Ozymandias Questions and Answers
by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Ozymandias book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Please provide a line-by-line explication of "Ozymandias" line to line explanation

The speaker of "Ozymandias" comes across a ruin left behind by the kingdom that Ozymandias ruled. Looking at the wasteland around him, the speaker notes the irony that the monument is supposed to convey the undying greatness of Ozymandias. Ultimately, the monument represents the fleeting nature of human accomplishment and the inevitability of mortality. Failure to respect these facts of life amounts to hubris.

Expert Answers info

Ester Baumgartner, Ph.D. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

briefcaseTeacher (K-12)

bookPh.D. from University of Miami (Fla.)


calendarEducator since 2016

write781 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Arts, and Law and Politics

"Ozymandias" is a famous sonnet by the British Romantic poet Percy Shelley. The poem is best known for its eleventh line, "Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!" and for the ironic juxtaposition of this statement and the ruins with which it is paired. 

The poem begins with Shelley's narrator recalling that he met "a traveller from an ancient land." This traveller then narrates the remainder of the poem. The first part of the traveler's story reads,

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. (lines 2-8)

These lines describe a ruin that the traveller came upon in the desert. Its size and material are first described as "vast and trunkless legs of stone," but the next lines concentrate on the disheveled appearance of the statue. It is "half sunk," its face "shattered." The facial expression is described as one of "cold command," and the traveller interprets this as accurate when he says that the sculptor "well those passions read." This means that the artist understood the personality and temperament of the subject as exhibited by the statue's "visage." A contrast is employed when Shelley has the traveller say that "those passions" "yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things." This begins the juxtaposition that will continue and prove so important to the poem's central idea. Here, the contrast is between the lifelike accuracy of the face and the fact that it is sculpted from stone. The eighth line implies that the portrait is not exactly flattering, as "the hand" of the sculptor has "mocked" the ruler's features, while his "heart," or temperament, "fed" the expression or inspired it.

The remaining section of the poem introduces the ironic inscription on the statue's pedestal and elaborates upon the contrast between the powerful expression on the face of the statue and its current state of ruin. The lines read,

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.

The statue's subject is...

(The entire section contains 2 answers and 820 words.)

Unlock This Answer Now


check Approved by eNotes Editorial

Stephen Holliday eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2011

write859 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Business

check Approved by eNotes Editorial