The Fall of a King and his Kingdom in Percy Shelley’s


English 102

Thursday, July 10, 2003

Ozymandias expresses to us that possessions do not mean immortality. Percy Shelley uses lots of imagery and irony to get his point across throughout the poem. In drawing these vivid and ironic pictures in our minds, Shelley explains that no one lives forever, and neither do their possessions.

Shelley expresses this poem’s moral through a vivid and ironic picture: “On the pedestal of the statue, there are these words, ‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:/ Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’”(10-11). However, all that surrounds the statue is a desert. This poem is written to express to us that possessions don’t mean immortality, the king who seemed to think that his kingdom would remain under his statue’s arrogant gaze forever, ironically teaches us this through his epitaph. Though in an opposite meaning than the king intended, “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” (11) becomes good advice because it comes to mean that despite all the power and might one acquires in the course of their life, material possessions will not last forever. In the end, the King’s works are nothing, and the lines inscribed on his statue are a sermon to those who read it

This poem is basically divided into two parts: the first eight lines and the last six lines. The first eight lines are describing an ancient decayed sculpture seen by a traveler. The last six lines however talk about the words on the pedestal and the desolate surroundings. He contrasts the great sculpture with the surrounding emptiness, which brings a stronger feeling to the poem. When Shelley writes about the “sneer of cold command” (5), you can imagine a very conceited, arrogant pharaoh, commanding his people building this great vast statue hoping his power would be eternal. And when this great piece of work is done, he demands to put such words on the pedestal: “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings. Look at my works, ye Mighty and despair!”(10-11). Ozymandias seemed to think that as long as his sculpture was there, his kingdom would last forever. But after hundreds and thousands of years, the only thing left is sand and the rotting, decaying sculpture. Shelley wrote, “Nothing beside remains” (12) after the words “Look at my works” (11). This is really ironic because the prior sentence was just talking about how great and fabulous this sculpture was and how the king thought about having his kingdom this way forever. When the next sentence comes with “Nothing beside remains” (12), Shelley is trying to tell us that no one lives forever, and nor do their possessions. In the poem, this pharaoh thought that even if he past away, his kingdom, power and possessions would still remain the same, and forever this way. But in reality, it’s impossible. Like the poem said, the king’s work became nothing, only a shattered statue with legs and head left, lying in the desert.

Shelley put a clear image in all our minds when he talked about the power and desires of this mighty king. All Ozymandias wanted was immortality. This king thought he and his kingdom would live forever, but neither people nor their possessions live forever.

Work Cited

Shelley, Percy Bysshe. “Ozymandias.” An Introduction to Literature, Ed. Sylvan Barnette et al. 12th Ed. New York: Longman, 2001. 738.