Ozymandias is written by Percy Bysshe Shelley whose literary career was marked with controversy due to his views on religion, atheism, socialism, and free love, is known as a talented lyrical poet and one of the major figures of English romanticism. Shelley was also generous in his support and encouragement of fellow poets; he was a key figure in the development of English romantic poetry.
He is also the husband of Mary Shelley, who is the author of Frankenstein. His most notable poems are Ozymandias, Ode to the West Wind, To a Skylark, Music, When Soft Voices Die, The Cloud and The Masque of Anarchy.
“Ozymandias” is one of the most famous poems of the Romantic era and it has eventually become Shelley’s most well-known work. Shelley’s this poem was published on January 11, 1818, in the weekly paper The Examiner. and the following year republished in 1819 in his collection Rosalind and Helen. Below is the complete text of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias.”
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.
Click here to read the stanza wise explanation
antique land – reference to Egyptian land
vast – huge, enormous
trunk – torso, the upper part of body (from abdomen to where the neck starts)
trunkless – without a torso
shattered visage – destroyed face
frown – a facial expression of indicating thought or displeasure or dislike (eyes brows brought together forming wrinkles on forehead)
wrinkles – lines or creases on face due to age or worry
sneer – a look or expression (smile, laugh etc.) of scorn or contempt to belittle sb/sth.
cold – unfriendly and without any emotions or feelings or care for others
cold command -arrogant, egoist command demanding obedient submission or face punishment
sneer cold command – an expression of haughtiness, scorn or contempt and snobbery while commanding that is dismissive and lacks care for the feelings of the subject. (It shows the autocratic, domineering and uncaring character of the ruler Ozymandias)
mock – make fun of by laughing in disrespectful and unkind way (especially by copying what others say)
pedestal – the base or support on which a statue is mounted
ye – you (old form English) or the
despair – lose or give up hopes
decay – decline or get destroyed with time
boundless – without limits or any end
bare – open area without plants and trees
stretch far way – expanding far and wide
The speaker in the poem begins by saying that he had met a traveller who had been to an antique land, which in this case is Egypt. The speaker narrates what the traveller had told him about the sights he had seen there. The traveller had seen the ruins of an old statue, now lying broken in the middle of the desert. The only surviving parts of the statue are two legs standing upright and a half-sunk visage. The face of the statue has a cold, arrogant expression and a sneer. It seemed as if the sculptor who had made the statue knew the emotions of his model very well, and had set them in stone to preserve them for eternity. Though neither the model nor the sculptor is alive anymore, the expression on the face of the statue is life-like. On the pedestal, a few lines are carved, as if they are spoken by the model of the statue. The lines proclaim that the statue is that of Ozymandias, who is the mightiest of all kings, and that people should fear him just by looking at his statue. All around, the desert is bare, with the sand stretching as far as the eye can see. Though the statue shows the man as being powerful and arrogant, it is ironic that the statue lies in the sand, broken and forgotten. The poem highlights the impermanence of power
Theme and Central Idea
The poem highlights the transience of human life, ephemeral nature of human power and fragility of human existence. The poem uses the historical ruler Ozymandias and explores the fate of history and the ravages of time: even the greatest men and the empires they forge are impermanent, their legacies fated to decay into oblivion. All power is temporary and is bound to crumble and brought low with the passage of time. Even the mightiest ruler, dynasties and regimes will bite dust and their works be buried in the level sand. Nothing can stand and withstand time forever.
The history proves the view of the poet. In antiquity, Ozymandias was a Greek name for the Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II. He reigned as pharaoh for 66 years (1279BC-1213 BC), and led the Egyptians to numerous military victories, built massive monuments and temples (Like the temple of Abu Simble), and colossal statues of his to glorify himself and his regime. Even Ramsses the Great was not spared by the scourge and ravages of time. He was gone and his empire got buried in the sand and the colossal statues broken and fallen on the sand.
The poet shows his pride temperament with the lines in the inscription on the pedestal of the broken statue – ‘My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; look on my works, ye Mighty and despair!’ these lines in the poem seems to be inspired by what the historian Diodorus had stated.
