Ozymandias: A Statue of King of Kings

What do you know about Ozymandias poem and what are meaning of this word? In this article we will examine a globally recognized sonnet by P.B Shelley named ‘Ozymandias’ actually Shelley wrote this poem in a competition with his friend named Horace Smith and Shelley was also inspired by Diodorus, a Greek writer.

It is based on the life of an Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses ii. The poem is written in sonnet form that breaks traditional way of writing a sonnet. It’ is a sonnet, consist of 14 lines, written by a famous Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.

He had composed this poem in 1817 and published it in 1818 in the Examiner by the name of Glirastes. P.B Shelley (1792-1822) was born in a wealthy family of Field place in England. He is a well famous romantic poet. He makes use of loose iambic pentameter in this world-wide famous poem.

Central idea of the poem Ozymandias

It is sonnet which tells us a cautionary tale of an Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses ii, a king of kings, who was mighty and arrogant. It explores different themes like transience of power, impermanence of humans, consequences of arrogance and nature’s indifference to human creation. Pride and feeling of superiority are nearly self-deception. Time and death never spare anyone. It brings into focus the mortality and hollowness of man.

summary of the poem Ozymandias

In this poem there is a description of an ancient king’s statue situated in a desert. The poem starts by a poet who meets a traveler of an ancient land. He describes the condition of the king’s statue. He says that on my journey when I was passing through a desert, I caught sight of an amazing spectacle. I observed the remaining of a king’s statue whose large legs were standing up right and near the feet there was a half-buried face of statue. The face was broken and it seemed that the sculptor knew about the emotions of king which he carved skillfully like a living person in the statue. It shows the power of art and mortality of humans and gives us a universal message that pride hath a fall.

What is the message of the well famous poem Ozymandias?

This is a poem of great importance, which tells us that man is mortal and all human achievements are impermanent. All the earthly things one day will meet to inevitable decay.

When and where was the statue of Ozymandias found?

This vast statue was found in 1798 during an Egyptian expedition. The archaeologist of Egypt and Germany discovered 26 feet tall or 08-meter-tall statue submerged in groundwater in Cairo slum.

Who was Ozymandias in real life and where did he live?

In real life he was an arrogant, authoritative and powerful king of Egypt. His name was Pharaoh Ramesses ii, who ruled (1279-1213) BC almost 3000 years ago in Egypt.

Line by line analysis and explanation of the poem Ozymandias

It is a well famous poem which has universal appeal. It tells us the bitter reality of life. Now we analyze it in detail. Shelley says that,

“I met a traveler 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”

Explanation and analysis of the first four lines (01 to 04)

In these lines the poet says that he meets a traveler of an ancient place, who told him that two vast legs of stone are standing in a desert without the main body. He also added that near these legs, there was a broken body and a face of stone and from its features. It looks a heartless, merciless and authoritative person.

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:

Explanation and analysis of line number (05 to 08)

In these lines writer is showing the angry look, the wrinkled lip and the scorn carved on the face. All these things show that it was a statue of merciless king who had authority and air of pride. The sculptor knows very well all these passions of the king and skillfully carved on the face of the statue. Here the writer also appreciates the work of art which has put a lot of passions into the lifeless objects which shows the expertise of the sculptor.

It appeared that the sculpturer had mocked up king’s emotions and feelings flawlessly through his skillful hands while making its face. Then the speaker enlightens the other part of the statue, the pedestal of the statue.

And 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 sand stretch far away”

Explanation and analysis of line number (09 to14)

In these lines writer is telling that at the bottom of the Statue there was some information about the person. It was statue of a king whose name was Ozymandias and he is calling himself to be the king of kings. Here the king is also inviting the other powerful Kings to see his works.

He was sure that others would feel disappointment because they are not able to do such great deeds as he had done. Here the writer is telling the bitter reality of life by demonstrating that in desert nothing remains except the broken statue.

Everywhere near the statue you can see bareness, loneliness and sand, and all these things show that pride has a fall.

What was sculptor inscribed upon the statue of Ozymandias?

Following lines were inscribed by sculptor on the pedestal of the statue.

My name is Ozymandias, king of kings,

Look on my works, ye mighty and despair,

In these lines writer is telling us about a powerful king who ruled over even other kings. He is exclaiming with pride that what I have constructed, all you who think of yourselves as powerful and mighty cannot constructed and also tells that you will meet with despair, when you will see the majesty and superiority of my accomplishment.

Then he adds by saying the reality that it was a large deserted area with it. But there was nothing else except the shattered statue, the desert was empty and all over there was sand that is stretching over everywhere.

Important themes of the poem Ozymandias

Transience of power and glory

The poem is penned for describing the transience nature of power and glory. The ruined statue refers to the Egyptian king Pharaoh Romes ii, who was famous for his might and power. The Egyptian Pharaoh, who had been known arrogant and vain for centuries.

