This is probably one of the best known poems by Shelley. I feel as though this is a poem that can be enjoyed by anyone; I actually taught it to a bunch of tenth graders while I was student teaching and was not met with the usual groans and moans. I’ve read it before, but each time I read it I am again amazed by the images and emotions it creates.
Ozymandias by Percy Shelley
“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 think the main theme here is the realization we all come to at one point in our lives, that someday, maybe sooner, maybe later, we will die, and everyone who has ever known us will also die, and then we will truly be nothing. This is a terrible thought! I think most of us realize this at some point during childhood, and (if you were like me) spent a good number of days obsessing over death and being filled with a sinking feeling of dread. The short, declarative line, “Nothing beside remains.” really gets me here. What’s left of the statue is hardly that of the former glory that is inscribed at the pedestal, and is surrounded by a vast emptiness that reflects that same feeling of dread over death being inevitable. I love that line, and feel that it is possibly the strongest one in the poem. We don’t know whether to laugh or cry at the state of the great Ozymandias and his fall from grace, but that very reaction could be used to describe our own fears and anxieties over what comes after death. The poem is so effective in that it forces us to examine our own understanding of death and dying, and although maybe that’s uncomfortable, it serves its purpose in possibly making you look more closely at how you live presently.