Tuesday, January 12, 2010


"Ozymandias" is a sonnet by Percy Bysshe Shelley, published in 1818. It is frequently anthologized and is probably Shelley's most famous short poem.

In addition to the power of its themes and imagery, the poem is notable for its virtuosic diction. The rhyme scheme of the sonnet is unusual and creates a sinuous and interwoven effect.

Ozymandias was another name for Ramesses the Great, Pharaoh of the nineteenth dynasty of ancient Egypt. Ozymandias represents a transliteration into Greek of a part of Ramesses' throne name. The sonnet paraphrases the inscription on the base of the statue, "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." Shelley's poem is often said to have been inspired by the arrival in London of a colossal statue of Ramesses II, acquired for the British Museum by the Italian adventurer Giovanni Belzoni in 1816.

The sonnet celebrates the anonymous sculptor and his artistic achievement. Shelley imaginatively surveys the ruins of a bygone power to fashion a sinuous, compact sonnet spun from a traveller's tale of far distant desert ruins. The lone and level sands stretching to the horizon perhaps suggest a resultant barrenness from a misuse of power where "nothing beside remains".

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