Ozymandias is another name for Egyptian pharoah Ramses II, whose vanity and building projects in memorialization of that vanity are legendary. Shelley relates a story told by a traveler in Egypt (an "ancient land") in which the person encountered a ruined monument to the king. Ozymandias's arrogance is still evident in the "sneer of cold command" depicted on the statue's face. But this face is lying half-covered in the sand, and when viewed next to the pedestal of the statue, which reads "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!" the traveler is struck by the irony. Ozymandias (and the man who carved his statue) still proclaims his own power down through the ages, but the ruined condition of his works speaks more to his humanity, and the fleeting nature of power, glory, and life itself than to the haughty monarch's sense of his own immortality. Shelley ends with two lines that emphasize the juxtaposition between the boasts of the monarch and the bleak reality of his surroundings:
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.