is a sonnet, a poem with fourteen lines. (For additional information on
the sonnet form, click here.) Shelley
completed the poem in 1817 and published it in England's The Examiner
has two settings. The first is the place where the narrator meets the traveler
(line 1); the second is the setting in the traveler's tale about a crumbling
statue of an Egyptian king (pharaoh). The statue is at the site of the
ancient Egyptian capital, Thebes (about 420 miles south of Cairo). On the
eastern side of the river was the city proper. On the western side was
a vast cemetery, or city of the dead, where statues, temples, and tombs
memorialized the pharaohs. Living at the site were priests who conducted
religious services and artisans and laborers who designed, built, and maintained
The poet, Shelley. He assumes the role of auditor to the tale of the traveler
(line 1) and tells the reader what the traveler said.
A person from an ancient land who tells his tale to the narrator.
Egyptian Pharaoh who is the subject of the traveler's tale. Ozymandias
(also spelled Osymandias) is another name for one of Egypt's most
famous rulers, Ramses II (or Ramses the Great). He was born in 1314 BC
and ruled Egypt for 66 years as the third king of the Nineteenth Dynasty.
His exact age at death is uncertain, but it was between 90 and 99. Ramses
was a warrior king and a builder of temples, statues and other monuments.
He was pharaoh at the time Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, as recounted
in the second book of the Bible, Exodus (derived from the Greek
word for departure). In Cecil B. de Mille's melodramatic film The
Ten Commandments, the late Yul Brynner portrays Ramses, and Charlton
Heston plays Moses.
The craftsman who sculpted the statue of Ramses.
poem is in iambic pentameter, in which
each line has five pairs of syllables. These pairs are called feet. The
first syllable of each pair is unstressed; the second is stressed. The
first two lines of the poem demonstrate the metric pattern of the poem.
rhyme scheme is as follows: ababa cdcedefef. (See the color-coded
rhyming words in the text below.)
statue of Ozymandias (Ramses II)a crumbling relic in Shelley's poemwas
originally fifty-seven feet high. An inscription on it told onlookers,
"I am Ozymandias, king of kings," and challenged them to perform greater
works than he did, according to Diodorus Siculus, a Greek historian of
the First Century BC.
might and majesty of a king do not last; only great art endures. The
statue, symbolizing the power and glory of the pharaoh, is crumbling. Yet
the arrogant sneer on the "shattered visage" remains intact as a testament
to the ability of the sculptor to read and capture the passions of his
ruler. Thus, it is the pharaoh's lowly servant, the sculptor, who delivers
the more powerful message here. The king's message"look
on my works, ye Mighty, and despair"is an
ironic indictment of his pride.
Shelley's themevalid as a general statementdoes
not ultimately apply to Ozymandias, or Ramses II. For Ramses remains today
perhaps the most famous of Egyptian pharaohs. After thousands of years,
he continues to intrigue historians, archeologists, and other scholars.
addition, many of the monuments erected during his rule still stand.
Message to Britain
ridicule of the powerful Egyptian ruler and the pharaoh's arrogant boast
on the pedestal was a veiled condemnation of the English government under
King George III. Shelley abhorred oppressive monarchical government and
favored revolution to overthrow it. He was inspired, in part, by the ideas
of Thomas Paine, author of two documents that promoted the American Revolution:
"Common Sense" and "Crisis."
"Ozymandias," Shelley's focus on decay as the ultimate destiny of authoritarian
rule was an oblique warning that Britain could expect the same if it did
not change its ways.
. . . read: The sculptor skillfully interpreted the king's feelings.
The Pharaoh's passions (as indicated by the sneer and the frown) survive
in the sculpted image.
. . . them: Hand of the sculptor, who mocked the Pharaoh's passions by
chiseling them into the stone.
. . fed. The pharaoh's feelings (heart) fed the sculptor's creativity.
See Characters, Ozymandias.
. . . despair: The pharaoh says his works are so magnificent that any attempts
to equal or surpass their excellence will end only in despair.
else remains at the site of sculpture. The pharaoh's boasts are now as
empty as the empty and boundless desert surrounding the decaying statue..
are examples of literary devices Shelley uses in the poem.
Alliteration Repetition of a Vowel Sound
vast and trunkless
mock'd them and the
and level sands
Anastrophe Inversion of the Normal
Well those passions
read (normally, read those passions well)
(Also Spelled Without the First e) Carrying the sense of one
line of verse over to the next line without a pause
a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer
of cold command
"Whose frown" begins the
Nothing beside remains: round
Of that colossal wreck,
boundless and bare,
"Round the decay" begins
of a part to stand for the whole, or the whole to stand for a part.
The hand that mock'd them
Questions and Essay Topics
Write an essay arguing for or
against the thesis of the poem. Use Internet and library research sources.
Write an informative essay focusing
on the colossal monuments constructed in Egypt during the reign of Ramses
Write a short poem about a historical
monument or statue.
Identify the lines in the poem
expressed by the speaker/narrator, by the traveler, and by Ozymandias.
Write an informative essay another
poem by Shelley.