty" to "despair" because their works will never be as good or as his. Ironically, Ozymandias's works are nowhere to be seen – all that's left is a barren desert and this broken statue. His pride is made to look stupid because his "works" are all gone, except for this fragmented statue that, quite literally, is on its last legs.

Ozymandias Art and Culture Quotes Page 1

How we cite the quotes:
(line numbers)
Quote #1
Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand, half-sunk
A shatter'd visage lies (2-4)
These lines describe a very strange image; just imagine two legs in the middle of the desert, with a head partly submerged nearby. When we imagine a desert, we often imagine a really hot place with lots of sand that is, appropriately, deserted. The "culture" that has produced the "art" has disappeared or, better yet, has sunk beneath the sand, just like the statue's head. The partially-shrunken head is a symbol of a vanishing, "antique" culture. And yet part of the statue is still "standing." It's hard to account for this, but it could be because its "colossal" dimensions make it hard to destroy, or because art somehow finds a way to persist.
Quote #2
...whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed (4-7)
These lines suggest that good art has the ability to embody and preserve passions over several thousand years; the statue is like a piece of fossilized amber, but instead of a prehistoric fly, what remains are Ozymandias's passions, kept neatly encased for later viewers. The preservation of the passions contrasts with the dilapidated state of the statue. Even though the statue is dead, it still possesses a strange life-preserving power; this is a bizarre state of affairs indeed. It suggests that art is not useless decoration, but can in fact play an important documentary role.

Ozymandias Man and the Natural World Quotes Page 1

How we cite the quotes:
(line numbers)
Quote #1
Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies (2-4)
These lines give us several images of nature: the "stone," the "desert," and the "sand." The "stone" reminds us that the statue is a product of nature in some sense; the way in which the legs are standing in the sand suggests something similar, as if they were just emerging from the sand or nature were giving birth to them. "Half-sunk" calls to mind images of the sea: it's as if the head is being reclaimed by an unforgiving ocean of sand. The materials used to make the statue are slowly returning to the place from where they came, completing a kind of natural cycle of life and death.
Quote #2
those passions...
which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things (6-7)
"Lifeless" is an incredibly rich word in this passage. That the pieces of the statue are now "lifeless" suggests that they were in fact once alive. Perhaps a work of art is alive when it's complete or, rather, not in fragments like the statue of Ozymandias. Or perhaps it has something to do with the role or function of the work of art in a particular culture. Because the surrounding temples and civilization have been destroyed, the statue no longer functions as a tribute to, or symbol of, Ozymandias's political power; it is "dead" because it is now an artistic curiosity, an object for museum-goers to look at and poets to write about rather than a statue with a specific function within a particular culture.
Quote #3
…lone and level sands stretch far away (14)
Nature has the final victory in this poem: the statue is almost gone, having suffered the same fate as the civilization that produced it. Ozymandias's empire once "stretch[ed] far away," but now it is nature – embodied by the "lone and level sands" – that extends its empire. Interestingly, the sands are "lone" even though there is a statue still there, as if the statue is so insignificant relative to nature that it is almost not worth mentioning.
Bring on the tough stuff - there’s not just one right answer.
  1. Where do you think the encounter between the speaker and the traveler takes place? Is it on the street? Is it in the speaker's head? What does this vagueness contribute to the poem?
  2. In this poem three different people speak (the speaker, the traveler, and Ozymandias). What do you make of this? Does it make the poem seem more like a novel or a play, where different voices are permitted to speak?
  3. There's a lot of alliteration in this poem. There's also plenty of rhyming. What do you make of all this repetition? Does it suggest some kind of cyclical, history-repeats-itself, idea?
  4. What do you think Ozymandias would say if he could see what has happened to his crumbling statue? Would he be humbled or would he find some other way to boast?
  5. Are there political leaders today that you consider to be similar to Ozymandias, or is he a different case because he had absolute power? Which leaders would you want to read this poem?
  6. Have you ever had a strange encounter with somebody from another country? Did it involve a tale about a destroyed statue or something similarly bizarre?

 

Taken from:

Contents

 

Ozymandias

In A Nutshell
Late in 1817 Percy Shelley and his friend Horace Smith decided to have a sonnet competition – that's right folks: a sonnet competition! For the subject of their sonnets, Shelley and Smith chose a partially-destroyed statue of Ramses II ("Ozymandias") that was making its way to London from Egypt, finally arriving there sometime early in the year 1818. In the 1790's Napoleon Bonaparte had tried to get his hands on the statue, but was unable to remove it from Egypt. That's partly because it weighs almost 7.5 tons. Shelley, like Napoleon, was fascinated by this giant statue. Here's a picture of it.

