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Ozymandias is a well-known poem by Shelley (1818). It describes a broken statue of a legendary king of ancient times, lying forgotten in the desert. Here, let us go through the précis or summary of Ozymandias and see what it originally depicts.


“Ozymandias” is a famous sonnet which was written by the English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822). It got published for the first time in the 11 January 1818 issue of The Examiner in London. Since it is a sonnet, it has only fourteen lines. But in this limited space, Shelley explores a number of contemporary and relevant issues. “Ozymandias” explores the repercussions happened to the tyrant kings who are the autocratic world leaders more generally. As we all know, nothing lasts forever; that means even the very worst political leaders, no matter how much they torture and inflict pain on others, all die at some point. But, Shelley doesn’t explicitly say “nothing lasts forever” and “there is always hope.” He pens down a sonnet in a subtle way to explain the truth.

Summary of Ozymandias

Ozymandias was the name by which Ramses II was known to the Greeks. He was a pharaoh famous for the number of architectural structures he erected. The speaker recalls that he had met a traveller “from an antique land,” who once came up with a story about the ruins of a statue from the desert of his native country. Then he elaborates the statue; two vast legs of stone stand without a body, and near them, a massive, crumbling stone head lies “half sunk” in the sand. The traveller elucidates the expression of the statue as well.  He says that the grimace and “sneer of cold command” on the statue’s face indicate the emotions (or “passions”) of the statue’s subject is well understood by the sculptor. The memory of those emotions survives “stamped” on the lifeless statue, even though both the sculptor and his subject are both now dead. The pedestal of the statue says, “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: / Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” But around the decaying ruin of the statue, nothing remains; only the “lone and level sands,” which stretch out around it.

Themes of the poem

  1. Transience: “Ozymandias” is the epitome of transience; the statue is a “colossal wreck” and it states clearly that some things just don’t last forever. It explores the fact that no matter how big the statues are, they will eventually succumb to the ravages of time. The statue also symbolizes ambition, pride, and absolute power of Ozymandias. Thus, it also implies that kingdoms and political regimes will eventually deteriorate, leaving no trace of their existence except, perhaps, pathetic statues that no longer even have torsos.
  2. Pride: Ozymandias calls himself the “king of kings” as crafted in the inscription of the pedestal. It boasts of the fact that his “works” – works of art like the statue, pyramids, that sort of thing – are the best around. Ozymandias thinks pretty highly of himself and he is proud of his achievements, both politically and artistically. The “colossal” statue with “vast legs” depicts the sense of pride. On the other hand, the statue’s fragmentary state indicates the emptiness and shallowness of Ozymandias’s boast.
  3. Art and culture: “Ozymandias” was inspired by a statue, and it’s no surprise that the poem uses art as one of its major themes. The traveller makes a point of telling us that the statue was made by a really skilled sculptor and the poem as a whole explains the question of art’s longevity.
  4. Significance in the natural world: “Ozymandias” describes a statue, and statues are made from rocks and stones found in nature. The poem explores the relevance and beauty of art in the natural world. It also gives a thought about how nature might fight back. The statue is worn and antique, its head is half-buried in the sand, after all, and we are left wondering what role the erosive force of dust storms, wind, and rain played in its destruction.

The irony of “Ozymandias” is quite daunting for the reader. It talks about the forces of mortality and mutability, described brilliantly in the concluding lines, which will eventually erode and destroy all our lives. The universal truth is that all humans face death and decay. There is a special justice in the way tyrants are subjected to time. The poem remains primarily an ironic and compelling critique of Ozymandias and other ruthless, egoist rulers like him. But it is subtly talking about the eternal truth of time-bound humanity: the traveller in the ancient land, the sculptor-artist who fashioned the tomb, and the reader of the poem, no less than Ozymandias, inhabit a world that is “boundless and bare.” This was a summary of Ozymandias briefly.

This was our article on Summary of Ozymandias Class 10.You can also go through a similar summary of another poem The Lost Spring!

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