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Themes in Ozymandias

Shelley explores two prominent themes in “Ozymandias”: The transitory nature of life, and the pretensions of fame and fortune. The ancient statue has decayed and the inscription only serves as a warning that the pursuit of power and glory for their own sakes is not only transient, but it is also an illusory, unworthy ambition even within the seeker’s lifetime.

Themes Examples in Ozymandias:


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"Of that colossal wreck..."   (Ozymandias)

The statue, once a symbol of power and control, is now in the middle of a nameless expanse of desert, seen only by chance. The fact that the statue is in pieces emphasizes the hopelessness of striving for power and of believing that human power is permanent.

"Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!..."   (Ozymandias)

As a Romantic poet, Shelley emphasized the incredible power of nature and the frailty of humankind. The message he suggests is that the mighty ought to despair at how utterly forgotten Ozymandias has become. The desert and time have swallowed the vain pride of the ancient king, and the same fate awaits the powerful of today.

"stamped on these lifeless things..."   (Ozymandias)

A consistent theme of the Romantic poets is the mutability of human existence—in this case, the inevitable fall of the mighty into obscurity. Shelley, by juxtaposing the "sneer of cold command" with "these lifeless things," reminds his readers that even absolute power disappears into lifelessness and oblivion.

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