Context: Ozymandias, an ancient Egyptian king, had a huge statue of himself erected in the desert. He proudly felt that this monument would glorify his name forever. But now, several thousand years later, the statue inspires only pity and ironic humor, for the gigantic head has fallen from the "vast and trunkless legs of stone" and lies half buried in the sand. On this ridiculously bodiless face one still reads the arrogant "frown,/ And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command." With somber irony, Shelley praises the clever sculptor who gave immortality not to Ozymandias's glory but to the king's presumptuous conceit. In the sestet of the sonnet, the poet emphasizes the tragically vain ineffectuality of all human attempts to achieve immortality through earthly glory:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.