Why Ozymandias?

I have this poem on the door of my lab.

Why Ozymandias?
Obviously it’s one of my favourite poems. I am always reminded of the final scene from Planet of the Apes where Taylor comes across the upper half of the Statue of Liberty buried in the sand.

You maniacs! You blew it up! Damn you! Goddamn you all to hell!


No matter how important I think I am,
No matter how important we think this civilisation is,
No matter how important we think the human species is,
No matter how important we think the planet Earth is,
In the grand scheme of things we are only here for a very short time.
Let’s make the most of it.

The central theme of Ozymandias is mankind’s hubris. In fourteen short lines, Shelley condenses the history of not only Ozymandias’ rise, peak, and fall, but also that of an entire civilization. Without directly stating it, Shelley shows that all works of humankind – including power structures and governments -eventually must pass into history, no matter how permanent they may seem at the apex of their influence. Ozymandias’ short-sighted pride seems amusing at first – until the reader realizes that the lessons conveyed are equally applicable today. All things must pass.
From Wikipedia

I like this website for poetry because it includes readers’ comments which are educational in themselves. I’m sure there are other such sites out there – if you know of any you would recommend please let us know.


One comment

  1. For another excellent site on poetry, you must visit Shmoop. I find it extremely insightful and interesting. And yes, I can see why a poem like Ozymandias would be a favorite. For me, the prevalent theme in Ozymandias is of transience. Shelley is in fact obsessed with it. According to him, nothing lasts forever. But at heart, the poem isn’t just about how really big statues eventually succumb to the ravages of time. The statue is a testament to Ozymandias’s ambition and pride. And the lesson to be learnt is that all things will pass and even kingdoms and political regimes will eventually crumble, leaving no trace of their existence in the long run.

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