What is the theme of "Ozymandias" by Percy B. Shelley?
In my opinion, the theme of this poem is that human life and human accomplishments are transient. It is saying that, in the long run, nothing we do matters. It reminds me of a song from when I was a kid by the band "Styx." The lyrics went
Nothing ever goes as planned/It's a hell of a notion/ Even pharaohs turn to sand/ like a drop in the ocean.
If you think about it, this is what has happened to Ozymandias. He was so powerful in his day, but now his statues have fallen and no one knows his name. What was once his empire is now a backwater -- an "antique land." Everything that he worked for and accomplished has been forgotten -- his efforts were pointless.
The poem is implying that all of human life is like that. Nothing we do will last...
Ozymandias is the transliteration into Greek of a part of Ramesses II's throne name User-maat-re Setep-en-re. Ramesses II who ruled Egypt around 12th century B.C. is regarded as the greatest and most powerful of all the Pharaohs.
Diodorus Siculus the Greek historian has recorded one of the inscriptions found at the base of Ramesses II's throne as "King of Kings am I, Osymandias. If anyone would know how great I am and where I lie, let him surpass one of my works." It is this inscription which forms the basis for Shelley's "Ozymandias" (1818).
Ozymandias was obviously a very proud and arrogant man. He was vain enough to imagine that he was the most powerful ruler on earth and he wanted every one to be terrified of him. He was always scowling and frowning in order to scare every one around him. It is this angry frowning face which the ancient sculptor has faithfully recorded for posterity in his statue:
a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
The Bible tells us in the Book of Proverbs 16:18 that,
“Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”
This is the theme of Shelley's poem. All the great rulers in history try to perpetuate their memories by building mammoth statues. Their pride and arrogance knows no bounds as they erect these huge statues and vainly inscribe bombastic claims about the superiority of the kingdoms which they rule. They do this without realizing that they are only ordinary mortals who have to return to dust along with all their endeavors.
The colossal size of the statue only emphasizes the king sized ego of Ramesses II and only underscores the futility of his attempts to perpetuate his anonymity, because today,
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
This even though when he was alive he had boastfully claimed,
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote this poem
"Ozymandias" to express to us that possessions
do not mean immortality. He used very strong
imagery and irony to get his point across
throughout the poem. In drawing these vivid and
ironic pictures in our minds, Shelley was trying to
explain that no one lives forever, and nor do their
Shelley expresses this poem’s moral through a
vivid and ironic picture. A shattered stone statue
with only the legs and head remaining, standing
in the desert, the face is proud and arrogant,
"Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions
read"(lines, 4-6). On the pedestal of the statue,
there are these words, ‘"My name is
Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works,
ye Mighty, and despair!’"(Lines, 10-11).
However, all that surrounds the statue is a desert.
This poem is written to express to us that
possessions don’t mean immortality, the king
who seemed to think that his kingdom would
remain under his statue’s haughty gaze forever,
ironically teaches us this through his epitaph.
"Look on my works, ye Mighty, and
despair!"(Line, 11) becomes good advice, though
in an opposite meaning than the king intended,
for it comes to mean that despite all the power
and might one acquires in the course of their life,
material possessions will not last forever
The Theme is that human beings and materialistic values are seasonal and are bound to end. They are all subject to the laws of time.
In short - Mankind's conceit
The theme of the poem is:- (1) Inevitability of the declines of leader and empire. (2) Human mortality and fate of artificial.