Analysis of Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley


Ozymandias, written by Percy Bysshe Shelley, a famous romantic poet. It was published on June 11, 1818 issue of The Examiner in London. This poem is written about a ruined statue; it presents the perspective of a young traveler who provides a detailed description of a scattered remains of the statue of Ozymandias. His description of the poem evokes curiosity, awe and irony of power staying as a timeless masterpiece in the minds of the readers proving the impacts of the transience nature of life and permanence nature of art.


Title: (allusion) Ozymandias is a Greek name of the Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II who ruled around 1300 B.C. He had been seen as a great and terrible ruler at that time. He hugely expanded the bounds of Egypt and built Thebes into a city of 100 gates, many covered in gold and silver. The so called Ozymandias statue is in Rammesseum, Luxor, Egypt.

Form: Ozymandias’ is considered to be a Petrarchan sonnet, even though the rhyme scheme varies slightly from the traditional sonnet form. Shelley’s defiance of this rhyme scheme helps to set apart ‘Ozymandias’ from other Petrarchan sonnets. The reason he did this may have been to represent the corruption of authority or lawmakers.

Rhyme scheme: ABABACDC EDEFEF (different from ordinary rhyming scheme of Petrarchan sonnet.)

Meter: iambic pentameter

Tone: serious and awe-inspiring

Theme: impermanence of a ruler’s glory and his legacy, perpetual value of art and artist.

Narration: the traveler recounts his experiences in Egypt to the poet’s persona. (the speaker narrates the story of the traveler.

Main techniques: visual imagery and irony



The octave starts with the speaker relating his encounter with a traveler from a country with an ancient value. The traveler has encountered one of two fragmented statues in the desert whose legs stand on a pedestal and other half is shattered around it – half hidden in sand. The real figure of the rular captured by the sculptor is still visible on the lifeless remains of the statue though the statue is broken into pieces.  


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;


alliteration/consonance/sibilance: the repeated hissing sound of ‘s’ appears throughout the poem evoking the auditory effects of the hissing sound of wind that blows through ears kissing the statue standing in the vast desert.

extended metaphor: ‘Ozymandias’ is an extended metaphor throughout the poem. Metaphorically it indicates the futility of power and legacy which cannot fight against the power of time and nature.

synecdoche: hand/heart (represents pharaoh himself)

enjambment: the octave flows like a single sentence in a surprising flow.

visual imagery: trunkless legs of stone stand in desert, half sunk a shattered visage, frown and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command

personification: frown, and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command (the head of the statue is considered as a lively person)

inversion: tell that its sculptor well those passions read (the correct order should be: tell that its sculptor read those passions well) possibly to maintain the rhyme scheme


The traveler’s persona describes the characterization of Ozymandias by looking at the fragmented statue and projects his idea of the sculptor’s clever mastery to carve out true passions of Pharaoh into a dead stone. The ‘antique land’ should be Egypt. The ‘frown’, ‘cold command’ shows the characterization of Ozymandias who seemingly ruled the empire with an iron fist.

The traveler comments that whomever the sculptor is, he knew his subject very well. He had exceptionally captured the true passions and characteristics of the ruler. It further depicts the everlasting nature of art; though the pharaoh is long dead, he exists through the creation of a mere sculptor. He could stamp the real nature of the ruler whose hand mocked and fed ‘cold command’ onto a non-living rock making it an everlasting work of art.



On the pedestal of the statue, the words spoken by the king Ozamandias appear which tells of his invincibility and and a stiff message to look on his mighty works and be aware of the less power wielded by other powerful kings before him. When the traveler looks around, he only sees vast desert around the broken statue but nothing else.


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.”


allusion: My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings (the actual inscription described in the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus’s Bibliotheca historica.)

irony: Look at my works, ye Mighty, and despair! /nothing beside remains (even powerful kingdoms like Thebes can be submerged by the sand of time.)


Traveler mocks at the powerful rulers pointing out that even a king of kings can be swept away from the sand of time; hence the power and pride is something futile. The words of Ozymandias casted on the pedestal reveal a ruler who is drunk with power and its pride as well as a tyrant who look down on others telling them not to even dream of comparing his powerful works with theirs. However, the grim irony of his ‘works’ is visible through the ‘decay of that colossal wreck’ and the barren desert around it where once had been a magnificent emptor spread. He uses words such as “decay” and “bare” to show just how powerless this once-mighty Pharaoh has become. Shelley implements irony into these lines to show that even though this broken statue remains, the leader’s civilization does not.

Shelly’s Ozymandias is a timeless lesson to the rulers who is drunk with power. Everything is subjected to the law of nature. Everything is subjected to wreck and decay. He further highlights the power of art which can give life and carry everlasting messages along the stream of time.

What do you think? Leave your valuable insights about the poem to enlighten our readers. Share the post if you find it useful to others. This is the first post I post to support the students who follow the B.A. syllabus of University of Sri Jayawardanapura. I hope to open this web portal to the candidates who like to learn literature at the next level and to persuade them climb up the steps as we need more literature and language resources for the world. For other learners, no offence, can use these posts for their study purposes. Please let me know about your ideas.


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