Ozymandias Poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English for Students


The speaker of Shelley’s poem meets a traveler from a bygone era. The traveler talks of the enormous remains of a statue belonging to a renowned pharaoh. He draws the surroundings in addition to observing how the statue’s components are positioned on the sand. The desert and the weathered monument together allude to the sonnet’s main theme, which is the pointlessness of human endeavor. It also touches on issues of fate, the transience of power, and the inevitable fall of kings.

About the Poet 

The author of “Ozymandias,” Percy Bysshe Shelley, was a well-known representative of English Romanticism who lived from 1792 to 1822. Despite belonging to the upper class, he led a radical and rebellious life. He supported political reform, went on two elopements, and wrote poetry on touchy subjects. Shelley composed many more poems besides “Ozymandias,” including “Ode to the West Wind,” “The Mask of Anarchy,” and “England in 1819,” all of which explored political topics and frequently questioned authority. His untimely demise at the tender age of 29 served to further cement his reputation as a literary legend and romantic hero. Because of its beauty, profundity, and unrelenting questioning of power and social standards, his work is still studied and appreciated today.


It is a Petrarchan sonnet as there is an octet – a stanza of 8 lines and a sestet – a stanza of 6 lines. The sonnet follows a theme of iambic pentameter.


Stanza 1

I met a traveller from an antique land,

Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;

The poet tells the poem from his point of view, and refers to himself as “I.” He describes meeting a traveller from an ancient nation in the opening line. This sentence is a little confusing at first: Is the traveller from “an antique land,” or has he just returned from one? Also unknown to the reader is the speaker’s initial meeting place with the sojourner. Which land the traveler has visited is indicated by the title. Ramses II was known to the Greeks as Ozymandias, the mighty Egyptian pharaoh. Therefore, it should come as no surprise to the reader that Egypt, one of the world’s oldest civilizations, is the “antique land.” 

But these lines make much more sense than the first, and the reader can understand exactly what is happening in the sonnet. The traveler tells the poet’s character about his adventures in Egypt throughout the remainder of the poem, which is essentially written in dialogue. Additionally, lines two through fourteen consist of just one statement. In addition, some of the most exquisite and vivid imagery found in poetry can be found in these lines. Because Shelley was such a skilled writer, the reader does not need to put forth much effort to visualize the situation in this work.

The traveler describes a statue he saw in Egypt in lines two through four. The observer sees two enormous stone legs sculpted in the sand of the desert via the traveler’s eyes. The statue’s face lies half-buried nearby. Travelers can still make out the sculpture’s sneer and grimace despite its damaged face. He can infer from this that the tyrant most likely possessed absolute power and ruled with an iron hand. It is also simple to deduce that this emperor took great pride in being the greatest leader in his society.

The tourist then focuses on the sculptor who created the statue. He remarks that the sculptor, whoever he was, was an expert in his topic. It was universally acknowledged that the artist had masterfully conveyed the ruler’s emotions. The pharaoh, though long dead, lives alive in the work of an ordinary sculptor. So, in this instance, who is more powerful? It is, without a doubt, the sculptor.

In line seven, he also seems to be observing that, in contrast to living things, art endures forever. The master’s touch and the graceful carvings endure beyond the traces of time. The traveler offers some intriguing perspectives on the leader in the following line. The pharaoh’s hands first demonstrate how mocking he was towards his people, yet his heart was also good—he provided food and care for them. The citizen was fed by the hand holding the rod, which also made fun of their pettiness. This sentence presents an intriguing contradiction that even the worst leaders exhibit. Additionally, the “hand” represents Ozymandias in its entirety. It’s a synecdoche use.

Stanza 2

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.

There is more information provided in lines nine through eleven, the last of which has words engraved into the pedestal of the ruler. The leader’s pedestal has phrases etched on it that reveal more about Ozymandias’ character. He is giving orders to people who see him to look at all he has made, even though they do not value what he has accomplished. Rather, the speaker must face their fear and despair. These statements capture the leader’s conceit admirably. The tone changes in the final three lines. The leader and his empire are now vanished. These sentences demonstrate Shelley’s use of irony. This damaged statue endures, but the culture of the leader does not. It has crumbled to dust, falling like a statue.

These are some extremely potent lines. It appears as though the traveler is making fun of the sovereign. Furthermore, Shelley’s use of language is noteworthy. Using terms like “decay” and “bare,” he illustrates how helpless this once-mighty pharaoh has grown. Nothing remains at all. Like his land and the damaged statue that stands in for him, the leader has fallen. The poem’s central theme—that all great civilizations will ultimately crumble into dust and that all leaders will eventually fade away—is revealed in these lines.


The plot of Percy Shelley’s “Ozymandias” revolves around a traveler’s terrifying report of coming across a broken statue in a barren desert. The speaker is told by the weary traveler how two enormous stone legs that have been deprived of their bodies puncture the never-ending dunes. A gigantic head with its carved features twisted into a horrible smirk lies nearby, half-buried and crushed. The traveler discloses that these ruins belonged to a powerful monarch by the name of Ozymandias, whose conceit reached no bounds.

On the broken face, the words read, “Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!” This haughty declaration, which was intended to evoke dread and amazement, now contrasts sharply with the king’s barren legacy. This enormous statue was created as a testimony to the dominance of the once-powerful emperor, who was driven by an unquenchable quest for everlasting glory. But time, the real hero of the poem, has brutally destroyed his monument and crushed his ego.

The enormous desert, which stretches out in all directions, is a potent representation of time’s unrelenting advance. It emphasizes the insignificance of human attempts to overcome mortality by dwarfing the statue’s ruins. The wind, an additional powerful symbol, emphasizes the transient nature of ambition and power by whispering long-forgotten tales through the broken pieces. The traveler’s final observation is, “Nothing beside remains. Round the decay / Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare / The lone and level sands stretch far away,” The poem’s main point is emphasized in the line: “The unstoppable power of time causes even the most powerful civilizations and their emperors to fall. It acts as a global reminder of the fleeting nature of human endeavors and the eventual folly of attempting to achieve immortality through earthly achievements.

“Ozymandias” strikes a chord due to its ageless message in addition to its potent images and expressive language. It urges us to cherish true human connection and humility in the face of time’s inescapable march. It also serves as a somber meditation on the transience of human achievements and a warning against arrogance.