In his Bibliotheca Historica, Diodorus states that the following phrase was inscribed at the base of a statue of Ramesses II: “King of Kings Ozymandias am I. If any want to know how great I am and where I lie, let him outdo me in my work.”
Wind Chime Textbook Solutions
A. Answer these questions with reference to the context.
- Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert…
a. Who is the speaker here?
b. Who is being described here?
c. Why do you think the poet used ‘vast’ and ‘trunkless’ here?
- Near them, on the sand
Half sunk a shattered visage lies…
a. What has happened to the head and face of the statue?
b. How well has the face of the statue survived?
c. Why is this significant?
- ‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
a. How did Ozymandias want to go down in history?
b. Why does he want the viewer to despair?
c. Why should the viewer be actually in despair?
- a. The traveller from the antique land is the speaker here.
b. The statue of Ozymandias is being described.
c. Vast suggests that the statue was big and trunkless suggests that the statue did not have a head and a body.
- a. The head and face broke and fell off the statue.
b. The face has fallen off the statue but the expression on the face still remains intact.
c. It is significant because the sculptor had managed to depict the king’s expression very well in the statue.
- a. He wanted to go down as the greatest of all kings and he wanted people to remember him with awe and to marvel at his great works.
b. He wanted him to despair as he wanted him to remember that none was as great as Ozymandias.
c. The viewer should actually despair when he sees the pitiable condition of the statue of Ozymandias as it lies broken and destroyed in the sand.
B. Answer these questions.
- Whom did the traveller meet and where?
- Whose statue does the traveller talk about?
- How does the traveller describe the statue?
- What does the traveller say about the sculptor?
- What do we learn about Ozymandias from his statue?
- What do you think happened to the statue over time and why?
- Explain the line: And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read which yet survive…
- Does Ozymandias have the legacy he wanted? What is the lasting impression?
- Do you think an important message is conveyed through this poem? How?
- Why do you think the statue was made? What does it tell you about Ozymandias?
- The traveller met the poet in the present place the Poet was in.
- The traveller speaks about the statue of king Ozymandias.
- He says that the statue lies broken in the sand. It is a headless statue, and the trunk is missing too. The legs remain in the sand and the head lies next to it in the sand. The pedestal on which the legs rest are the words ‘My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
- He says that the sculptor understood the character of the king very well and managed to depict his expression perfectly in his statue.
- We learn that Ozymandias was an arrogant and proud king. He wanted to be feared and admired forever, even after his death.
- The statue could not stand the ravage of time and it was destroyed by the wind, rain and Sun.
- These lines mean that the sculptor managed to make a statue that clearly showed the expression of Ozymandias’s face. He captured the serious look of the king and the look could be seen on the face of the statue even after all the years of decay.
- No, he did not have the legacy he wanted. It was not the lasting impression as the statue could not survive the ravages of time.
- The message is that nothing lasts forever. No matter how great a person might think himself to be his greatness is bound to be forgotten with time. Ozymandias thought that his statue would make him immortal but it could not.
- The statue was made because Ozymandias wanted kings and commoners to marvel at him and his works and always be in awe of him. He wanted to be remembered forever. This shows that he was arrogant and ambitious.
A. How does the poet use personification in the poem?
B. Discuss the use of irony in the poem.
C. Find examples of alliteration from the poem.
A. Personification has been used in the lines ‘The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed’. The hand is that of the sculptor and it is said to copy the image of Ozymandias vividly. The heart of the sculptor understood the emotions of Ozymandias and managed to show them effectively in the statue he made.
B. Ozymandias calls himself the King of Kings. He says, ‘My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; Look on my
works, ye Mighty, and despair!’ The irony is in the fact that Ozymandias boasts of his glory and power but the statue of Ozymandias now lies broken and destroyed. It is forgotten and lost as it lies in the sand.
C. ‘besides,’ ‘boundless,’ and ‘bare’…
.’remains’ and ‘round’;
‘lone’ and ‘level’