How Is Power Presented In Ozymandias

How does the poem "Ozymandias" describe the power and might portrayed by the statue?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The power wielded by Ozymandias comes through in the poem from specific word choices as well as from the overall image created. 

"The sneer of cold command" on the face of the statue implies great power. The king was able to deliver his orders without relying on the goodwill his people felt for him. He regarded them with contempt; he treated them without warmth. Yet he feared no rebellion from his cruelty because of his great power.

The line that probably best conveys the king's power is this one: "The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed." Again, this line tells the reader that the king operated as a vicious predator over his subjects. His hand mocked them, holding them in derision, not caring for their needs and knowing they could do nothing to threaten his reign. His heart fed upon them, as if they existed only to meet his desires. They were completely under his control. When he raised a hand, that determined their fate. When an impulse charged his heart, he fulfilled it at their expense.

Finally, the fact that the traveller can glean so much information about the ancient king's power merely from a fallen statue drives home the immensity of his authority. After all, "those passions ... which yet survive" are only "stamped on these lifeless things," yet they still come down through the ages, proclaiming how ruthlessly and unopposed the great king reigned in his day. Although no one could stand up to him while he lived, he succumbed to the rule of time, and now only the broken statue attests to the power he once wielded over his victims.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The first thing to understand is how completely the desert sands are able to engulf and hide something like broken pieces of a statue. The ruins of the statue of Ozymandias must have been huge for them to remain uncovered, as is confirmed when the poem refers to "two vast and trunkless legs." The mere size of the original statue, therefore, is a first clue to the might and power of the person portrayed.

The expressiveness of the carving gives further indication of the subject's character. Reference to the "shattered visage" tells us that the face of the statue was badly broken. Even in pieces, however, the "traveler" who saw the remains observed a "frown, and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command." The sculptor apparently was able to convey the attitude of Ozymandias through facial expression that survived even being broken and weathered in the desert.

Finally, the quote from Ozymandias himself states his position toward any who might challenge his power, prestige, and might. "Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!" is not the comment of a ruler interested in peaceful coexistence with neighboring nations.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team