What is the main idea of the poem "Ozymandias"?    

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Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In the poem, Shelley describes the ruins of a once great statue of a sphinx intended to represent the almighty reign of Ramses II, also known as Ozymandias. However, instead of witnessing the powerful image of an omnipotent ruler, all that remains of Ozymandias's statue is a "Half sunk," broken image of a domineering man that is decaying in the sand. Ironically, Ramses's original intentions of his statue have the opposite effect on travelers, who only witness how time impacts one's legacy and accomplishments. Shelley's poem examines the transitory nature of life, legacy, power, and government institutions. The decaying, broken image of Ozymandias's visage portrays how time destroys every human accomplishment. The inscription on the bottom of the statue is also ironic and symbolically represents how one's pursuit of power and glory are illusory and fleeting.

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The main idea of this poem is that all tyrants are eventually defeated and reduced to nothing. Although Ozymandias thought he was a great and terrifying monarch, ruling over a mighty kingdom, all that is left of him now is a broken statue on an empty desert where his "works" once flourished. 

 Ozymandias had the following inscription put on his statue:

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; 
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
 

The inscription is ironic; while Ozymandias means for other rulers to be frightened of his displays of power, what now would frighten them would be the complete and utter destruction of Ozymandias's power and glory.

Shelley was a radical. He was a supporter of the French Revolution. Shelley is making the point that no king is all-powerful, no matter what he may think. 

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