How does the imagery in "Ozymandias" by Percy Bysshe Shelley convey the poem's message?

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The narrator of the poem “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley tells a story of meeting a man who has traveled in Egypt.  The traveler relates seeing the ruins of a once colossal statue of the Pharaoh Ramses II.

Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies...

The statue is broken apart, but the face is still together. The face looks stern and powerful, like a ruler. The sculptor portrayed the Ozymandias's personality well. The ruler was hard, but attempted to take care of his people.

On the pedestal near the face, the traveler reads an inscription in which the ruler Ozymandias/Ramses II tells anyone who might happen to pass by: Look at my land and work and be envious of what you see. Ironically, when the traveler looks around, there is nothing left but the lone ruins statue of the once powerful leader.


The poem is written in the form of a Petrarchan sonnet. It has fourteen lines.  The sonnet is not standard in that the rhyme scheme is not exact: ABABACDCEDEFEF. The poem is divided by meaning in the octave and sestet. The first section sets the scene and describes the statue.  The last six lines provide the message of the poem.

Imagery and figurative language

The poet  paints the images of the sculpture  in the middle of the desert so that the reader can visualize the scene. One can see the huge legs of the statue standing out .  Nearby lying sunken into the sand is the crushed face of the statue.  Its expression has been left for time immemorial: frowning and wrinkled lip and sneer, representative of his rule.

It is obvious to the traveler that the sculptor was able to capture the arrogance and passion of the great ruler. The ruins still denote his power.

The "hand that mock'd" is still a reference  to the sculptor and the work of imitation he performs. This is an example of synecdoche, in which the  "Hand" is another example of synecdoche, in which the hand represents the whole of the statue.

The pedestal of the statue still stands. On it is the message that Ozymandias wanted to leave for posterity. Foolishly, he thought that since he had built it that it would last forever.

The poem uses a single metaphor: the shattered, ruined statue in the desert wasteland, with its arrogant, passionate face.

Theme and message

Death is at the heart of the poem.  The great Ozymandias is dead along with the civilization to which he belonged. Everything has been destroyed.

The message of the poet lies in the transient nature of things.  Nothing lasts forever.  The statue represents the idea that nature rules over all. The cities, the statues, the tombs—all of these have been lost to the weather, sands, and time.   Even the greatest of all leaders must respect the power of the natural world.

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