Shelley published his poem in January of 1818 in The Examiner, a periodical run by his other friend Leigh Hunt (pronounced "Lee"). Smith published his poem less than a month later, with a title almost as long as the poem itself: "On A Stupendous Leg of Granite, Discovered Standing by Itself in the Deserts of Egypt, with the Inscription Inserted Below." You can take a look at Smith's poem 
here.

While Shelley has a reputation for radical and experimental poetry, "Ozymandias" is a pretty "tame" poem compared to many of his other works; it is written in a well-known and widely-used form – a fourteen-line sonnet – and doesn't say anything too offensive like "We should all be atheists" (Shelley was expelled from 
Oxford for writing a pamphlet advocating just this).

Why Should I Care?

Why read this poem? As a sonnet, it has only fourteen lines, but in this limited space, Shelley explores a number of issues with enduring relevance. "Ozymandias" explores the question of what happens to tyrant kings, and to despotic world leaders more generally. As we all know, nothing lasts forever; that means even the very worst political leaders – no matter how much they boast – all die at some point. If Shelley were writing this poem now, he might take as his subject the famous statue of Saddam Hussein that was pulled down after the dictator was overthrown. Like the fallen statue in Baghdad, the broken-down statue of Ozymandias in Shelley's poem points to the short-lived nature of political regimes and tyrannical power. 

But, Shelley doesn't just come out and say "nothing lasts forever" and "there is always hope." He writes a sonnet with a really cool rhyme scheme. Just try reading the poem out loud, and you'll see what we mean.

Ozymandias: Text of 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 shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd 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.

Ozymandias Summary

The speaker describes a meeting with someone who has traveled to a place where ancient civilizations once existed. We know from the title that he’s talking about Egypt. The traveler told the speaker a story about an old, fragmented statue in the middle of the desert. The statue is broken apart, but you can still make out the face of a person. The face looks stern and powerful, like a ruler. The sculptor did a good job at expressing the ruler’s personality. The ruler was a wicked guy, but he took care of his people.

