Ozymandias

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

Taken from Representative Poetry Online

1    I met a traveller from an antique land,
2    Who said -- "two vast and trunkless legs of stone
3    Stand in the desert ... near them, on the sand,
4    Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
5    And wrinkled lips, and sneer of cold command,
6    Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
7    Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
8    The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
9    And on the pedestal these words appear:
10    My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings,
11    Look on my Works ye Mighty, and despair!
12    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
13    Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
14    The lone and level sands stretch far away." --

Notes

1] Shelley evidently wrote this sonnet at Marlow in friendly competition with Horace Smith, whose own sonnet of the same name was published Feb. 1, 1818, also in The Examiner, no. 527, p. 73:

In Egypt's sandy silence, all alone,
    Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
    The only shadow that the Desart knows: --
"I am great OZYMANDIAS," saith the stone,
    "The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
"The wonders of my hand." -- The City's gone, --
    Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
The site of this forgotten Babylon.

We wonder, -- and some Hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro' the wilderness
    Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace,
He meets some fragments huge, and stops to guess
    What powerful but unrecorded race
    Once dwelt in that annihilated place.


 

5] lip Bod. Shelley MS e.4; lips 1819
 

6] Lines 6-8 pose some difficulty, but "survive" (7) must be a transitive verb whose object is "The hand" and "the heart" (8). The "passions" on Ozymandias' face, that is, survive or live on after both hand and heart. "The hand that mocked them" seems to be the sculptor's hand, delineating the vainglory of his subject in "these lifeless things"; and "the heart that fed" must be Ozymandias' own, feeding on (perhaps) its own arrogance. Kelvin Everest and Geoffrey Matthews suggest that line 8 ends with an ellipsis: "and the heart that fed [them]" (that is, those same passions that are the referent of the pronoun "them" governed by "mocked" (The Poems of Shelley, II: 1817-1819 [London: Pearson, 2000]: 311).
 

9] these words appear: 1819; this legend clear Bodl. Shelley MS e.4.
 

10] Ozymandias: Osymandias, Greek name for the Egyptian king Rameses II (1304-1237 BC). Diodorus Siculus, in his Library of History (trans. C. H. Oldfather, Loeb Classical Library, vol. 303 [Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1961]: I, 47), records the inscription on the pedestal of his statue (at the Ramesseum, on the other side of the Nile river from Luxor) 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."
 

12] Nothing beside remains: 1819; No thing remains beside. Bodl. Shelley MS. e.4.