Analysis of "Ozymandias" Poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Updated on November 15, 2019
Howard Allen profile image

Howard is an avid reader who likes helping others find interesting things to read.

Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Ozymandias" was first published in 1918. It's a sonnet, but it deviates from the traditional rhyme scheme.

It's a popular poem, often seen in literature anthologies.

Summary of "Ozymandias"

We'll start with the "plot" of the poem, what it is literally happening in it.

The speaker meets a traveler from an ancient land who tells him the story of something he saw.

In the desert, two large, stone legs stand. Nearby, partially covered with sand, is the sculpture's face. It's sneering with a commanding look. Otherwise, it's broken.

He believes this quality of detached authority preserved on the lifeless material was obvious in the original subject.

He sees the hand which kept his people subjugated, and the heart that took care of them.

The sculpture's pedestal identifies the subject as "Ozymandias, King of Kings." It tells those who see his accomplishments to despair.

That's all that remains. Around the massive rubble there is only sand stretching far into the distance.

Commentary on "Ozymandias"

Now we'll go through the poem a little at a time and consider some important details.

Line 1

I met a traveller from an antique land,

The opening establishes that the speaker has gotten this story from someone else. This creates some distance between the reader and the story.

The person was from an "antique land". This makes us imagine a setting like ancient Egypt.

Lines 2-5

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,

The first picture we get of the sculpture is of two huge legs standing alone. This gives us the immediate sense that everything is wrong. The traveler then describes the face of the sculpture. The juxtaposition of these two unconnected body parts emphasizes the destruction of the image. The decay is also evident in the face being party broken and half covered with sand.

The model for the sculpture is characterized with a frown, a "wrinkled lip", and a "sneer of cold command." The person represented was powerful and aloof.

Lines 6-7

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The sculptor evidently knew the subject well enough to accurately capture his essence. These traits survive, or live on, in "lifeless things," calling attention to the subject's death.

Line 8

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

This ruler's hand "mocked" his people by keeping them well below him. This could make us picture this powerful man pointing and otherwise gesturing as he issued orders to his underlings.

He also did some good, as the traveler speaks of his "heart that fed." The ruler was responsible for many people, and he used his power to meet their needs.

This ruler was important, certainly to himself, but also to others who looked to him for leadership.

Lines 9-11

And on the pedestal, these words appear;

'My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!'

Now we come to the pedestal, which contains the message this important man wanted to send to his contemporaries and future generations. After emphasizing the statue's destruction, the ironic contrast between the decay and the outrageous boast is comical.

No one remembers who Ozymandias is, let alone views him as "King of Kings". His order to "Look on my Works" is laughable, as all his works are long gone.

Lines 12-14

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

The closing lines tell us plainly what we've read: the colossal statue is now just a "colossal Wreck", and the empire of Ozymandias has been replaced by bare sand.

Themes in "Ozymandias"

Here are a few possible themes with some supporting details.


  • The legs are "vast" and the wreck is "colossal"—the subject was powerful enough to commission a work of this size and expense.
  • The face has a "sneer of cold command", suggesting the subject expected his orders to be followed.
  • The subject's "hand that mocked them" indicates he had the power to keep his people subjugated, which would also help maintain his position.
  • For a time, however brief, Ozymandias could proclaim himself "King of Kings."
  • His statement, "Look on my Works", tells us he had the power to take credit for his people's work.
  • His following statement to "despair" is ironic—the mighty should despair because their power won't last.

The Breaking Bad episode "Ozymandias" used the poem's theme of a powerful man losing his empire to parallel their story. You can listen to Bryan Cranston read the poem below. It's really awesome.


  • The traveler is from an "antique land"—we know right away that the passage of time will be important in his story.
  • The subject survives in "lifeless things". Time has taken its toll on his physical body; only rock has endured.
  • Ozymandias and his works have decayed. His monument would likely have been placed prominently in his kingdom. Either his kingdom has been destroyed, or the monument was removed. Time has leveled his empire or changed it into something else, and destroyed his authority.


  • The artist's work, the sculpture, has survived. Though not intact, it's a significant reminder of Ozymandias and his rule.
  • The traits he carefully captured in the stone, because he "well those passions read", are still evident. Some of Ozymandias lives on in this art.
  • While time erodes and destroys physical things, the power of art can grow through the years.


  • Ozymandias's "frown", "wrinkled lip" and "sneer" indicates he was aloof. He looked with some disdain on those around him.
  • His "hand that mocked them" indicates he wanted to keep others down.
  • His statue was massive.
  • He called himself "King of Kings". Even if that was true at the time, he arrogantly wanted everyone to know.
  • He thinks other "Mighty" ones should despair when they compare themselves to him.
  • The folly of pride is clear now that "Nothing beside remains." Ozymandias is broken rock, and his kingdom is "level sands."

What division is seen between the octave and the sestet?

In a sonnet, the ninth line marks a change—in the story or the tone, and in the rhyme scheme.

The octave, which is the first eight lines, establishes the premise or sets up a problem. In "Ozymandias", the octave deals with the ruined state of the statue. We're presented with this situation, but we don't know why we should care yet.

The sestet, which is the last six lines, brings some kind of resolution and meaning to the poem. In "Ozymandias", the sestet starts with the inscription which identifies the subject of the statue. Now we know why this broken statue is meaningful. It continues by making it clear that this wreck and the barren sand is all that's left of King Ozymandias and his works.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)