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.”
Source: Shelley’s Poetry and Prose (1977)
Ozymandias exemplifies the conceit of human greatness and the failure of all efforts to immortalize his grandeur. Ozymandias was a great Egyptian king, a life like statue of whom was made to immortalize his memories. Now the Statue seen half-buried and broken, and all around it there is seen a stretch of barren desert.
The poet relates an experience of a traveler from Egypt. The traveler saw a statue in the desert with two huge and trunk less legs, near them lay, half buried, the broken face of the statue. On this face of the statue can still be seen the expression of haughtiness and a sense of authority which had artfully been depicted by the sculptor. On the pedestal, the following words were inscribed: “My name is Ozymandias and I am a great king. Look at great deeds which I have accomplished and which nobody can equal.”
This is a sonnet. It does not strictly follow the accepted conventions of the form of the sonnet. The rhyme scheme does not follow any of the recognized pattern and even some of the rhymes are faulty.
It is one of the best written by Shelley. It has earned high praise from critics and they considered it powerful, imaginative and instructive composition. Its moral goes home to our hearts powerfully. Human glory and pomp are mortal. Hammers of decay quickly follow the hammers of construction. Times goes havoc with buildings and monuments. However, the moral is not stated. The poet only presents a picture to human mind and we have ourselves to draw the moral. It is a didactic poem, but its moral is not thrust upon us directly Shelley said that didacticism was his abhorrence and he did not preach moral lessons.
The mood of the poem is melancholic because it makes us think over the vanity of human desires and their failures to keep their memories alive. The contrast between the past glory of the king and the present condition of the statue is very striking to the mind and emphasis the moral of the poem. The final lines of the poem are remarkable for the suggestiveness. The poem contains two striking scenes. One is the picture of the broken statue, a huge wreck, the face of which still wears a frown and the sneer of cold command, another is the scene of the lone, and level desert, boundless and bare, stretching far away.