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by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Statues and Sculpting

Symbol Analysis

Because the poem is inspired by a statue of Ramses II, we shouldn't be surprised to find so many references to this statue and to sculpting more generally. The "colossal" size of the statue is a symbol of Ramses's lofty self-promotion royal ambition. But statues and sculpture aren't all bad in this poem; they are also a vehicle for the poet to explore questions about the longevity of art, and its ability to capture "passions" (6) in a "lifeless" (7) medium like stones (or painting or even poetry).

  • Line 2: The traveler describes two "legs of stone" with no torso, our first indication that the statue is partly destroyed.
  • Line 4: The head of the statue is "shatter'd" and partially buried in the sand. "Visage" is a stand-in for the statue's head. (The use of one part of any object or entity to describe the whole is called synecdoche.)
  • Line 6-7: The sculptor was pretty good at representing Ramses's "passions" in the statue, which are "stamp'd" or engraved in stone. Even though the stones are "lifeless," they paradoxically give life to the "passions" that still "survive." There are three words in these two lines that start with "s"; the use of multiple words starting with the same letter is called alliteration.
  • Line 8: The "hand that mock'd" is another reference to the sculptor and the work of imitation he performs. "Hand" is another example of synecdoche, in which a part (the hand) stands in for the whole (the sculptor).
  • Line 9: Describes the base of the statue and the boast engraved on it.
  • Line 11: The inscription refers to "works," which might be a reference to other statues, works of art, or monuments commissioned by Ozymandias. This line is ambiguous; Ozymandias could be telling the mighty to despair because their works will never be as good as his or he could be telling them to despair because their works will all eventually crumble just like his. Ozymandias clearly doesn't intend this second meaning, but it's there whether he wants it or not. That's called dramatic irony.
  • Line 13: The poem again reminds us that there is a huge statue in the desert that is now a "colossal wreck."

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