Percy Shelley: Poems

The poet takes great care to describe, in lines 4 and 5, the "passions" of Ozymandias that are 'stamped on these lifeless things' (line 7). what is the effect of the juxtaposition of 'passion' and lifeless'? what is Shelley suggested about human ambition?

Poem on Pharaoh Ozymandias

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In the poem, the traveler describes the great work of the sculptor, who was able to capture the king’s “passions” and give meaningful expression to the stone, an otherwise “lifeless thing.” The “mocking hand” in line 8 is that of the sculptor, who had the artistic ability to “mock” (that is, both imitate and deride) the passions of the king. The “heart” is first of all the king’s, which “fed” the sculptor’s passions, and in turn the sculptor’s, sympathetically recapturing the king’s passions in the stone.

Finally, we cannot miss the general comment on human vanity in the poem. Ambition creates achievements, but even great accomplishments are eventually forgotten. It is not just the “mighty” who desire to withstand time; it is common for people to seek immortality and to resist death and decay. Furthermore, the sculptor himself gets attention and praise that used to be deserved by the king, for all that Ozymandias achieved has now “decayed” into almost nothing, while the sculpture has lasted long enough to make it into poetry. In a way, the artist has become more powerful than the king. The only things that “survive” are the artist’s records of the king’s passion, carved into the stone.