by Percy Bysshe Shelley
Ozymandias Theme of Art and Culture
"Ozymandias" was inspired by a statue, and it's no surprise that art is one of this poem's themes. The traveler makes a point of telling us that the statue was made by a really skilled sculptor, and the poem as a whole explores the question of art's longevity. The statue is in part a stand-in or substitute for all kinds of art (painting, poetry, etc.), and the poem asks us to think not just about sculpture, but about the fate of other arts as well.
Questions About Art and Culture
- If even a durable statue like the one described in the poem eventually crumbles, what happens to other kinds of art that use flimsier materials – like poetry and painting?
- The traveler refers to the destroyed statue as a heap of "lifeless things" (7). Is the statue "lifeless" because it's in pieces, because it is "trunkless" and headless and is thus no longer a complete body? Or is it "lifeless" because it's made of something inorganic (stone)?
- The sculptor is said to have accurately rendered the passions of Ozymandias's face. Is the only way to judge a work of art by how "real" it looks, by how much it resembles that which it represents?
- What kind of connection exists between a work of art and the civilization or culture that produced it? Can art tell us anything about the culture that produced it?
Chew on This
The sculptor is similar to the reader of the poem because both engage in the processes of reading and interpretation.