Percy Bysshe Shelley frames his poem by presenting an impression of a time and place far away. The second speaker, whom the first speaker meets, also includes a quotation from a third “speaker,” the long-dead ruler who left an inscription on the base of his statue. This device of doubly removing the reader from the central character of Ozymandias intensifies the sense of a distant setting. The “traveler” describes the “antique land” as a desert that is now empty except for the statue’s ruins. Shelley uses specific words, alliteration, assonance, consonance, and repetition to conjure up an image of the setting and then to emphasize the whole impression, as well as specific features. In addition, the poet emphasizes the currently unpopulated quality of the area by referring to the statue’s half-buried face and by not mentioning any living humans (or animals and plants) existing there.
The setting is clearly identified as a “desert” in Line 3. The “sand” mentioned in the same line is repeated and expanded in the last two lines: “boundless and bare the lone and level sands. . . .” Similarly, the “antique land” of Line 1 is echoed in the “decay” of the lonely place “far away” in the last three lines. Although the statue itself is called “vast” and “colossal,” the desert around the broken fragments is much larger, even “boundless.”