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.
Ozymandias eText - eText
a wonderfully ambiguous statement that said to mighty rulers of the time that their works would never be able to rival Ozymandias' and to modern rulers that all things eventually decay and pass into oblivion. Note, however, that the enormous monument to the mighty ruler has itself become a ruin and a shadow of its former glory.
A hallmark of Romantic poetry is an interest in the past. Shelley's use of the phrase "antique land" is meant to reflect the Romantics' interest in all things ancient and therefore exotic.
Another consistent theme of the Romantic poets is the mutability of human existence--in this case, the fall of the mighty into obscurity. Shelley, by juxtaposing the "sneer of cold command" with "these lifeless things," reminds his readers that even absolute power disappears into lifelessness.
A beautiful image of the futility of human endeavor. The statue of the mighty Rameses, once a symbol of power and control, is now in the middle of a nameless expanse of desert, seen only by chance. The fact that the statue is in pieces emphasizes the hopelessness of striving for power and of believing that human power is permanent.
Ozymandias is Greek for Ramses II.