About the poet

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) was an English romantic poet. He wrote some of his finest lyrics, including the “Ode to the West Wind”. “To a Skylark” and “The Cloud” in the last years of his life. He died in a storm at sea after visiting Lord Byron, another great poet. Shelley’s works show his remarkable lyrical gift, his originality and his hatred for oppression. He was a great revolutionary poet of his time.

Theme: It is a very ironic poem which describes the pride of a man and the wretched reality of life. Man becomes proud by success. He thinks that he has toppled the world. He forgets that life is merciless. Time brings all luxuries of life to an end, and death is a great leveler. Shelley considers all feelings of superiority in man as only an illusion and self-deception.

Paraphrase

The poet met a traveler from an ancient country. He told the poet that he saw two huge, bodiless legs made of stone. Those legs were standing in a desert. Near thee legs there was lying the broken body of a man half sunk in the sand. His features gave the impression that he was very proud and contemptuous of others. The artist has beautifully recreated these impressions on the face of stone. One could see that he was proud and heartless. At the bottom of the statue were inscribed these words “my name is Ozymandias, King of Kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” In the desert there remains nothing except this broken statue.

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,

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.

(Percy Bysshe Shelley)

Glossary

Antique Old and valuable, belonging to the past, very old
Trunkless Without the main part of the human body
Visage A person’s face
Frown to show anger, deep thought
Wrinkled Having or showing wrinkles
Sculptor A person who makes sculptures
Mock To laugh at, make fun of
Pedestal The base of a statue
Colossal Very large, huge; immense
Wreck Something damaged, broken