Ozymandias

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 shatter’d visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp’d on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock’d 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.

Literary Analysis

The main theme or central idea of Ozymandias is to put into contrast an unavoidable decline of leaders and their empires which they make to perpetuate the memories of what they love. Their arrogance and pride knows no limits as they build colossal statues of themselves and inscribe pretentious claims about the pre-eminence of their kingdoms. While doing all this, they forget that they are ordinary mortals and one day they will return to dust. There are also secondary themes in this poem. These are transience, art and culture, the relationship between man and the natural world and pride.

There are different voices used in the poem. The two prominent voices are the speaker himself (who is also the narrator) and the second is the traveler who tells the story about the destruction of statutes of the old empire.

The poem opens up with several imageries such as “stone”, “desert”, “sand” and “half-sunk”. Here, the stone represents nature that has built the statue. The way the statue’s legs are standing in the sand reminds us that the statute is emerging from the sand; while being half-sunk reminds us of the image of sea.

The materials used to build the statute, are now slowly and gradually returning to the place from where they came. It shows the natural life cycle where death inevitably follows life. It is in a way a reminder of the human life cycle as well. The poem is a detailed account of a ruined statute, which is described through imagery and symbolism of political tyranny and pride. The title of the poem suggests a statue is built from stones and rocks in nature. It is an ancient Greek name for Ramses II, an autocrat king of Egypt.

Ozymandias is used as a metaphor for the transient nature of powerful political empires. It also symbolizes the hubris and pride of humanity in general, “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings.” The huge size of the statute is symbolic of the king’s pride and ego. Lifeless is used effectively as a symbol in the following lines “which yet survive, stamp’d on these lifeless things”. It suggests that the statue, no longer represents the power of Ozymandias; rather, it is now dead and functions no more as a symbolic figure of the king.

In the final lines, the theme of the natural world and man is described as “The lone and level sands stretch far away.” The word, “lone” shows that nature is the final victor; the statute is gone and suffered the same fate as the civilization which had produced it.

Structure Analysis

Ozymandias is written in sonnet form with iambic pentameter, consisting of a basic pattern of five groups with two syllables in each line:

Half-sunk, a shattered vis-age lies whose frown…”

However, some lines do not conform this pattern, and instead follow trochee, which is opposite to iamb such as:

No-thing be-side re-mains: round the de-cay

The refusal to keep to any specific meter can be seen throughout the poem, and makes the poem difficult to categorize in a simple meter such as iambic pentameter. The poem is arranged in a group of eight lines (octave) followed by six lines (sestet). This sonnet is an unusual mixture of two forms of sonnets, which are Petrarchan and Shakespearean sonnets.

Initially, the rhyme scheme is Shakespearean, as we see that the first four lines follow an ABAB pattern. However, the form changes in lines 5-7 that rhyme as ACDC, unlike the expected pattern CDCD. The rhyme scheme at lines 9-12 turns into EDEF form, which should have been EFEF. Finally, we get concluding couplet EF group. The overall rhyme scheme is ABABACDCEDEFEF.

The poem utilizes the poetic device called enjambment, which is an incomplete syntax at the conclusion of a line:

I met a traveller from an antique land/ Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Guidance for the Usage of the Quotes

Although, the entire poem does not deal with love only, its romantic environment has made it a favorite of loving couples to remind each other of the transitory nature of life. The passions and feelings of Ozymandias that still survived are expressed as “stamp’d” on the statue. Some lines convey the message of hope and power, such as:

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp’d on these lifeless things

and

And on the pedestal these words appear
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings

These can be used as quotes in real life as a sign of hope and encouragement for disheartened people, who have lost their hope in love or in any other emotional relationship.