Analysis and Summary of Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley

This article provides a complete summary of the poem Ozymandias. As you read, you will find Ozymandias to be an interesting sonnet, and I hope the detailed explanation and meaning of the poem with help you understand the sonnet in a much better and deeper way.

Before we start with the poem, here are a few facts and related info about Ozymandias which you may consider knowing!

  • Ozymandias ruled the terrains of Egypt about 4000 years ago.
  • Hence comes the term ‘antique land’ which refers to the old Egyptian civilization.
  • ‘Half sunk’ refers to the sculpture which was buried half in sand.
  • Cold command refers to total authoritarian power of Ozymandias.
  • Wrinked lip means a curl under lip, signifying pride.

 Analysis of Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley

  • A traveler describes, how he in a vast limitless desert stands aside the statue of King Ozymandias. Only his legs stand, his broken trunk lies half buried in sand. Ozymandias is potrayed akin to God, as read from his inscriptions. But the present ruins of the great king’s statue presents a great contrast to his empty boast. Finally its in the empty barren desert where lies the vanity and eloquent commentary of human greatness.
  • This sonnet was written in the year 1817 and was published in Hunt’s Examiner in 1818 and was published with Roalind and Helen.
  • Shelley appears to have borrowed the subject of Ozymandias from the Greek history of Diodorus Siculus, who describes a memorial of a king Ozymandias with the following inscription: “I am Ozymandias, King of kings
  • Ozymandias was the Greek name for king Rameses II.
  • Shelley seems to remember the memorial described by Diodorus was that of Rameses.
  • The shattered trunk of the gigantic statue of Rameses still lays among the ruins of Ramesseum at Thebes.
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  • The poet meets a traveler who came back after visiting an ancient region. In his attempt to describe the poet, he speaks about a ruined statue whose broken legs are standing and the body is half deep in the sand. The statue doesn’t correspond to that of a common man, but is of the great king Ozymandias. The statue of king Ozymandias depicts the expression of arrogance, contempt, cruelty and confidence even today. His face depicts his frown and sneer nature with his upper lips curled as if in scorn.

‘Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinked lips, and neer of cold command

  • The statue indeed is a work of a skilful sculpture that is able to read the ephemeral (short lived) emotions from the face of the great king Ozymandias. However the sculptor who made this statue and the king whose immortal emotions depicted, is dead over by four thousand years. The king whose resemblance the statue depicts is also dead. But the feeling sculpted in the statue leaves behind a living testimonial of the great skill of the artist. It reminds us, the heart from which these feeling arrived might have stopped palpitating and the artist have passed away, but the feelings have been made immortal on stone.

Thus art provides permanence to something which is ephemeral in real life.

‘My name I Ozymandias, King of Kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’

  • These remaining lines of the poem put forth two ideas which form a powerful constrast to the ideas unfurled in the previous lines. These ideas are 1) The boastful lines inscribed under the statue claims and pronounces the greatness and glory of Ozymandias. However, these words stand as perfect contrast to the actual situation of the statue depicted. The vast stretches of boundless desert which surrounds the ruins of the statue, is contrasted to the smallness of the statue itself in comparison. The following final lines conclude the poem but present these powerful contrasts.
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The vanity of human and greatness, the boastfulness of Man is indeed nothing (insignificant) to the vastness of Nature and the realm of Time.

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