Study Guide

Ozymandias Quotes

  • Transience

    I met a traveler from an antique land (1)

    The very fact that the "land" is "antique" suggests that it is outdated, kind of like dial-up internet. The speaker implies that the traveler is coming from a place that is more primitive or older than the speaker's, a place that used to be home to a civilization and culture that has passed away.

    …Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
    Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
    Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies (2-4)

    The statue is on its last legs; it has no torso, and the surrounding desert is doing its best to bury the "shatter'd" head. We are not told how the statue has come to be in this state, though we might infer that since it is located in an "antique land," perhaps it too has succumbed to the erosive force of time, like a lot of antiquities. This ancient object, too, is about to vanish; one can't help thinking that the legs will eventually suffer the same fate as the "shatter'd visage."

    Nothing beside remains; round the decay
    of that colossal wreck (12-13)

    Not only is most of the statue gone, but there isn't anything else around. The temples, palaces and whatever else might have adorned this landscape have all disappeared, leaving "nothing" but two legs and a head. "Decay" is an important word here; it implies that the statue has been slowly rotting or crumbling over a long period of time, and that it will eventually be completely destroyed or buried. It also suggests that the statue was once living, perhaps implying something about the status of art and its eventual fate.

  • Pride

    ...whose frown
    And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command (4-5)

    We know that later in the poem Ozymandias will brag about the greatness of his works, but here he seems less than satisfied with something, as if he thinks his works could be better. We can imagine the sculptor hammering away at the statue and Ozymandias giving him a dirty look because something about it just isn't right. Alternatively, perhaps Ozymandias was perpetually frowning because his empire just wasn't good enough, or big enough.

    "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
    Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair" (10)

    There is a lot of arrogance in this statement, and it's almost as if he were saying that his name means "king of kings." He brags about his "works" (statues like the one described, pyramids, etc.) as well, telling the "Mighty" to "despair" because their works will never be as good or as his. Ironically, Ozymandias's works are nowhere to be seen – all that's left is a barren desert and this broken statue. His pride is made to look stupid because his "works" are all gone, except for this fragmented statue that, quite literally, is on its last legs.

  • Art and Culture

    Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
    Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand, half-sunk
    A shatter'd visage lies (2-4)

    These lines describe a very strange image; just imagine two legs in the middle of the desert, with a head partly submerged nearby. When we imagine a desert, we often imagine a really hot place with lots of sand that is, appropriately, deserted. The "culture" that has produced the "art" has disappeared or, better yet, has sunk beneath the sand, just like the statue's head. The partially-shrunken head is a symbol of a vanishing, "antique" culture. And yet part of the statue is still "standing." It's hard to account for this, but it could be because its "colossal" dimensions make it hard to destroy, or because art somehow finds a way to persist.

    ...whose frown
    And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
    tell that its sculptor well those passions read
    Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
    The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed (4-7)

    These lines suggest that good art has the ability to embody and preserve passions over several thousand years; the statue is like a piece of fossilized amber, but instead of a prehistoric fly, what remains are Ozymandias's passions, kept neatly encased for later viewers. The preservation of the passions contrasts with the dilapidated state of the statue. Even though the statue is dead, it still possesses a strange life-preserving power; this is a bizarre state of affairs indeed. It suggests that art is not useless decoration, but can in fact play an important documentary role.

  • Man and the Natural World

    Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
    Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
    Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies (2-4)

    These lines give us several images of nature: the "stone," the "desert," and the "sand." The "stone" reminds us that the statue is a product of nature in some sense; the way in which the legs are standing in the sand suggests something similar, as if they were just emerging from the sand or nature were giving birth to them. "Half-sunk" calls to mind images of the sea: it's as if the head is being reclaimed by an unforgiving ocean of sand. The materials used to make the statue are slowly returning to the place from where they came, completing a kind of natural cycle of life and death.

    those passions...
    which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things (6-7)

    "Lifeless" is an incredibly rich word in this passage. That the pieces of the statue are now "lifeless" suggests that they were in fact once alive. Perhaps a work of art is alive when it's complete or, rather, not in fragments like the statue of Ozymandias. Or perhaps it has something to do with the role or function of the work of art in a particular culture. Because the surrounding temples and civilization have been destroyed, the statue no longer functions as a tribute to, or symbol of, Ozymandias's political power; it is "dead" because it is now an artistic curiosity, an object for museum-goers to look at and poets to write about rather than a statue with a specific function within a particular culture.

    …lone and level sands stretch far away (14)

    Nature has the final victory in this poem: the statue is almost gone, having suffered the same fate as the civilization that produced it. Ozymandias's empire once "stretch[ed] far away," but now it is nature – embodied by the "lone and level sands" – that extends its empire. Interestingly, the sands are "lone" even though there is a statue still there, as if the statue is so insignificant relative to nature that it is almost not worth mentioning.