►Percy Bysshe Shelley (4 August 1792 – 8 July 1822) was one of the major English Romantic poets and is critically regarded among the finest lyric poets in the English language. Shelley was famous for his association with John Keats and Lord Byron. The novelist Mary Shelley was his second wife.
"Ozymandias" // is a sonnet by Percy Bysshe Shelley, published in 1818. It is frequently anthologised and is probably Shelley's most famous short poem.
OZYMANDIASI 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.
The poem’s narrator presents the reader with a stunning vision of the tomb of Ozymandias, another name for Rameses II, King of Egypt during the 13th century B.C. Shelley emphasizes that to a modern viewer this tomb tells quite a different tale than that which Ozymandias had hoped it would. The king evidently commissioned a sculptor to create an enormous sphinx to represent his enduring power, but the traveler comes across only a broken heap of stones ravaged by time.
Enough of the original monument exists to allow Shelley a moment of triumph over the thwarted plans of the ruler. The face of Ozymandias is still recognizable, but it is “shattered,” and, though his “sneer of cold command” persists, it is obvious that he no longer commands anyone or anything. The vaunting words carved into the stone pedestal can still be read: “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” Yet he is to be pitied, if not disdained, rather than held in awe and fear: The broken-down tomb is set in a vast wasteland of sand, perhaps Shelley’s way of suggesting that all tyrants ultimately end up in the only kind of kingdom they deserve, a barren desert.
|The 'Younger Memnon' statue of Ramesses II in the British Museum thought to have inspired the poem|
Shelley’s sonnet, however, would not be the great poem it surely is if it were only a bit of political satire. The irony of “Ozymandias” cuts much deeper as the reader realizes that the forces of mortality and mutability, described brilliantly in the concluding lines, will erode and destroy all our lives. There is a special justice in the way tyrants are subject to time, but all humans face death and decay. The poem remains primarily an ironic and compelling critique of Ozymandias and other rulers like him, but it is also a striking meditation on time-bound humanity: the traveler in the ancient land, the sculptor-artist who fashioned the tomb, and the reader of the poem, no less than Ozymandias, inhabit a world that is “boundless and bare.”