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Poems

Ozymandias

1 I met a traveller from an antique land,
2 Who said -- "two vast and trunkless legs of stone
3 Stand in the desert ... near them, on the sand,
4 Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
5 And wrinkled lips, and sneer of cold command,
6 Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
7 Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
8 The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
9 And on the pedestal these words appear:
10 My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings,
11 Look on my Works ye Mighty, and despair!
12 Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
13 Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
14 The lone and level sands stretch far away." --

 

he sonnet structure is strange: the octave and sestet are not set apart. Shelley wrote this sonnet in 1818 at Marlow in friendly competition with Horace Smith, whose own sonnet of the same name was published Feb. 1, 1818, also in The Examiner, no. 527, p. 73:

In Egypt's sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desart knows: --
"I am great OZYMANDIAS," saith the stone,
"The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
"The wonders of my hand." -- The City's gone, --
Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
The site of this forgotten Babylon.

We wonder, -- and some Hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro' the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace,
He meets some fragments huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.

The sonnet is a classical statement along the lines of ars longa, vita brevis (art is long, life is short).
Ozymandias: Osymandias is the Greek name for the Egyptian king Rameses II (1304-1237 BC). Diodorus Siculus, in his Library of History (I, 47), records the inscription on the pedestal of his statue (at the Ramesseum, on the other side of the Nile river from Luxor) as "King of Kings am I, Osymandias. If anyone would know how great I am and where I lie, let him surpass one of my works."