P B Shelley, 'Ozymandias'


P B Shelley, 'Ozymandias'


  • Intro

    Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) is often thought of as a rebel and revolutionary. It is appropriate, then, that ‘Ozymandias’ – one of his most famous poems – is a warning about the arrogance of great leaders. The poem is thought to have been inspired by a gigantic statue of Rameses II that was bought for the British Museum by the Italian explorer Giovanni Belzoni. It was written in late 1817 as part of a competition between Shelley and his friend Horace Smith, and was published in The Examiner in January 1818.


    ‘Ozymandias’ is a sonnet, written in iambic pentameter, and gains much of its power from the taut compression of its language. Its vivid evocation of the ruined statue underlines the hubris of Ozymandias’ proud boast ‘Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’ The irony is, of course, that the Mighty will despair – not at the power of Ozymandias, but at the recognition that their power is ultimately transitory.

  • Audio

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  • Transcript

    Shelley, 'Ozymandias'

    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;
    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.”

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