Ozymandias by Percy B. Shelley

Essay by Anonymous UserCollege, UndergraduateA+, December 1996

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Ozymandias (1818)

I met a traveler 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, 5

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; imitated

And on the pedestal these words appear:

'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: 10

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.

Humans throughout history have striven to overcome their mortality

by leaving something of themselves behind -- evidence of their existence.

The subject of Shelley's poem 'Ozymandias' is an ancient king who shared

this common desire, but not in a common way.

He not only wanted to leave

behind a record of himself for future generations, he wanted his memory

exalted above that of others, and even above the 'Mighty' who would live

after him. He did not want to give up at death the power he had wielded

in life.

The irony in this poem lies in the difference between what

Ozymandias intends -- to hold onto the glory of his works after time takes

its course with him -- and what actually happens. This great monument's

'frown, / And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command' and the inscription

on the pedestal are all meant to inspire fear in the viewer. However,

natural weathering and (possibly) destruction due to conquest have

dismembered this image of the king and rid him of the awe-inspiring

ability he once possessed.

Rhyme plays an elusive part...