The speaker of the poem meets a traveler who came from an ancient land. The traveler describes two large stone legs of a statue, which lack a torso to connect them, and stand upright in the desert. Near the legs, half buried in sand, is the broken face of the statue. The statue's facial expression—a frown and a wrinkled lip—form a commanding, haughty sneer. The expression shows that the sculptor understood the emotions of the person the statue is based on, and now those emotions live on, carved forever on inanimate stone. In making the face, the sculptor’s skilled hands mocked up a perfect recreation of those feelings and of the heart that fed those feelings (and, in the process, so perfectly conveyed the subject’s cruelty that the statue itself seems to be mocking its subject).
The traveler next describes the words inscribed on the pedestal of the statue, which say: "My name is Ozymandias, the King who rules over even other Kings. Behold what I have built, all you who think of yourselves as powerful, and despair at the magnificence and superiority of my accomplishments." There is nothing else in the area. Surrounding the remnants of the large statue is a never-ending and barren desert, with empty and flat sands stretching into the distance.
I met a traveller from an antique land,Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stoneStand 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 readWhich 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 decayOf that colossal Wreck, boundless and bareThe lone and level sands stretch far away.”
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