What is the summary of the poem "Ozymandias?"

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amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The speaker recalls meeting a traveler from "an antique land." This antique land is Egypt. Ozymandias is the Greek name for Ramses II, the most celebrated pharaoh of the ancient Egyptian empire. This traveler tells the speaker about the ruins of a statue. Two huge legs of the statue remain but no body ("trunkless"). The other piece of the statue that still remains is a face (visage) half buried in the ground. It is the face of Ozymandias/Ramses II. The face has a sneer: a look of condescension. The person who sculpted the face knew Ozymandias's passion. The sculptor knew the pharaoh's self-glorification. So, it is the sculptor's hand (in sculpting the statue) that mocked the passions of Ozymandias. In other words, the sculptor uses this "sneer" to show the power but also the selfishly indulgent attitude of the pharaoh. 

There is an inscription on the statue of Ozymandias proclaiming his greatness. He calls upon people to look at his "works." These are statues and monuments such as this one in question. Ozymandias had these monuments built so that his greatness would last forever. But the statue has eroded. Half of the sneering face is buried and the remains of the statue are in ruins. This shows that fame and power are fleeting. And with poetic justice, the mockery of a smile is all that's left of the pharaoh's face. 

This poem itself is a work of art, like the statue. Shelley considers the notion that all art is fleeting: even this poem. One question that stems from this notion is whether or not nobler art lasts longer than tributes like the statue. 

kaybrennan874 | Student

As we look at the body parts in the sand, we can see the Ozymandias was seen as an arrogant and dominating ruler. However, as we see in this image, any power that he imagined he had in life will turn to dust in his death. It seems his pride was his downfall. The author shares some objects that were remainder after the statue has faded. What's left on the sand, according to the author, are two legs of the king ("Two vast and trunkless legs"), his body shattered in pieces whose lips were dried up and topped with a frown. These descriptions simply suggest to the reader how the king could not become a grand individual as his intention. He was portrayed as being highly self-centered and arrogant. In other words, his conceit is that he believed he was the king of kings. Later, his monument stood in ruins. The poem implies that the enormous sculpture has collapsed. Over time, the sculpture will ultimately fade away. The author expresses the moral of the poem through her vivid picture of what resulted in the man’s arrogance. He stated, “Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown, and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command” (lines 4-5). Some people know that death is inevitable, but what others don’t realize is that fame and fortune can eventually vanish to dust.

Through descriptive imagery, Shelley attempts to convince readers that despite how large or grand something is, nothing will last for eternity. The poem explains that no human being, status, or whatever could be thought of are bound to forever hold that same charm and popularity as it did when it was originally introduced. The author implies that also having too much pride about oneself could destroy a person. In this particular poem, the author portrays this famous king, who had an enthusiastic feeling of vanity and pride, which became pointless in the end. Though he might have had a great statue and reputation, he took advantage of it in a way and lost it, which turned into desert at the end.