I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter’d visage lies, 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.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
**The speaker describes a meeting with someone who has traveled to a place where ancient civilizations once existed. We know from the title that he’s talking about Egypt. The traveler told the speaker a story about an old, fragmented statue in the middle of the desert. The statue is broken apart, but you can still make out the face of a person. The face looks stern and powerful, like a ruler. The sculptor did a good job at expressing the ruler’s personality. The ruler was a wicked guy, but he took care of his people.
On the pedestal near the face, the traveler reads an inscription in which the ruler Ozymandias tells anyone who might happen to pass by, basically, “Look around and see how awesome I am!” But there is no other evidence of his awesomeness in the vicinity of his giant, broken statue. There is just a lot of sand, as far as the eye can see. The traveler ends his story.
In A Nutshell
Late in 1817 Percy Shelley and his friend Horace Smith decided to have a sonnet competition – that’s right folks: a sonnet competition! For the subject of their sonnets, Shelley and Smith chose a partially-destroyed statue of Ramses II (“Ozymandias”) that was making its way to London from Egypt, finally arriving there sometime early in the year 1818. In the 1790’s Napoleon Bonaparte had tried to get his hands on the statue, but was unable to remove it from Egypt. That’s partly because it weighs almost 7.5 tons. Shelley, like Napoleon, was fascinated by this giant statue.