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A primary theme of the poem is the impermanence of human endeavor and how fame and power are as fleeting as the human body. Nothing remains of this king (also known as Ramses II) but a decaying statue which depicts his "shattered visage." Not only is the great ruler dead, but his monument is crumbling as well. The man, the artist, and the art will all pass away.
One striking literary device that Shelley uses in the poem is verbal irony. The traveler remembers that the statue's pedestal read, "My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings, / Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!" There is an incongruity between what the pedestal says and what we know to be true.
The might and majesty of a king do not last; only great art endures. The statue, symbolizing the power and glory of the pharaoh, is crumbling. Yet the arrogant sneer on the "shattered visage" remains intact as a testament to the ability of the sculptor to read and capture the passions of his ruler. Thus, it is the pharaoh's lowly servant, the sculptor, who delivers the more powerful message here. The king's message—"look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair"—is an ironic indictment of his pride.
.......Oddly, Shelley's theme—valid as a general statement—does not ultimately apply to Ozymandias, or Ramses II. For Ramses remains today perhaps the most famous of Egyptian pharaohs. After thousands of years, he continues to intrigue historians, archeologists, and other scholars.
.......In addition, many of the monuments erected during his rule still stand.
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