Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
- The traveler tells us about an inscription at the foot of statue which finally reveals to us whom this statue represents.
- It is "Ozymandias," the figure named in the title. "Ozymandias" was one of several Greek names for Ramses II of Egypt. For more, see "What's Up with the Title."
- The inscription suggests that Ozymandias is arrogant, or at least that he has grand ideas about his own power: he calls himself the "king of kings."
- Ozymandias also brags about his "works." Maybe he's referring to the famous temples he constructed at Abu Simbel or Thebes. He could also be calling attention to the numerous colossal statues of him, such as the one described in this poem.
- Ozymandias's speech is ambiguous here. On the one hand he tells the "mighty" to "despair" because their achievements will never equal his "works." On the other hand, he might be telling the "mighty" to "despair" as a kind of warning, saying something like "Don't get your hopes up guys because your statues, works, political regimes, etc. will eventually be destroyed or fade away, with nothing to recall them but a dilapidated statue half-buried in the sand."
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
- After the traveler recites the inscription, he resumes his description of the statue and the surrounding area.
- We are reminded again that "nothing" remains besides the head, legs, and pedestal; as if we didn't know the statue has been destroyed, the traveler tells us again that it is a "colossal wreck."
- The very size of the statue – "colossal" – emphasizes the scope of Ozymandias's ambitions as well; it's almost as if because he thinks he's the "king of kings" (10), he also has to build a really big statue.
- To complement the "decay" of the statue, the traveler describes a desolate and barren desert that seems to go on forever: the "sands stretch far away."
- The statue is the only thing in this barren, flat desert. There was probably once a temple or something nearby, but it's long gone. The "sands" are "lone," which means whatever else used to be "beside" the statue has been destroyed or buried.
- Several words in these lines start with the same letter; for example "besides," "boundless," and "bare"; "remains" and "round"; "lone" and "level"; "sands" and "stretch." Using multiple words with the same initial letter is called alliteration. For more, see "Sound Check."