On the pedestal near the face, the traveler reads an inscription in which the ruler Ozymandias tells anyone who might happen to pass by, basically, “Look around and see how awesome I am!” But there is no other evidence of his awesomeness in the vicinity of his giant, broken statue. There is just a lot of sand, as far as the eye can see. The traveler ends his story.
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said...
  • The poem begins immediately with an encounter between the speaker and a traveler that comes from an "antique land."
  • We're not sure about this traveler. He could be a native of this "antique" land, or just a tourist returning from his latest trip.
  • We don't know where this encounter is taking place; is it on the highway? On a road somewhere? In London? Maybe if we keep reading we'll find out.
  • "Antique" means something really old, like that couch at your grandmother's or the bunny ears on top of your television. The traveler could be coming from a place that is ancient, almost as if he were time-traveling. Or he could just be coming from a place that has an older history, like Greece, Rome, or ancient Egypt.
…Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies…
  • Here the traveler begins his speech. He tells the speaker about a pair of stone legs that are somehow still standing in the middle of the desert.
  • Those legs are huge ("vast") and "trunkless." "Trunkless" means "without a torso," so it's a pair of legs with no body.
  • "Visage" means face; a face implies a head, so we are being told that the head belonging to this sculpture is partially buried in the sand, near the legs. It is also, like the whole statue, "shatter'd."
  • The image described is very strange: a pair of legs, with a head nearby. What happened to the rest of the statue? War? Natural disaster? Napoleon?
…whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
  • The traveler now gives a fuller description of the "shatter'd visage" lying in the sand.
  • As it turns out, the "visage" (or face) isn't completely "shatter'd" because one can still see a "frown," a "wrinkled lip," and a "sneer."
  • We still don't know whom this statue represents, but we do know that he was upset about something because he's frowning and sneering. Maybe he thinks that the sneering makes him look powerful. It conveys the "cold command" of an absolute ruler. He can do what he wants without thinking of other people. Heck, he probably commanded the sculptor to make the statue.
  • After briefly describing the "visage" (3), the lines shift our attention away from the statue to the guy who made the statue, the "sculptor."
  • "Read" here means "understood" or "copied" well. The sculptor was pretty good because he was able to understand and reproduce exactly – to "read" – the facial features and "passions" of our angry man. The sculptor might even grasp things about the ruler that the ruler himself doesn't understand.
  • The poem suggests that artists have the ability to perceive the true nature of other people in the present and not just in the past, with the benefit of hindsight.
  • "Tell" is a cool word. The statue doesn't literally speak, but the frown and sneer are so perfectly rendered that they give the impression that they are speaking, telling us how great the sculptor was.
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed
  • The poem now tells us more about the "passions" of the face depicted on the statue.
  • Weirdly, the "passions" still survive because they are "stamp'd on these lifeless things." The "lifeless things" are the fragments of the statue in the desert.
  • "Stamp'd" doesn't refer to an ink-stamp, but rather to the artistic process by which the sculptor inscribed the "frown" and "sneer" on his statue's face. The word could also make you think of the ruler's power. Had he wanted to, he could have stamped out any of his subjects who offended him.
  • "Mock'd" has two meanings in this passage. It means both "made fun of" and "copied," or "imitated." "Hand" is a stand-in for the sculptor. So the sculptor both belittled and copied this man's passions.
  • "The heart that fed" is a tricky phrase; it refers to the heart that "fed" or nourished the passions of the man that the statue represents. But if you think these lines are unclear, you're right. Even scholars have trouble figuring out what they mean.
  • The passions not only "survive"; they have also outlived both the sculptor ("the hand that mock'd") and the heart of the man depicted by the statue.
  • Note the contrast between life and death. The fragments of the statue are called "lifeless things," the sculptor is dead, and so is the statue's subject. The "passions" though, still "survive."
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
  • The traveler tells us about an inscription at the foot of statue which finally reveals to us whom this statue represents.
  • It is "Ozymandias," the figure named in the title. "Ozymandias" was one of several Greek names for Ramses II of Egypt. For more, see "What's Up with the Title."
  • The inscription suggests that Ozymandias is arrogant, or at least that he has grand ideas about his own power: he calls himself the "king of kings."
  • Ozymandias also brags about his "works." Maybe he's referring to the famous temples he constructed at Abu Simbel or Thebes. He could also be calling attention to the numerous colossal statues of him, such as the one described in this poem.
  • Ozymandias's speech is ambiguous here. On the one hand he tells the "mighty" to "despair" because their achievements will never equal his "works." On the other hand, he might be telling the "mighty" to "despair" as a kind of warning, saying something like "Don't get your hopes up guys because your statues, works, political regimes, etc. will eventually be destroyed or fade away, with nothing to recall them but a dilapidated statue half-buried in the sand."
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
  • After the traveler recites the inscription, he resumes his description of the statue and the surrounding area.
  • We are reminded again that "nothing" remains besides the head, legs, and pedestal; as if we didn't know the statue has been destroyed, the traveler tells us again that it is a "colossal wreck."
  • The very size of the statue – "colossal" – emphasizes the scope of Ozymandias's ambitions as well; it's almost as if because he thinks he's the "king of kings" (10), he also has to build a really big statue.
  • To complement the "decay" of the statue, the traveler describes a desolate and barren desert that seems to go on forever: the "sands stretch far away."
  • The statue is the only thing in this barren, flat desert. There was probably once a temple or something nearby, but it's long gone. The "sands" are "lone," which means whatever else used to be "beside" the statue has been destroyed or buried.
  • Several words in these lines start with the same letter; for example "besides," "boundless," and "bare"; "remains" and "round"; "lone" and "level"; "sands" and "stretch." Using multiple words with the same initial letter is called alliteration. For more, see "Sound Check."

