Ozymandias byPercy Bysshe ShelleyThisis an analysis of Ozymandias, a poem written by one of the greatestRomantic poets in history, Percy Bysshe Shelley. Shelley never achieved famewhile he was alive, but he did keep company with some extremely talentedwriters: his good friends included LordByron, George Gordon and John Keats. He was married to Mary Shelley, the authorof Frankenstein. Shelley most popular works include Ozymandias, Toa Skylark, and Prometheus Unbound, which is probably his most laudedwork. Born into a well-to-do family, Shelley eventually attended Oxford, wherehe first started his writing career. He was expelled, however, when he refusedto admit that he was the author of an anonymous text on atheism.
Shelley metand fell in love with a young Mary Godwin, even though he was already married.He abandoned his family to be with her; they married after his first wifecommitted suicide, and Mary changed her surname to Shelley. Tragically, Shelleydied young, at the age of 29, when the boat he was sailing got caught in astorm. His body washed to shore some time later.Summary of OzymandiasInthis poem, the speaker describes meeting a traveler “from an antique land.” Thetitle, ‘Ozymandias’, notifies the reader that this land is most probably Egypt,since Ozymandias was what the Greeks called Ramses II, a great and terriblepharaoh in ancient Egypt. The traveler tells a story to the speaker. In thestory, he describes visiting Egypt and seeing a large and intimidating statuein the sand.
He can tell that the sculptor must have known his subject wellbecause it is obvious from the statues face that this man was a great leader,but one who could also be very vicious: he describes his sneer as having a”cold command.” Even though the leader was probably very great, it seems thatthe only thing that survives from his realm is this statue, which is halfburied and somewhat falling apart.Breakdown Analysisof OzymandiasTostart, Ozymandias carries an extended metaphor throughout the entirepoem. All around the traveler is desert—nothing is green or growing; the landis barren. The statue, however, still boasts of the accomplishments thiscivilization had in the past. The desert represents the fall of allempires—nothing powerful and rich can ever stay that strong forever. Thismetaphor is made even more commanding in the poem by Shelley’s use of an actualruler—Shelley utilizes an allusion to a powerful ruler in ancient Egypt to showthat even someone so all-powerful will eventually fall.Thesonnet itself reads more like a story than a poem, although the line rhymes dohelp to remind the reader that this is not prose.
The speaker in the poem,perhaps Percy Bysshe Shelley, tells the story from his point of view, using thepronoun “I.” The first line reads, “I met a traveler from an antique land…” Atfirst, this line is a tad ambiguous: Is the traveler from an antique land, ordid he just come back from visiting one? The reader also does not know wherethe speaker first met this sojourner. The title indicates which land thetraveler has visited: The Greeks called Ramses II, a powerful Egyptian pharaoh,Ozymandias, so it is easy for the reader to recognize the antique land asEgypt, one of the oldest civilizations in the world. The lines that follow aremuch clearer than the first, however, and it is clear to the reader what,exactly, is occurring in the sonnet. The rest of the sonnet is actually writtenin dialogue; the traveler is recounting his experiences in Egypt to the poem’sspeaker. Lines two through fourteen are only one sentence in length, as well.
These lines also contain some of the most vivid and beautiful imagery in all ofpoetry. Shelley was such a masterful writer that it does not take much efforton the part of the reader to clearly imagine the scene in this poem. In linestwo through five, the traveler describes a statue he sees in Egypt. Shelleywrites:Whosaid—”Two vast and trunkless legs of stoneStand in the desert…Near them, on the sand,Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command…Inthese lines, the reader, through the eyes of the traveler, sees two massivelegs carved from stone lying in the desert sand. Nearby, the face of the statueis half-buried. The face is broken, but the traveler can still see thesculpture is wearing a frown and a sneer. From this, he is able to tell thatthis ruler probably had absolutely power, and he most definitely ruled with aniron fist.
It is also easy to interpret that this ruler probably had a lot ofpride as the supreme leader of his civilization.Thetraveler then turns his attention to the sculptor who made the statue,commenting that whomever the sculptor is, he knew his subject very well.Shelley writes, “Tell that its sculptor well those passions read/Which yetsurvive, stamped on these lifeless things…” Shelley also seems to be commentingin line seven that while there is an end to natural life. ByCalum Macpherson