Ozymandias Poem summary by Percy Bysshe Shelley

About Ozymandias

  • It was P. B. Shelley who wrote the sonnet Ozymandias
  • Actually, the Romantic poet composed this poem in the year 1817 as a part of a poetry contest with a friend. But, the sonnet was first published in 1818 in The Examiner of London under the poet’s pen name Glirastes 
  • As far as the title of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem Ozymandias is concerned; it refers to an alternate name of the ancient Egyptian pharoah Rames II.
  • Here, in this sonnet, the poet narrates a crumbling statue of Ozymandias as a way (I) to portray the transience of political power, as well as (II) to praise the ability of art to preserve the past
  • It is noteworthy that this poem is a sonnet but it is different from the typical sonnet tradition not only in its form but also in rhyme scheme; it is a tactic that reflects the interest of P. B. Shelley in challenging conventions – political as well as poetic
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.

Ozymandias Summary

Here, in Ozymandias, the speaker of the poem tells about a traveler whom he once met. The person or the traveler came from an ancient land and he tells the speaker about two huge legs of a statue. They lack a torso to connect them. They also stand upright in the desert.

Near the aforementioned large stone legs, the broken head of the statue is half-buried in the sand. The facial expression of this statue-a frown as well as a wrinkled lip-form a commanding, haughty sneer. In this way, it (the expression) indicates/denotes that the sculptor understood the man’s feelings about the statue is based on. And, now they (emotions) live on – carved on permanently an inanimate object or stone.

Moreover, the skilled hands of the sculptor, in making the face of the statue, mocked a perfect or unique recreation of those emotions as well as of the heart that fed them/feelings (and, in the process so perfectly/smartly conveyed the cruelty of the subject that the statue itself looks/appears to be mocking its subject).

The last six lines ( 9 – 14) of the poem Ozymandias provide the details of the words inscribed on the pedestal of the statue saying that ‘his (my) name is Ozymandias the king who rules or governs (even) over other kings/monarchs.

The words convey the message to behold what he (I) has built, all of those people (you) who consider themselves as mighty, as well as hopeless at the magnificence & superiority of his (my) accomplishments. There is found nothing else in the area. Surrounding the remains/remnants of the big/hug statue is an endless as well as infertile desert with empty as well as flat sanda stretching into the distance.

Ozymandias Theme(s)

Percy Bysshe Shelley incorporates many themes in his sonnet entitled Ozymandias. And, the impermanence of a ruler’s glory, as well as his legacy, is one of the most notable/important themes of this poem. It can be called an implicit hint at the idea of uselessness or futility. Irrespective of the fact that a person tries to rivet his name, people will forget him at some point. And, Ozymandias is a fine example.

He not only tried to become greater/mightier than God but declared himself the ” King of Kings” as well. History is evident that all ambitious rulers declared themselves (more or less) with similar titles. Such a ruler, in his pursuit of greatness, forgot his very nature that every living thing must die. Apart from the above, Shelley introduces the themes of (I) Vainglory (II) Power of art, as well as (III) The Decline of power, among others in his poem Ozymandias.

Ozymandias Form and Structure

Structurally every sonnet comprises fourteen lines (composed in iambic pentameter). Though there is a slight variation in the rhyme scheme of the poem Ozymandias (ABABACDC EDEFEF) from the traditional sonnet form, it is regarded as a Petrarchan sonnet.

Here, it is noteworthy that the Petrarchan sonnet is divided into two parts – an octave with a rhyme scheme of ABBAABBA and a setset (last six lines of the Petrarchan sonnet) that does not follow an assigned rhyme scheme. In fact, the setset generally rhymes in every other line or provides three various rhymes.

u003cstrongu003eWho was Ozymandias?u003c/strongu003e

u003cstrongu003eIn Greek historical sources, it is Ramses the Great or Ramses II, the third Pharoah of the Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt who is known as Ozymandias. He is considered the most powerful, most celebrated, as well as the greatest Pharoah of Ancient Egypt.u003c/strongu003e

u003cstrongu003eWhat is the main message of P. B. Shelley’s poem u003cemu003eOzymandias u003c/emu003e?u003c/strongu003e

u003cstrongu003eThe message of the sonnet u003cemu003eOzymandias u003c/emu003eis that u003cemu003eall power is temporary; it does not matter how arrogant/prideful a ruler isu003c/emu003e.u003c/strongu003e