Ozymandias Analysis

Ozymandias Symbolism, Imagery & Wordplay

Symbol Analysis
Because the poem is inspired by a statue of Ramses II, we shouldn't be surprised to find so many references to this statue and to sculpting more generally. The "colossal" size of the statue is a symbol of Ramses's lofty self-promotion royal ambition. But statues and sculpture aren't all bad in this poem; they are also a vehicle for the poet to explore questions about the longevity of art, and its ability to capture "passions" (6) in a "lifeless" (7) medium like stones (or painting or even poetry).
·         Line 2: The traveler describes two "legs of stone" with no torso, our first indication that the statue is partly destroyed.
·         Line 4: The head of the statue is "shatter'd" and partially buried in the sand. "Visage" is a stand-in for the statue's head. (The use of one part of any object or entity to describe the whole is called synecdoche.)
·         Line 6-7: The sculptor was pretty good at representing Ramses's "passions" in the statue, which are "stamp'd" or engraved in stone. Even though the stones are "lifeless," they paradoxically give life to the "passions" that still "survive." There are three words in these two lines that start with "s"; the use of multiple words starting with the same letter is called alliteration.
·         Line 8: The "hand that mock'd" is another reference to the sculptor and the work of imitation he performs. "Hand" is another example of synecdoche, in which a part (the hand) stands in for the whole (the sculptor).
·         Line 9: Describes the base of the statue and the boast engraved on it.
·         Line 11: The inscription refers to "works," which might be a reference to other statues, works of art, or monuments commissioned by Ozymandias. This line is ambiguous; Ozymandias could be telling the mighty to despair because their works will never be as good as his or he could be telling them to despair because their works will all eventually crumble just like his. Ozymandias clearly doesn't intend this second meaning, but it's there whether he wants it or not. That's called dramatic irony.
·         Line 13: The poem again reminds us that there is a huge statue in the desert that is now a "colossal wreck."
Symbol Analysis
The statue that inspired the poem was partially destroyed, and the poem frequently reminds us that the statue is in ruins. The dilapidated state of the statue symbolizes not only the erosive processes of time, but also the transience of political leaders and regimes.
  • Line 2: The "legs" of the statue don't have a torso ("trunkless").
  • Line 4: The statue's head is "shatter'd" and partly buried in the sand.
  • Line 11: The inscription implores the viewer to "look on" Ozymandias's "works." One of those "works" is the statue described in the poem, and it's only a pair of legs and a "shatter'd" head.
  • Line 12-13: The statue is described as in a state of "decay" and as a "colossal wreck."
  • Line 13-14: We're assuming this statue wasn't always in the middle of nowhere – there must have been some kind of temple or pyramid nearby. Not anymore; the area around the statue is "bare" and the desert is "lone," or empty. The traveler calls our attention to the barrenness of the desert through the extensive use of alliteration (beginning multiple words with the same letter): "boundless and bare," "lone and level," "sands stretch."
Symbol Analysis
There is a lot of death in this poem; the figure represented in the statue is dead, along with the civilization to which he belonged. The statue is destroyed, and so it too is, in some sense, dead. And yet amidst all the death, there are several images of life that give the poem a sense of balance, however slight.
  • Lines 1-2: Most of the poem describes a statue, but these first two lines describe an encounter between two living people, the speaker and a "traveler from an antique land."
  • Line 6-7: The description of the "sculptor" making a statue introduces another living figure into the poem, as does the reference to the "passions" of Ozymandias. Furthermore, even though the sculpture is "lifeless," the passions still "survive."
Symbol Analysis
While most of the poem describes a statue, the traveler makes a point of telling us that Ozymandias's "passions" still survive: they are "stamp'd" on the statue, giving all those who view the statue a sense of what Ozymandias's disposition was like, or at least what it was like when the statue was made.
  • Lines 4-5: The poem describes the features on the face of the statue and, by extension, the features of Ozymandias. He must have been angry about something because his face has a "sneer," a "frown," and a "wrinkled lip."
  • Line 6: We are told that the sculptor "well those passions read," that he was somehow able to capture them fairly well in his statue.
  • Line 8: The "heart" is the organ most often linked to feelings and passions; it "fed" the passions depicted in the statue. Because the heart didn't literally "feed" the passions, "fed" here is a metaphor.

Ozymandias: Rhyme, Form & Meter

We’ll show you the poem’s blueprints, and we’ll listen for the music behind the words.

Sonnet in Pentameter

"Ozymandias" takes the form of a sonnet in iambic pentameter. A sonnet is a fourteen-line poem, whose ideal form is often attributed to the great Italian poet Petrarch. The Petrarchan sonnet is structured as an octave (8 lines) and a sestet (6 lines). The octave often proposes a problem or concern that the sestet resolves or otherwise engages. The ninth line – the first line of the sestet – marks a shift in the direction of the poem and is frequently called the "turn" or, for you Italian scholars, the volta. While the rhyme scheme of the octave is ABBA ABBA, the rhyme scheme of the sestet is more flexible; two of the most common are CDCDCD and CDECDE.

The other major sonnet form is the Shakespearean or English sonnet; it too has fourteen lines, but is structured as a series of three quatrains (of four lines each) and a concluding couplet (consisting of two consecutive rhyming lines). The Shakespearean sonnet is in iambic pentameter and follows the rhyme scheme ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. 

Shelley's sonnet is a strange mixture of these two forms. It is Petrarchan in that the poem is structured as a group of eight lines (octave) and a group of six lines (the sestet). The rhyme scheme is initially Shakespearean, as the first four lines rhyme ABAB. But then the poem gets strange: at lines 5-8 the rhyme scheme is ACDC, rather than the expected CDCD. For lines 9-12, the rhyme scheme is EDEF, rather than EFEF. Finally, instead of a concluding couplet we get another EF group. The entire rhyme scheme can be schematized as follows: ABABACDCEDEFEF.

