-P B Shelley

The speaker describes a meeting with someone who has travelled to a place where ancient civilizations once existed. We know from the title that he’s talking about Egypt. The traveller told the speaker a story about an old, fragmented statue in the middle of the desert. The statue is broken apart, but you can still make out the face of a person.

The face looks stern and powerful, like a ruler. The sculptor did a good job at expressing the ruler’s personality. The ruler was a wicked guy, but he took care of his people.

On the pedestal near the face, the traveller reads an inscription in which the ruler Ozymandias tells anyone who might happen to pass by, basically, “Look around and see how awesome I am!” But there is no other evidence of his awesomeness in the vicinity of his giant, broken statue. There is just a lot of sand, as far as the eye can see. The traveller ends his story.

The first-person poetic persona states that he met a traveller who had been to “an antique land.” The traveller told him that he had seen a vast, but ruined statue, where only the legs remained standing. The face was sunk in the sand, frowning and sneering. The sculptor interpreted his subject well. There also was a pedestal at the statue, where the traveller read that the statue was of “Ozymandias, King of Kings.” Although the pedestal told “mighty” onlookers that they should look out at the King’s works and the despair at his greatness, the whole area was just covered with flat sand. All that is left is the wrecked statue.


Here we have a speaker learning from a traveller about a giant, ruined statue that lay broken and eroded in the desert. The title of the poem informs the reader that the subject is the 13th-century B.C. Egyptian King Ramses II, whom the Greeks called “Ozymandias.” The traveller describes the great work of the sculptor, who was able to capture the king’s “passions” and give meaningful expression to the stone, an otherwise “lifeless thing.” The “mocking hand” in line 8 is that of the sculptor, who had the artistic ability to “mock” (that is, both imitate and deride) the passions of the king. The “heart” is first of all the king’s, which “fed” the sculptor’s passions, and in turn the sculptor’s, sympathetically recapturing the king’s passions in the stone.

The final five lines mock the inscription hammered into the pedestal of the statue. The original inscription read “I am Ozymandias, King of Kings; if anyone wishes to know what I am and where I lie, let him surpass me in some of my exploits.” The idea was that he was too powerful for even the common king to relate to him; even a mighty king should despair at matching his power. That principle may well remain valid, but it is undercut by the plain fact that even an empire is a human creation that will one day pass away. The statue and surrounding desert constitute a metaphor for invented power in the face of natural power. By Shelley’s time, nothing remains but a shattered bust, eroded “visage,” and “trunkless legs” surrounded with “nothing” but “level sands” that “stretch far away.” Shelley thus points out human mortality and the fate of artificial things.

The lesson is important in Europe: France’s hegemony has ended, and England’s will end sooner or later. Everything about the king’s “exploits” is now gone, and all that remains of the dominating civilization are shattered “stones” alone in the desert. Note the use of alliteration to emphasize the point: “boundless and bare”; “lone and level.”

It is important to keep in mind the point of view of “Ozymandias.” The perspective on the statue is coming from an unknown traveller who is telling the speaker about the scene. This helps to create a sense of mystery of history and legend: we are getting the story from a poet who heard it from a traveller who might or might not have actually seen the statue. The statue itself is an expression of the sculptor, who might or might not have truly captured the passions of the king. Our best access to the king himself is not the statue, not anything physical, but the king’s own words.

Poetry might last forever unlike other human creations. Yet, communicating words present a different set of problems. Finally, we cannot miss the general comment on human vanity in the poem. It is not just the “mighty” who desire to withstand time; it is common for people to seek immortality and to resist death and decay. Furthermore, the sculptor himself gets attention andpraise that used to be deserved by the king, for all that Ozymandias achieved has now “decayed” into almost nothing, while the sculpture has lasted long enough to make it into poetry. In a way, the artist has become more powerful than the king. The only things that “survive” are the artist’s records of the king’s passion, carved into the stone.

Perhaps Shelley chose the medium of poetry in order to create something more powerful and lasting than what politics could achieve, all the while understanding that words too will eventually pass away. Unlike many of his poems, “Ozymandias” does not end on a note of hope. There is no extra stanza or concluding couplet to honor the fleeting joys of knowledge or to hope in human progress. Instead, the traveller has nothing more to say, and the persona draws no conclusions of his own.


Answer the following questions by picking the correct options:

a) Ozymandias got his huge statue erected
i) to be seen by the posterity for being mighty and powerful.
ii) he had great love for art.
iii) people will remember him for his nobility.
iv) he wanted to convey the message that life is momentary.

b) The poem highlights the nature of Ozymandias. That he was
i) cruel
ii) humble
iii) arrogant
iv) aggressive

c) The sculptor who built the statue of Ozymandias could better understand his
i) feelings
iv) ambition

The backdrop of the poem is

i) palace ii)mountain iii) desert iv)wilderness

Answers: a) i
b) iv
c) i
d) iii

II) Short Answer Questions:
What was written on the pedestal of the statue? What does it indicate?
Ans. On the pedestal, it was written ‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings’. The inscription is a brief description of the man whose statue it was. The man was drunk with power and strength. He was also boastful of his achievements and even challenged the mighty and powerful people of the world to look upon his achievements. They would be lost in despair to see his achievements in comparison to theirs.

What message does the poet want to convey?
Ans. The poet conveys a definite message through this poem to humanity thatone day or the other, one’s power and glory is ravaged by time. Even the mighty and the powerful cannot escape. Time does not make any discrimination between a king and beggar.

Read the extract and answer the questions that follow:

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;

a) Wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command depict:
i)That Ozymandias was a haughty person
ii) that he was Lord of himself
iii) that the sculptor had well read the feelings on the face of the man whose statue he was to make.
iv) The sculptor was quite professional.

b) Those passions are still noticeable
i) carved on the lifeless stone
ii)lying on the sand
iii)stamped on the face of the statue of the stone
iv)on the broken pieces of the statue.

c) Whose hands mocked them?
i)The hands of Ozymandias
ii) The hands of the sculptor
iii)The hands lying broken
iv)The hands of the trunkless legs

II) Answer the following in about 40 words:

a) Describe the statue as seen by the traveller.
b) What was the contrasting element near the statue and what does it convey to humanity?
c) Whose greatness is glorified? Was it the appearance of the king on the statue or the sculptor who made the statue or the force of nature? Justify your answer.
d) What did the traveller tell the narrator about what he saw in the ancient land?
e) What kind of expression did the human face have? What did it tell of the sculptor and the human being after whom he had carved that statue?
f) What else remained there beside the broken statue? What does it signify?
g) What is the message given indirectly in the poem?

III) Long answer type questions:

a)The futility of human beings is exposed in this poem. Discuss
b)What is the central idea of the poem?
c)The poem portrays the short living political power as against the force of time and nature. Discuss
d)What does the traveller tell the narrator of what he saw in a desert?

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