What is the moral of the poem "Ozymandias," by Percy Bysshe Shelly?
Ozymandias is the Greek name for the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II, who reigned from 1279-1213 BCE. Shelley quotes Ozymandias as saying, “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings. / Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” This is said in pride, warning anyone from thinking they could destroy him. Yet there are only ruins about the broken statue. His “works” have been obliterated, either by time or by an enemy. He is not invincible as he believed. The real warning is that all the “Mighty” should look on his works and take warning that, no matter how powerful they are, eventually they will lie in the dust, just as Ozymandias is. Their works will be destroyed. The warning is against hubris, the belief that one is not held accountable or subject to the laws of man, the laws of nature, or the laws of the gods.
The moral or theme of this sonnet is that no one is invincible or immortal. Power and pride are only temporary, and time will cause any sense of greatness (the statue of Ramses II from the poem) to crumble and eventually turn to sand. In Petrarchan sonnets, the first eight lines usually describe a problem or an issue. In "Ozymandias" the issue is the crumbling statue of a once powerful, stern ruler ("wrinkled lip," "sneer of cold command"). The last six lines usually provide a solution or resolution. In this sonnet, the resolution is that even though the inscription remains ("My name is Ozymandias, king of kings..."), there is little else around except stretches of sand. The pride, power, and feeling of being invincible has been replaced by "bare" and "lone" stretches of desert.