The poem is written in pentameter, meaning there are five (penta-) groups of two syllables in each line. While you've probably heard of iambic pentameter, Shelley's poem makes it really hard to use that designation. Iambic pentameter means that each line contains five feet or groups, each of which contains an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable, as in this line: 

half-sunk, a shatt-er'd vis-age lies, whose b>frown (4)

Many of the lines in the poem, however, refuse to conform to this pattern. Take line 12 for example:

No-thing be-side re-mains: round the de-cay

The line begins with a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable; this is called a trochee, and it's the reverse of an iamb. After the initial trochee, we get two iambs, but then we go back to a trochee with "round the," finally ending with an iamb; there's no name for this jumping around! This refusal to conform to any specific meter is evident throughout the poem, and makes it difficult to classify with a simple formula like iambic pentameter.

Speaker Point of View

Who is the speaker, can she or he read minds, and, more importantly, can we trust her or him?
There are several different voices in this poem that put some distance between us and Ozymandias. First there is the speaker of the poem, you know the guy who meets the traveler from an "antique land." It's almost as if the speaker has just stopped for the night at a hotel, or stepped into an unfamiliar bar, and happens to bump into a well-traveled guy. The speaker doesn't hang around very long before handing the microphone over to the traveler, whose voice occupies the remainder of the poem. One can imagine a movie based on this storyline: the speaker meets a strange guy who then narrates his experiences, which make up the rest of the film.

We don't know a whole lot about this traveler; he could be a native of the "antique land" (1), a tourist who has visited it, or even a guy who just stepped out of a time machine. He seems like one of those guys you'd meet in a youth hostel who has all kinds of cool stories but no real place to call home other than the road; he is a "traveler" after all, and he clearly knows how to give a really dramatic description – just note the bleak picture that is painted of the "lone and level sands" stretching "far away" (14) to see what we mean.

Most of the poem consists of the traveler's description of the statue lying in the desert, except for the two lines in the middle where he tells us what the inscription on the statue says; and while the traveler speaks these lines, they really belong to Ozymandias, making him, in a sense, the third speaker in this polyphonic (or many-voiced) poem.

Ozymandias Setting

Where It All Goes Down
This poem has several settings. It begins with a strange encounter between the speaker and a traveler from an "antique land" (1). We have no idea where this rendezvous takes place, which is very weird. It could be in the speaker's head, in a dream, on the street, or in the desert; it sort of resembles something that might occur in a youth hostel or a tavern in London. The first appearance of Aragorn in theFellowship of the Ring might be a good comparison.

Shortly after this initial meeting we are whisked away to the sands of Egypt, or a barren desert that closely resembles it. And this desert isn't just barren; it's really barren. Other than the legs, pedestal, and head of the statue, there's only sand. No trace remains of the civilization or culture that spawned the statue. It's a lot like something you'd see inPlanet Earth: emptiness all around, a few sand-storms here, and that's about it. It reminds us of movies where people are stranded in the desert and eventually find a little oasis or the occasional tree, except that here we find a partially destroyed statue instead of a little pond.

Sound Check

Read this poem aloud. What do you hear?
"Ozymandias" sounds a lot like the conclusion of a Shakespearean tragedy; the final lines of the poem are especially reminiscent of something you might hear as the curtain is about to fall at the end of the play, or as the credits are about to roll at the end of a sad movie. The way in which the poem emphasizes destruction and barrenness makes it read like something you'd hear at Ozymandias's funeral. The last lines in particular call attention to the poem's themes in a really catchy way (note all those memorable, alliterative phrases!), making the poem seem very much like those last words you hear as you're about to leave the theater

What’s Up With the Title?

"Ozymandias" is an ancient Greek name for Ramses II of Egypt. It is actually a Greek version of the Egyptian phrase "User-maat-Re," one of Ramses's Egyptian names. Why not just call the poem "User-maat-Re," you might ask? Well, this is Shelley, who had studied ancient Greek; it is therefore no surprise that he chooses to use the Greek name "Ozymandias," rather than the Egyptian name.

Ramses II was one of Egypt's greatest pharaohs, and many of the most famous tourist sites in Egypt, including the temple of Abu Simbel and the Ramesseum in Thebes, were built or planned during his incredibly long tenure (he lived until he was 90!). He is known not only for his building program, but also for several ambitious foreign military campaigns and for his diplomacy, especially with the Hittites, another important ancient people.

Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Calling Card

What is the poet’s signature style?

Long, Complicated Sentences

Shelley loved to write really long sentences, and this poem is no exception. The second complete sentence, which begins in line 3, is a good example. The sentence has a lot of separate clauses that resemble complicated Latin sentences from two thousand years ago. The main clause is the statement that a "shatter'd visage" lies in the sand near the legs; the rest of the sentence – you know all that stuff about the "frown" and "sneer of cold command" and how the sculptor was so good that the passions have outlived both Ramses and the artist – is all extraneous information that merely adds to or supplements the first assertion. This long, central sentence gives the poem an epic feel, even within the confines of a decidedly un-epic poetic form, the fourteen-line sonnet. Shelley always had grand ambitions.

