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July 12, 2011 / blogaboutpoetry

Ozymandias by Percy Shelley

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.

A lot of people will recognise this poem. It contains a famous image of the pedestal of Ozymandias (an Egyptian pharaoh), the legs of which are the only remains. The poem seems to contain one central idea, that of the transience of power in the face of nature. Remember, Shelley was part of the Romantic movement which tended to champion nature (although that is a bit simplistic).

Pedestal of Ozymandias

I like how the scene is set for this central idea, using the voice of “a traveller from an antique land”. The whole poem builds up to the inscription on the pedestal, which proclaims Ozymandias’ greatness. Note how he immediately points out that “Nothing besides remains”, a symbol of the transience of power I mentioned previously. What caused the “decay/ Of that colossal wreck”? Shelley answers with a most beautiful closing image.


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