The poem "Ozymandias" was written under interesting circumstances. Percy Bysshe Shelley entered into a personal contest with a friend to write about the same subject to see who could write the better poem. Shelley's word choice, interesting approach to the subject, and his moral that he brings to life surpassed his friend's poem.
Shelley's poem is written in sonnet form; however, it does not follow the usual sonnet pattern in rhyme scheme. Furthermore, the quatrains are not separate ideas but connect through the lines which then carry over to the next quatrain. In addition, the couplet does not rhyme.
Beginning with an intriguing bit of information, the reader immediately wants to know more. Who is the traveler and where was the antique land? By reading further into the poem, the conclusion has to be made that the antique land is Egypt, and the traveler is just someone that Shelley uses to tell his story.
The traveler shares with the poet what he saw on his travels. He comes upon the ruins of a vast statue which has broken apart from the strain of the time, heat, sand, and wind. The huge legs remain standing but the head of the statue lies down in the sand with only the scowl on the face remaining.
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
and wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command..
The sculptor was able to portray the spirit of the man in his art. The ruins are lifeless now, but the sculptor captured the mocking attitude of the king. The passion of the artist is evident.
A pedestal still stands where the statue rested; on it, there are these words:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings: Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!
Ozymandias was another name for Ramses II, a pharaoh famous for the buildings he erected. The irony is clear. The potent king bragged to the future generations and those who lived in his time that his buildings and structures were grand. Mockingly, Shelley points out that the great leader's enormous statue rests decayed and wrecked. Nothing remains but the sand and time.
Of the colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
the lone and level sands stretch far away
In some respect, the sculptor becomes more powerful than the king. The artist's work in the statue has weathered the elements much more so than the mighty ruler's achievements have.