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(2) Sea Level

"Ozymandias" is a relatively straightforward poem; there aren't many strange words, except for "mock'd." At times the syntax can be a little tricky; for example, the first eight lines are two sentences, the second of which has a lot of clauses that have to be sifted through and assigned their proper function. Other than that second sentence, though, the poem doesn't go much above sea level, making it one of the more readable Shelley poems.

Ozymandias Trivia

Brain Snacks: Tasty Tidbits of Knowledge
Napoleon tried to steal the statue that inspired "Ozymandias" and left a hole in its right side. (Source)
Shelley was part of a larger group of friends that frequently engaged in sonnet-writing contests. The members included Leigh Hunt and John Keats. (Source)
Shelley used the pseudonym (fake name) "Gilrastes" when he published "Ozymandias" in the Examiner. (Source)
Shelley's body is buried in Rome but his heart is buried in England. (Source)
The graphic novel and movie Watchmen features a superhero named Ozymandias.

Ozymandias Steaminess Rating

Exactly how steamy is this poem?

G

This poem doesn't really have much to do with sex.
When poets refer to other great works, people, and events, it’s usually not accidental. Put on your super-sleuth hat and figure out why.
  • Diodorus Siculus, Historical Library Book 1, Chapter 4 (Lines 10-11)

Ozymandias Themes

"Ozymandias" is obsessed with transience; the very fact that the statue is a "colossal wreck" (13) says loudly and clearly that some things just don't last forever. But the poem isn't just about how really big statues eventually succumb to the ravages of time; the statue is a symbol of Ozymandias's ambition, pride, and absolute power, and thus the poem also implies that kingdoms and political regimes will eventually crumble, leaving no trace of their existence except, perhaps, pathetic statues that no longer even have torsos.
Questions About Transience
1.    Do all political regimes necessarily pass away? Are there some that just won't go away?
2.    How does the poem view the permanence of art? Do artistic "works" necessarily "decay" like the statue of Ozymandias?
3.    Is the poem's view of transience and impermanence hopeful or despairing?
4.    Are there any signs that the poem laments the destruction of the statue and the loss of the civilization that produced it?
Chew on This
Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.
Even though the poem is obsessed with transience and impermanence, it also suggests that a work of art, however fragmentary, leaves a record of what has passed away.
In the inscription on the pedestal Ozymandias calls himself the "king of kings" while also implying that his "works" – works of art like the statue, pyramids, that sort of thing – are the best around (10). Ozymandias thinks pretty highly of himself and of what he's achieved, both politically and artistically. The fact that he commissions this "colossal" statue with "vast legs" points to his sense of pride, while the statue's fragmentary state indicates the emptiness (at least in the long term) of Ozymandias's boast.
1.    The statue in the poem sounds like a really cool work of art; isn't it to be expected that Ozymandias would take pride in such an artistic wonder?
2.    Is there any indication that the sculptor takes pride in his work?
3.    If Ozymandias was pharaoh during a particularly prosperous period of Egyptian history, is it at all possible that he really was the "king of kings"(10)? Could he have been better than any other king around?
4.    Does the poem suggest that pride in itself is bad? Or is it just bad when indulged in by a tyrant like Ozymandias?
Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.
Ozymandias's proud statement that he is the "king of kings" aligns him with a number of power-hungry villains, like the Biblical Satan, or even Sauron from Lord of the Rings.
"Ozymandias" was inspired by a statue, and it's no surprise that art is one of this poem's themes. The traveler makes a point of telling us that the statue was made by a really skilled sculptor, and the poem as a whole explores the question of art's longevity. The statue is in part a stand-in or substitute for all kinds of art (painting, poetry, etc.), and the poem asks us to think not just about sculpture, but about the fate of other arts as well.
1.    If even a durable statue like the one described in the poem eventually crumbles, what happens to other kinds of art that use flimsier materials – like poetry and painting?
2.    The traveler refers to the destroyed statue as a heap of "lifeless things" (7). Is the statue "lifeless" because it's in pieces, because it is "trunkless" and headless and is thus no longer a complete body? Or is it "lifeless" because it's made of something inorganic (stone)?
3.    The sculptor is said to have accurately rendered the passions of Ozymandias's face. Is the only way to judge a work of art by how "real" it looks, by how much it resembles that which it represents?
4.    What kind of connection exists between a work of art and the civilization or culture that produced it? Can art tell us anything about the culture that produced it?
Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.
The sculptor is similar to the reader of the poem because both engage in the processes of reading and interpretation.
"Ozymandias" describes a statue, and statues are made from rocks and stones found in nature. While the poem explores the way in which art necessarily involves some kind of engagement with the natural world, it also thinks about how nature might fight back. The statue's head is half-buried in the sand, after all, and we are left wondering what role the erosive force of dust storms, wind, and rain played in its destruction.
1.    Does all art necessarily use materials from nature, like rocks, stones, and paper?
2.    Besides getting its raw materials (paper, rocks, stones) from nature, in what other ways does art interact with the natural world?
3.    Do you feel that nature is punishing Ozymandias for his pride by destroying his statue? Why or why not?
Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.
"Ozymandias" suggests that the relationship between art and nature is a double-edged sword: while the natural world furnishes the artist with raw materials, it also has the power to reclaim those materials by later destroying the work of art.

