“Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley Poem and Analysis

Ozymandias“Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley was originally published on January 11, 1818 in “The Examiner”. There are two poems which were published in 1818 with the same name–this one written by Shelley and another written by Horace Smith that was published a month later on February 1 in “The Examiner”.

Actually, Shelley and Smith were friends and spent the previous Christmas together. They were part of the same literary circle. The story is that John Keats and Leigh Hunt, who were also part of their group, chose to write about the Nile, while Shelley and Smith both wanted to write about Egypt. Thus, they went about finding something to base their poems upon and came across the same passage by Greek historian Diodorus Siculus which read: “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.”

As for the publications in “The Examiner”, Leigh Hunt’s brother John was the publisher. Nonetheless, the poem by Shelley is seen as far more superior and one of the poet’s best writings. Let’s take a quick look at a summary of Shelley’s Sonnet and then discuss it through a line-by-line analysis.

Summary

The speaker met a traveler from Ancient Egypt. He came across a statue that only had its legs still planted in the ground. The torso was missing but the head was still visible. The head had a frowning, scornful look. An inscription was found beneath it stating to look around the place and feel despair. However, nothing was around it except vast space.

Analysis

Title: Ozymandias – The regnal name of Ramesses II.
Style: Sonnet written in loose iambic-pentameter
Theme: Pretentiousness and the decline it causes
Tone: Ironic and Mocking
Rhyme scheme: ABABACDCEDEFEF

Line-by-line Analysis and Figurative Language

    • I met a traveller from an antique land, – Antique land refers to Egypt
    • Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone – Two big legs without a torso
    • Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand, / Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown, – Near the two legs is a head with a frown
    • And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, – The statue’s head has a scornful look.
    • Tell that its sculptor well those passions read – The facial expression shows how the sculptor felt
    • Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, – The text printed on the statue still survives
    • The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed; – The sculptor mocks himself by what he has sculpted because nothing has survived the passage of time.
    • And on the pedestal, these words appear: – Here are the words:

      My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; / Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! – The statue says to look at everything around it and feel despair.
      Nothing beside remains. Round the decay / Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare / The lone and level sands stretch far away.” – However, nothing was around the statue. It was alone.

Poem: “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley

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.”

Gary R. Hess

Gary was born and raised on a small farm in rural Kansas. Today, he is teaching various nationalities English in Southeast Asia. Get his newest poetry eBook here.