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.

Footnotes

  1. Many of the rhymes Shelley employs in the poem are *slant rhymes*, which means that the paired words are not identical in their vowel sounds. Examples include "stone"/"frown", as well as "appear"/"despair." This flexibility allows for more options in diction, as well as a less formal tone.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. With somber irony, Shelley praises the clever sculptor who gave immortality not to Ozymandias's glory but to the king's presumptuous conceit by perfectly capturing the sneer to convey Ozymandias’s arrogance and condescension.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. Shelley's use of the phrase antique land reflects the Romantics' interest in the ancient and therefore exotic. Since the title of the poem represents the Greek spelling of the name of the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II, we know that Shelley is alluding to Egypt as the setting for the traveler’s tale.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. A sneer is a facial expression that conveys derision, contempt, or scorn, and the expression on the face implies that Ozymandias had enormous influence over but also little regard for his subjects. Additionally, the *repetition* of the harsh c-sound further emphasizes his harsh and domineering attitude and suggests the kind of environment in which he ruled.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. In this sonnet, Shelley forgoes the conventional rhyme scheme to employ a more eccentric pattern of ABAB, ACDC, ECE, FEF. This creates the immediate effect of a woven tapestry of sound and rhythm that helps to underscore the poem’s essential irony. As the reader’s expectations are unmet, the very syntax forced by the unusual rhyme of the poem creates tension that matches the theme.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. Another consistent theme of the Romantic poets is the mutability of human existence--in this case, the 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.

    — Stephen Holliday