Explain and comment on the following lines from Shelley's sonnet "Ozymandias." Near them, on the sand,Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command...

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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This piece is about an ancient pharaoh:

Ozymandias was another name for Ramesses the GreatPharaoh of the nineteenth dynasty of ancient Egypt.

In Percy Bysshe Shelley's sonnet, "Ozymandias," these lines are describing parts of a larger statue being relayed to the speaker by a "traveler from an antique land." In essence, the speaker runs into a man who has just visited Egypt and the next seven lines make up that traveler's report with regard to the statue he found (of Ramses II) ruined—over many long years—in the sand.

The lines previous to these indicate a once-imposing statue that stood in the sand, as part of a great empire ruled by the once-powerful (and now, long-dead) pharaoh.

In the traveler's descriptions, makes note of...

Two vast and trunkless legs of stone [that]

Stand in the desert.

Then the traveler told the speaker of the pieces of the statue that were not still standing, but lying—in ruin—in the ever-abiding sand nearby.

Near them on the sand,

Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown

And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command...

The most imposing part of the statue seems to be its face. The pieces are half-buried in the sand, but what can be seen is the shattered visage, which is the face. Specific features are still visible...though they do not compliment the man the statue was fashioned after. The face is frowning, the lip is wrinkled and the man's countenance bears a "sneer of cold command." "Cold command" speaks of the way he ruled: without heart or compassion; simply with power and by force. The most striking word used here is "sneer," for this more than anything, shows the attitude of this once-mighty king. A "sneer" is...

...a look or expression of derision, scorn, or contempt.

This indicates a sense for the reader that the pharaoh was a man who had little respect for others, but was overly conceited about himself. In fact, also in the poem is the inscription on the bottom of the statue as to how this powerful ruler valued himself compared with others:

'My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:

Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'

The sense is that others should look at him—all he possesses and has accomplished—and just give up, for they will never achieve his greatness. The theme of the poem, however, is that all he had has disappeared, he is dead, and even his statue is broken: the "colossal wreck" is surrounded by decay, and nothing remains of his achievements...for as far as the eye can see. In other words, regardless of how amazing and/or accomplished a person may think he is, every man faces the same fate...he will pass away; even the kingdom he built exists no longer.

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