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 shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked 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”.
I’m not much of a Shelley fan, but I’ve always liked this sonnet.
Who is the first speaker? Who is the traveller? Is s/he a traveller from a real ‘land’, or from the past? We have a speaker quoting a traveller who is quoting Ozymandias’s words from a pedestal, but how does the traveller know about the remains? Has s/he seen them, or is it just a story?
Whatever the case, the ‘mighty’ might well look on the ruins of Ozymandias’s ‘works’ and despair, because one day only fragments will be left of their achivements too. I wonder if Shelley is also considering his own position as a poet here; what will become of his works? Does history ultimately reduce everything to fragments?