NCERT English literature Class X — Ozymandias
Revised version ..
by Percy Bysshe Shelley..
Introduction …The celebrated English poet P. B. Shelley once met an intrepid traveler who had gone around ancient Egypt. The traveler recounted his seeing two extra-ordinarily large trunkless legs made of stone which were, obviously, the remnants of a huge statue. The statue had crumbled into pieces and lay desolately in the desert sand. The head of the statue, a uniquely made one, lay half-buried in sand in disgrace. The face had the hallmarks of hubris, contemptuous disregard, and authority imprinted on it through the sculptor’s deft chisels. Even in its miserable state, it looked so royal and commanding. The statue belonged to the legendary ruler, King Ozymandias. The traveler’s vivid impression of the statue of King Ozymandias had left a profound impact on Shelley’s mind.
What the poem says ….In a contemplative mood, Shelley reflects upon the helpless state of the remnants of Ozymandias’s statue. Shelley gives a philosophical interpretation of his thoughts.
Ozymandias was an emperor of extra-ordinary valor, fame and wealth. Through his extra-ordinary feats on and off the battlefield, he had risen to great heights, virtually towering over his contemporaries. He was so intoxicated by his success and stature that he felt it necessary to etch his name in the sands of time. To satisfy such maniac obsession with greatness, he authorized an able sculptor to sculpt a giant statue of his figure. The statue would stand defiantly for all times to come proclaiming his greatness.
The sculptor did a fine job. In the face of the statue, the marks of superiority and authority of Ozymandias came out so real and alive. The twisted leaps, the sneer, and the disdainful authority with which he treated other subordinate members of the royalty were reflected in the masterly-sculpted face. He had ordered the following line to be inscribed on the base of the statue –
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: look upon my works, ye mighty and despair.’
In utter arrogance and vaingloriousness, Ozymandias had assumed that his gigantic statue would stand triumphantly in its place forever drawing curious visitors from far and wide. They would stand before the towering statue and recall his greatness with wide-eyed gaze. Seeing the boastful inscription in the pedestal of Ozymandias’s statue, they would feel belittled and small. A feeling of humiliation and despair would engulf their minds as they stand comparing their own accomplishments, stature and prowess with those of Ozymandias’s.
Ozymandias had tried to defy time by having a grand super statue made. Little did he know that it would be ravaged in due course. His quest for immortality through a gigantic statue had been reduced to ruins.
Time devours everything nibbling it relentlessly. Nothing can escape unscathed after a journey through time. Time’s destructive potential treated Ozymandias’s statue with the same ruthlessness with which it treats everything else in this world. The statue crumbled and lay un-honoured and un-sung in the vast desert lamenting its sad fate.
The point Shelley wants to emphasize is that in this transitory world, attempting to immortalize a mortal through majestic statues and edifices is bound to fail. Nothing can escape the jaws of ‘time’. Everything that rises must fall, one day to mingle with dust.