Percy Bysshe Shelley

I first encountered this poem in my freshman literature class, probably my very first quarter at Auburn with Dr. St. John, and it immediately resonated with me and sparked my interest in the Romantics. Where previously I had only been exposed to the very dull work of the Classical period, or worse yet post-modern Americans, I was excited to discover that there was an entire artistic movement away from the rigidity of structure, perfection, symmetry and orthodox ideas of art and beauty; one that seemed to love asymmetry, the other, storm over tranquility, the flawed as much (or more than) the perfect and all things exotic, alien and even grotesque. Ozymandias evokes the desolate feeling of a fabulous grandeur lost in the infinite past, a time so remote that no memory survives, only shattered remnants of colossi and titanic structures weathered by unnumbered ages. It is a meditation on both the hubris of man and the ephemeral nature of human endeavor, even at its most magnificent and enduring.


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."

Pharoah Menkaure, flanked by the goddesses Bat and Hathor

The statue triad above of Menkaure, last of the great pyramid builders of Giza, depicts his authority in the company of the goddesses Bat and Hathor, both associated with cattle (and therefore also wealth). It also displays perhaps the sort of sneer of cold command that Shelley imagined. Ozymandias is usually associated with the much later Pharoah Ramesses II, but no shattered colossus survives of the sort described by the poem and the association is merely speculative. Shelley was being poetic, not historical.