‘Ozymandias’ was written in 1817 and was published in 1818. It is one of Shelley’s famous poems. The poem is a sonnet based on Greek history.
The poem deals with the futility of power. In ancient Egypt there was an autocratic king who was proud of his absolute power. But with the passage of time his glory and power proved futile.
The poem starts like a narrative. The speaker tells that he met a traveler who returned from an ancient country. The traveler saw a broken statue in the desert. The statue’s two legs stood on the pedestal. The body was not upon the two legs. Near them lying the shattered face of the statue. There were frown, sneer and expression of the cruel authority in the face. It seemed that the person who made the statue could understand the king’s character well and took every care to reflect it on stone.
The poem is a short lyric of fourteen lines. It is composed in the form of a sonnet. It has three narrators: the I-speaker, the traveler and the king. The observation of these narrators has been accommodated to the sonnet form. In the octave or first eight lines, the speaker introduces the traveler who narrates the broken statue, it’s surrounding and the impression reflected on the shattered face of it. In the sestet or last six lines, the traveler quotes the inscription on the pedestal. The inscription says that the statue is of Ozymandias who was the king of kings. He was more powerful than other kings were, and so; he was proud of his power. But the passage of time this symbol of autocratic authority turned into a huge heap of ruins, lying pitifully in a lonely vast desert.
This sonnet differs from other sonnets in its rhythm scheme. It has unusual rhythm scheme: ababa cdc ede fef. It is neither a Petrarchan nor a Spenserian sonnet; it is not a Shakespearean sonnet as well. It seems that the poet has intentionally used a complex rhyme scheme to match the hard reality about power and its futility.
The diction of this sonnet has also been chosen to suit the subject of the poem. The poem lacks the lyrical ease natural to Shelley. Shelley is a great lyricist; his other poems are marked with felicity of diction and useful movements of the verses.
The sonnet suggests Shelley’s dislike for autocratic rule. Shelley revolted against all conventional values and corruption of the kings and priests. Though Shelley does not say anything directly here against the king, his disgust for power mongers has obviously been suggested in it. However, the poem deals with a universal truth about the futility of human vanity that causes pity in the readers. Therefore, it has a melancholic tone.