Ozymandias Quotes

Find quotes from this poem, with commentary from Shmoop. Pick a theme below to begin.

Ozymandias Transience Quotes Page 1

How we cite the quotes:
(line numbers)
Quote #1
I met a traveler from an antique land (1)
The very fact that the "land" is "antique" suggests that it is outdated, kind of like dial-up internet. The speaker implies that the traveler is coming from a place that is more primitive or older than the speaker's, a place that used to be home to a civilization and culture that has passed away.
Quote #2
…Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies (2-4)
The statue is on its last legs; it has no torso, and the surrounding desert is doing its best to bury the "shatter'd" head. We are not told how the statue has come to be in this state, though we might infer that since it is located in an "antique land," perhaps it too has succumbed to the erosive force of time, like a lot of antiquities. This ancient object, too, is about to vanish; one can't help thinking that the legs will eventually suffer the same fate as the "shatter'd visage."
Quote #3
Nothing beside remains; round the decay
of that colossal wreck (12-13)
Not only is most of the statue gone, but there isn't anything else around. The temples, palaces and whatever else might have adorned this landscape have all disappeared, leaving "nothing" but two legs and a head. "Decay" is an important word here; it implies that the statue has been slowly rotting or crumbling over a long period of time, and that it will eventually be completely destroyed or buried. It also suggests that the statue was once living, perhaps implying something about the status of art and its eventual fate.

Ozymandias Pride Quotes Page 1

How we cite the quotes:
(line numbers)
Quote #1
...whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command (4-5)
We know that later in the poem Ozymandias will brag about the greatness of his works, but here he seems less than satisfied with something, as if he thinks his works could be better. We can imagine the sculptor hammering away at the statue and Ozymandias giving him a dirty look because something about it just isn't right. Alternatively, perhaps Ozymandias was perpetually frowning because his empire just wasn't good enough, or big enough.
Quote #2
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair" (10)
There is a lot of arrogance in this statement, and it's almost as if he were saying that his name means "king of kings." He brags about his "works" (statues like the one described, pyramids, etc.) as well, telling the "Mighty" to "despair" because their works will never be as good or as his. Ironically, Ozymandias's works are nowhere to be seen – all that's left is a barren desert and this broken statue. His pride is made to look stupid because his "works" are all gone, except for this fragmented statue that, quite literally, is on its last legs.

Ozymandias Art and Culture Quotes Page 1

How we cite the quotes:
(line numbers)
Quote #1
Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand, half-sunk
A shatter'd visage lies (2-4)
These lines describe a very strange image; just imagine two legs in the middle of the desert, with a head partly submerged nearby. When we imagine a desert, we often imagine a really hot place with lots of sand that is, appropriately, deserted. The "culture" that has produced the "art" has disappeared or, better yet, has sunk beneath the sand, just like the statue's head. The partially-shrunken head is a symbol of a vanishing, "antique" culture. And yet part of the statue is still "standing." It's hard to account for this, but it could be because its "colossal" dimensions make it hard to destroy, or because art somehow finds a way to persist.
Quote #2
...whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed (4-7)
These lines suggest that good art has the ability to embody and preserve passions over several thousand years; the statue is like a piece of fossilized amber, but instead of a prehistoric fly, what remains are Ozymandias's passions, kept neatly encased for later viewers. The preservation of the passions contrasts with the dilapidated state of the statue. Even though the statue is dead, it still possesses a strange life-preserving power; this is a bizarre state of affairs indeed. It suggests that art is not useless decoration, but can in fact play an important documentary role.

