"Ozymandias" (11px /ˌɒziˈmæn.di.əs/,[1] pronounced with 4 syllables in order to fit the poem's meter) is a sonnet by Percy Bysshe Shelley, published in 1818. Frequently anthologised, it is probably Shelley's most famous short poem. It was written in competition with his friend Horace Smith, who wrote another sonnet entitled "Ozymandias" seen below.

In addition to the power of its themes and imagery, the poem is notable for its virtuosic diction. The rhyme scheme of the sonnet is unusual[2] and creates a sinuous and interwoven effect.


Ruins in Negev desert Israe

Ruins in Negev Desert. Photo by Leif Knutsen. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

I 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.'

Analysis Edit

Ozymandias - As Read by Bryan Cranston

Ozymandias - As Read by Bryan Cranston

The central theme of "Ozymandias" is the inevitable complete decline of all leaders, and of the empires they build, however mighty in their own time.(Citation needed)

File:BM, AES Egyptian Sulpture ~ Colossal bust of Ramesses II, the 'Younger Memnon' (1250 BC) (Room 4).jpg

Ozymandias was another name for Ramesses the Great, Pharaoh of the nineteenth dynasty of ancient Egypt.[3] Ozymandias represents a transliteration into Greek of a part of Ramesses' throne name, User-maat-re Setep-en-re. The sonnet paraphrases the inscription on the base of the statue, given by Diodorus Siculus in his Bibliotheca historica as "King of Kings am I, Osymandias. If anyone would know how great I am and where I lie, let him surpass one of my works."[4] Shelley's poem is often said to have been inspired by the arrival in London of a colossal statue of Ramesses II, acquired for the British Museum by the Italian adventurer Giovanni Belzoni in 1816.[5] Rodenbeck and Chaney, however,[6] point out that the poem was written and published before the statue arrived in Britain, and thus that Shelley could not have seen it. Its repute in Western Europe preceded its actual arrival in Britain (Napoleon had previously made an unsuccessful attempt to acquire it for France, for example), and thus it may have been its repute or news of its imminent arrival rather than seeing the statue itself which provided the inspiration.

The 2008 edition of the travel guide Lonely Planet's Guide to Egypt says that the poem was inspired by the fallen statue of Ramesses II at the Ramesseum, a memorial temple built by Ramesses at Thebes, near Luxor. in Upper Egypt.[7] This statue, however, does not have "two vast and trunkless legs of stone", nor does it have a "shattered visage" with a "frown / And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command." (In fact, all statues of Egyptian kings have a uniform expression of serene benevolence.) Nor does the base of the statue at Thebes have any inscription, although Ramesses's cartouche is inscribed on the statue itself.

Among the earlier senses of the verb "to mock" is "to fashion an imitation of reality" (as in "a mock-up"),[8] but by Shelley's day the current sense "to ridicule" (especially by mimicking) had come to the fore.

This sonnet is often incorrectly quoted or reproduced.[9] The most common misquotation – "Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!" – replaces the correct "on" with "upon", thus turning the regular decasyllabic (iambic pentameter) verse into an 11-syllable line.[10]

Smith's poem Edit

In Egypt's sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desert knows:
"I am great OZYMANDIAS," saith the stone,
"The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
"The wonders of my hand." The City's gone,
Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
The site of this forgotten Babylon.
We wonder, and some Hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro' the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace,
He meets some fragments huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.

Horace Smith.[11]

Percy Shelley apparently wrote his poem in competition with his friend Horace Smith, who published his sonnet a month after Shelley's in the same magazine.[12] It was originally published under the same title as Shelley's verse; but in later collections Smith retitled it "On A Stupendous Leg of Granite, Discovered Standing by Itself in the Deserts of Egypt, with the Inscription Inserted Below".[13]

It takes the same subject, tells the same story, and makes a similar moral point, but one related more directly to modernity, ending by imagining a hunter of the future looking in wonder on the ruins of an annihilated London.


Edward Elgar began a musical setting but never finished it. The best known setting appears to be that in Russian for baritone by the Ukrainian composer Borys Lyatoshynsky.

In popular cultureEdit



See alsoEdit

References Edit

  • Reiman, Donald H. and Sharon B. Powers. Shelley's Poetry and Prose. Norton, 1977. ISBN 0-393-09164-3.
  • Shelley, Percy Bysshe and Theo Gayer-Anderson (illust.) Ozymandias. Hoopoe Books, 1999. ISBN 977-5325-82-X
  • Rodenbeck, John. “Travelers from an Antique Land: Shelley's Inspiration for ‘Ozymandias,’” Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics, no. 24 (“Archeology of Literature: Tracing the Old in the New”), 2004, pp. 121–148.
  • Edward Chaney, 'Egypt in England and America: The Cultural Memorials of Religion, Royalty and Revolution', in: Sites of Exchange: European Crossroads and Faultlines, eds. M. Ascari and A. Corrado (Rodopi, Amsterdam and New York,2006), 39-74.
  • Burt, Mary E., ed. Poems Every Child Should Know: A Selection of the Best Poems of All Times for Young People. NY: Doubleday, Page and Company, 1904.


  1. Wells, John C. (1990). Longman pronunciation dictionary. Harlow, England: Longman. p. 508. ISBN 0582053838.  entry "Ozymandias"
  2. "SparkNotes: Shelley's Poetry: "Ozymandias"". SparkNotes. Retrieved 2008-02-26. 
  3. Luxor Temple: Head of Ramses the Great
  4. RPO Editors. "Percy Bysshe Shelley : Ozymandias". University of Toronto Department of English. University of Toronto Libraries, University of Toronto Press. Retrieved 2006-09-18. 
  5. "Colossal bust of Ramesses II, the 'Younger Memnon', British Museum. Accessed 10-01-2008
  6. "Travelers from an antique land". ; Edward Chaney, 'Egypt in England and America: The Cultural Memorials of Religion, Royalty and Revolution', in: Sites of Exchange: European Crossroads and Faultlines, eds. M. Ascari and A. Corrado (Rodopi, Amsterdam and New York,2006), 39-74.
  7. Lonely Planet 2008 Guide to Egypt, 271.
  8. OED: mock, v. "4...†b. To simulate, make a false pretense of. Obs. [citations for 1593 and 1606; both from Shakespeare]"
  9. Reiman, Donald H; Powers, Sharon.B (1977). Shelley's Poetry and Prose. Norton. ISBN ISBN 0-393-09164-3. 
  10. For an example of this misquotation, see Postel, Sandra (1999). Pillar of sand: can the irrigation miracle last?. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0393319377.  where the misquotation appears twice: at pp. xvi and 254
  11. Ozymandias – Smith
  12. The Examiner. Shelley's poem appeared on January 11 and Smith's on February 1.Treasury of English Sonnets. Ed. from the Original Sources with Notes and Illustrations, David M. Main
  13. Habing, B. "Ozymandias – Smith". Retrieved 2006-09-23. "The iambic pentameter contains five 'feet' in a line. This gives the poem rhythm and pulse, and sometimes is the cause of rhyme." 

External links Edit

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