Describe the expression on the statue's face in "Ozymandias."

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samcestmoi's profile pic

samcestmoi | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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Ozymandias’s “half-sunk . . . shattered visage” carries a haughty expression of the greatest disdain: his lips are frowning in a “sneer,” and they are described as “wrinkled,” an interesting image to consider upon an ancient stone statue. The statue is very lifelike, and the expression found there is convincing, for “its sculptor well those passions read.” And yet all the overconfidence and pompousness in the world could be written on the face of that “King of Kings"; it would make no difference. His kingdom has fallen to ruins; even the mightiest cannot withstand the test of time. And even around the broken ruins of Ozymandias’s figure itself, “the lone and level sands stretch far away.” No other trace of his “Wreck” is left.

The face of Ozymandias, and his egotistical claims, feed into the theme of the poem—all things fade. Great empires, sturdy cities, art, life—it is all leveled in the end, and any measure of greatness will come toppling down eventually.  All it takes is time. And yet, even when his vast “Works” have crumbled into nonexistence, Ozymandias remains smug; powerless and broken, he yields little to the realities of the desert around him.

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rrteacher's profile pic

rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Shelley describes the statue's face as having a "frown...and wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command." In other words, the statue of Ozymandias/Ramses oozes arrogance, even all these years after his death. The point of the poem, of course, lies in the irony. The "visage" of the statue is half-buried in the sands of the desert and of time, and is "shatter'd." All around the statue are barren sands, covering up what is left of what must have once been a powerful kingdom. Yet the arrogant visage fits with the inscription on the statue, which reads "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!" The reader is thus left to reflect on the brevity of life, and the temporary nature of our works here on earth, even the works of a great and renowned pharoah. 

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