Ozymandias Man and the Natural World Quotes Page 1

How we cite the quotes:
(line numbers)
Quote #1
Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies (2-4)
These lines give us several images of nature: the "stone," the "desert," and the "sand." The "stone" reminds us that the statue is a product of nature in some sense; the way in which the legs are standing in the sand suggests something similar, as if they were just emerging from the sand or nature were giving birth to them. "Half-sunk" calls to mind images of the sea: it's as if the head is being reclaimed by an unforgiving ocean of sand. The materials used to make the statue are slowly returning to the place from where they came, completing a kind of natural cycle of life and death.
Quote #2
those passions...
which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things (6-7)
"Lifeless" is an incredibly rich word in this passage. That the pieces of the statue are now "lifeless" suggests that they were in fact once alive. Perhaps a work of art is alive when it's complete or, rather, not in fragments like the statue of Ozymandias. Or perhaps it has something to do with the role or function of the work of art in a particular culture. Because the surrounding temples and civilization have been destroyed, the statue no longer functions as a tribute to, or symbol of, Ozymandias's political power; it is "dead" because it is now an artistic curiosity, an object for museum-goers to look at and poets to write about rather than a statue with a specific function within a particular culture.
Quote #3
…lone and level sands stretch far away (14)
Nature has the final victory in this poem: the statue is almost gone, having suffered the same fate as the civilization that produced it. Ozymandias's empire once "stretch[ed] far away," but now it is nature – embodied by the "lone and level sands" – that extends its empire. Interestingly, the sands are "lone" even though there is a statue still there, as if the statue is so insignificant relative to nature that it is almost not worth mentioning.
Bring on the tough stuff - there’s not just one right answer.
  1. Where do you think the encounter between the speaker and the traveler takes place? Is it on the street? Is it in the speaker's head? What does this vagueness contribute to the poem?
  2. In this poem three different people speak (the speaker, the traveler, and Ozymandias). What do you make of this? Does it make the poem seem more like a novel or a play, where different voices are permitted to speak?
  3. There's a lot of alliteration in this poem. There's also plenty of rhyming. What do you make of all this repetition? Does it suggest some kind of cyclical, history-repeats-itself, idea?
  4. What do you think Ozymandias would say if he could see what has happened to his crumbling statue? Would he be humbled or would he find some other way to boast?
  5. Are there political leaders today that you consider to be similar to Ozymandias, or is he a different case because he had absolute power? Which leaders would you want to read this poem?
  6. Have you ever had a strange encounter with somebody from another country? Did it involve a tale about a destroyed statue or something similarly bizarre?

 

Taken from:

Summary and Analysis"Ozymandias"


Shelley's irregular sonnet on the fragments of a huge statue of an Egyptian pharaoh begins with a statement that arouses the interest of the reader at once:
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert.
The mention of a traveler is a promise of a story. The story is a characteristically Shelleyan one about tyranny and how time makes a mockery of the boastfulness of even the most powerful kings. The story is over and Shelley's point is made before the reader realizes that he has been subjected to a moral lesson.
The fine beginning is followed by a condensed and vigorous account of what the traveler saw in addition to the two huge legs standing in the desert: a shattered visage, a pedestal, and on it a boastful inscription. Nothing more except the empty desert. Shelley puts the words of the inscription in effectively ironic contrast with the surroundings. The rulers of the world, "ye Mighty," are told by Ozymandias, "king of kings," to look upon his works and despair of emulating them. Now one looks and sees nothing whatsoever. Instead of the architectural marvels promised by the inscription, "the lone and level sands stretch far away." Just as the sculptor mocked Ozymandias by putting on the face of the colossal monument a "frown / And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command," so time has also mocked him by reducing his vain boast to nothingness. The works that were to be the despair of other pharaohs have completely disappeared. Even the gigantic statue of himself that he had commissioned has been reduced to two legs, a shattered face, and a pedestal.
"Ozymandias" was written by Shelley in competition with his friend Horace Smith. The superiority of Shelley's choice of details and of the vigor of his diction are splendidly illustrated by a comparison with the octave of his friend's sonnet:
In Egypt's sandy silence, all alone
Stands a gigantic leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the desert knows.
"I am Great Ozymandias," saith the stone,
"The king of kings; this mighty city shows
The wonders of my hand." The city's gone!
Nought but the leg remaining to disclose
The site of that forgotten Babylon.
Both poets remove the city of Thebes, the site of the statue, from their poems for artistic purposes.
Ozymandias was the name by which Ramses II, a pharaoh famous for the number of architectural structures he caused to be erected, was known to the Greeks. Shelley had read of the statue in Diodorus Siculus, a Roman writer, who had described it as intact. He had obviously read about it in some other source also since he knew that the statue was no longer intact. The problem of Shelley's sources is discussed in an interesting, illustrated article by Johnstone Parr, "Shelley's 'Ozymandias,'" Keats-Shelley Journal Vol. VI (1957).



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