Ozymandias is a sonnet, a poem with fourteen lines. It has two settings. In the first place the narrator meets the traveler (line 1). The second: traveler’s tale about a crumbling statue of an Egyptian king (pharaoh). The statue is at the site of the ancient Egyptian capital, Thebes (about 420 miles south of Cairo).
The poet, Shelley, assumes the role of auditor to the tale of the traveler (line 1) and tells the reader what the traveler said.
The reader encounters Shelley’s poem like an explorer coming upon a strange, desolate landscape. The first image that we see is the “two vast and trunkless legs of stone” in the middle of a desert. Column-like legs but no torso: the center of this great figure, whoever he may have been, remains missing. The sonnet comes to a halt in the middle of its first quatrain. Are these fragmentary legs all that is left?
After this pause, Shelley’s poem describes a “shattered visage,” the enormous face of Ozymandias. The visage is taken apart by the poet, who collaborates with time’s ruinous force.
The second quatrain shifts to another mediating figure, now not the traveler but the sculptor who depicted the pharaoh.
Ozymandias’ intense emotions “survive, stamp’d on these lifeless things.” But as Shelley attests, the sculptor survives as well, or parts of him do: “the hand that mocked” the king’s passions “and the heart that fed.”
The sestet moves from the shattered statue of Ozymandias to the pedestal, with its now-ironic inscription: “‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings. Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’” Of course, the pharaoh’s “works” are nowhere to be seen, in this desert wasteland. The kings that he challenges with the evidence of his superiority are the rival rulers of the nations he has enslaved, perhaps the Israelites and Canaanites known from the biblical account.
The pedestal stands in the middle of a vast expanse. Shelley applies two alliterative phrases to this desert, “boundless and bare” and “lone and level.” The seemingly infinite empty space provides an appropriate comment on Ozymandias’ political will, which has no content except the blind desire to assert his name and kingly reputation.
Questions and Answers
1 “The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.” What does the poet describe through this line?
The poet has referred to the sculptor’s hands who has carved the statute and interpreted the king’s feeling and expression on it. The heart of the king is referred here that has nourished the sculptor’s feelings and passion. The poet has put all his feeling to bring out the real color of the king.
2 Why does Ozymandias refer to himself as the king of kings?
Ozymandias refers himself as the king of kings because he thinks himself as the greatest king of his time due to his victory, achievements and great deeds. He is proud, boastful and arrogant.
3 Bring out irony in the poem.
The poet has used a great deal of irony in the poem. The whole poem is ironical. The king got his stature made in order to immortalize himself. But time has played a great havoc. Everything is turned into a barren desert. There were only broken face and disfigured statue lying in the lonely desert.
4 What impression do you form of Ozymandias as a king?
Ozymandias was a cruel boastful, proud, arrogant king. He wanted to glorify his image as a powerful king. These were clearly revealed from his statue.
5 What was written on the pedestal?
The following lines were written on the statue “My name is Ozymandias, King of kings: Look upon my works ye mighty and despair”.
6 What impression do you form of the sculptor who created the statue?
It is clearly revealed from the statue that its sculptor was well-known about these expressions and feelings of the king. He was skillful and a good judge who made fun of these expressions by carving them on the statue which still survives.
7 Describe the features of statue.
There were two large legs without the upper body in the desert. A broken face of a king lying nearby which was half buried. Facial expressions like upper lip was wrinkled, frown on the forehead were clearly expressed on the face which was still visible.
8 What is the theme of the poem?
The poet wants to convey the message that the human power, victories, achievements are short-lived and cannot be immortalized. Time is a great destroyer. Even powerful people have to bow before it. It doesn’t remain with one person. With the passage of time it destroys everything.He was always scowling and frowning in order to scare everyone around him. It is this angry frowning face which the ancient sculptor has faithfully recorded for posterity. In his statue Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” This is the theme of Shelley’s poem. All the great rulers in history try to perpetuate their memories by building mammoth statues. Their pride and arrogance knows no bounds as they erect these huge statues and vainly inscribe bombastic claims about the superiority of the kingdoms which they rule. They do this without realizing that they are only ordinary mortals who have to return to dust along with all their endeavors.
9 Explain the two pictures painted by the poet in his poem.
The first picture refers to broken statue. It carries the frown and a sneer of cold command on its face.
The second picture refers to lone desert where the disfigured statue lies.
10 “Nothing beside remains”. What does the narrator mean when he says these words?
Apart from the trunkless legs on the pedestal and a shattered visage, no remains of the once grand statue can be seen in the vast desert. By saying this, the narrator tries to highlight that a time comes when everything has to meet its end, even the reign of terror, pride and arrogance
11 “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” Who is Ozymandias referring to when he speaks of ye Mighty? Why should they despair?
Ozymandias is probably referring to his enemy kings to feel despair at his achievements.