And now his statue is a reason of awe and horror, but his statue has crumbled and there is nothing except his two large legs and half broken face. This description shows that death is eternal and power is impermanent.

The poet explains that the sculptor tried to portray all the characteristics of the king include king’s awe, power and feelings and preserved a cruel ruler in stone. But after centuries there is nothing remains not authority, pomp, wealth and even statue all ended in smoke. P B Shelly ironically points out all the political powers and conveys us the idea that all mighty political powers will fall to the sand at one day.

Hubris and arrogance

At his pedestal, there was written ” I am the king of the kings” which shows the arrogance and hubris of the king. It is a tale of excessive pride and inevitable downfall. Now the condition of the statue was miserable and horrifying in an empty desert, asserting that death and decay is permanent and power is impermanent.

The powerful king, who had won and established many empires during his realm and expanded the empire of Egypt during his life. He had instructed to build several statues of himself in order to make his rule and power permanent.

In his face there was an expression of “frown and wrinkled lips” with “sneer of cold command “made him a cruel ruler. But with the passage of time his statue had crumbled and there was no sign of his power and might, reminds us that all the powers and empires are built to be fall in sand.

The Power of Art

P B Shelly ironically employed the words, that are carved on the pedestal of statue, The king boastfully says “Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair “but there is no sign of his empires, cities and everlasting powers. 

But the thing that is here is the art of a sculptor and his skill that will never fall. As a romantic poet, P B Shelly admires the art of an artist who had beautifully shaped king’s facial expressions on the statue and carved passions upon the non-living objects. He has shown his face as ‘frown’ ‘wrinkled lips’ and ‘sneer’ clearly emphasizing that the king is cruel, commanding, boastful and powerful.

It shows his passion, cruelness and pride to be the ‘king of the kings’. It is the power of art by which mighty king is getting curses. Shelly was inspired by Diodorus Siculus, a Greek writer, who had given a perfect vision of Egyptian statue but it is not wrong to say that Shelly’s description of the statue is clearer and more famous than Diodorus.

It seems that he has given or put life into the statue by its art of poetry for generation. Through his poetry the poet has rendered a thought that art is everlasting and it has a power to imbue immortality in living and nonliving things despite the fact that these things have banished.

 Role of nature

There is another theme of nature in this poem. P B Shelly is a romantic natural poet who has given two side of reality through his work. In this poem he has described a statue of a man ‘king of the Kings ‘with ‘wrinkled lips’ Frown’ on his head and ‘colossal wreck ‘ He was an Egyptian pharaoh, a cruel king of its time, He wanted to give permanence to his supremacy and authority through his statue but with the passage of time his statue had become crumbled and ruined in ‘lone and level sand’ and there is no sign of his existing except his half sink’ statue.

The only thing that is permanent is nature in the form of empty desert, suggests that nature is more powerful than humanity. The king might be a ‘king of the kings’ but nature has defeated him thoroughly and established its authority and power.

Impact of time

The poem is exploring the impact of time on human beings and their creations. The king who believed that his work withstands the ravages of time is now forgotten and a decaying relic. The harsh impact of time has destroyed the majestic statue and demonstrate the insignificance of human beings.

Irony and satire

It is an ironical poem and criticizing the arrogance and self-importance of those, who believes that their legacies will remain forever. Irony is quite clear from the shattered state of statue.


In conclusion, the poem ‘Ozymandias ‘explains the history and warns us that all the things of whatever might and power will be destroyed one day and fall to the ground. In the history there were powerful empires and kings but now there is no sign of their authority and states.

P B Shelly described it skillfully and mentioned that worldly gains are short lived and superiority in man is only an illusion and self-deception.  Through this sonnet he has highlighted the power of art and supremacy of law of nature.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

The poem is based on life of Egyptian king Pharaoh Ramesses ii. In this sonnet the poet described the crumbling statue of king Ozymandias. In fact, this poem is an explicit satire on those political powers who considered themselves permanent but in reality, everything will be demolished. The poem explains the inevitable decay of human achievements.

This literary master piece refers about an Egyptian king. Shelley highlights the powerful empire of the king that has ruined and thus emphasized on the rise and fall of civilization.

Romantic poetry is characterized by its deep emotion, feelings connection with nature and imagination. The poem explores the theme of connection with nature and time and observed the human achievements and ruins. It evokes a mixed emotion of awe and fascination. These qualities are prime example of Romantic poetry.

The poet has used the setting of empty desert as a Metaphor to convey the power of time and the harsh reality of nature. The poet wants to explore the idea that all powers and civilization have to fade away and, in the end, there is nothing but their remnants.

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