Ozymandias of Egypt: AHSEC Class 12 Alternative English notes

Ozymandias of Egypt..
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Get summaries, questions, answers, solutions, notes, extras, PDF and guide of Class 12 (second year) Alternative English textbook, chapter/poem 1, Ozymandias of Egypt, which is part of the syllabus of students studying under AHSEC/ASSEB (Assam Board). These solutions, however, should only be treated as references and can be modified/changed. 

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“Ozymandias of Egypt” is a sonnet written by the English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Ozymandias is the Greek name for the pharaoh Rameses II, one of the most powerful rulers of the ancient world. The poem begins with the boastful assertion of the king, who declares himself ‘King of Kings’. The narration is layered, featuring Shelley’s ‘I’, the traveller, and the voice of Ozymandias. The speaker of the poem encounters a traveller from an antique land who describes a shattered, ruined statue in the desert. The frown and ‘sneer of cold command’ on the statue’s face suggest the sculptor’s portrayal of the boastful and arrogant tyrant it represents. The once-mighty king’s statue has crumbled, and his civilisation has been destroyed over time.

In the poem, the colossal statue of Ozymandias symbolizes pride and political oppression, which are transient. This contrasts with the enduring permanence of art, which is eternal. The sculptor successfully captured the emotions and passions of the king, conveying the tyrant’s hidden intensity through his art despite the ‘shattered visage’. The primary theme of the poem is the fleeting nature of power versus the permanence of art, questioning the temporary nature of human authority. The poem highlights Shelley’s interest in the continuity of art and the timeless quality of poetry. Referring to the sculptor, Shelley writes ‘the hand that mocked’, examining the artist’s autonomy. Although the artist was subservient to the king, he displayed a sense of artistic superiority through his satirical representation of the despotic ruler.

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Line-by-line explanation

I met a traveller from an antique land,

The poem starts with the narrator describing a meeting with a traveler who has journeyed from a very old, historically significant place, suggesting a connection to ancient civilizations and the wisdom they hold.

Who said—‘Two vast and trunkless legs of stone / Stand in the desert. … Near them, on the sand,

The traveler tells the narrator about seeing two enormous stone legs that are missing their upper body, standing alone in a vast, empty desert. This setting emphasizes the isolation and desolation of the remains.

Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown, / And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Near the stone legs, partially buried in the sand, lies a broken face of a statue. This face, or “visage,” is described as having a frown, wrinkled lips, and a sneer that conveys a sense of disdain and harsh authority, suggesting the personality of the figure it represents.

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read / Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The detailed expressions on the statue’s face indicate that the sculptor had a deep understanding of the emotions and characteristics of the subject. These intense feelings of pride and arrogance are still evident, even though the statue is now broken and lifeless.

The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;

This line reflects on the sculptor’s role in creating the statue. The “hand that mocked” implies that the sculptor captured and perhaps even critiqued the subject’s personality through his art, while “the heart that fed” suggests that the sculptor was inspired by the powerful emotions and ambitions of the subject.

And on the pedestal, these words appear: / My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; / Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Carved into the base of the statue is an inscription that identifies the figure as Ozymandias, a king who claims supreme authority and power. The inscription boasts of his grand achievements and commands other powerful people to look upon his works and feel hopeless, implying that they can never surpass his greatness.

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay / Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare / The lone and level sands stretch far away.’

In stark contrast to the boastful inscription, nothing else of Ozymandias’s empire remains. The once grand statue is now just a decaying ruin, surrounded by endless, empty desert sands. This imagery underscores the theme of the impermanence of human achievements and the inevitable decay of all earthly power and glory. The vast emptiness of the desert serves as a powerful reminder of the transience of human endeavours.

Textbook solutions

Answer in one or two words

1. Which king is referred to in the poem ‘Ozymandias of Egypt’?

Answer: Ozymandias

2. What type of a poem is ‘Ozymandias of Egypt’?

Answer: Sonnet

3. Who is the speaker in the poem?

Answer: Traveller

4. Who tells the poet about the shattered statue?

Answer: Traveller

5. Name the collection of poetry in which ‘Ozymandias of Egypt’ got first published.

Answer: Rosalind and Helen

Answer in a few words

1. What is the rhyme scheme of ‘Ozymandias of Egypt’?


2. What is ironic about the inscription on the pedestal of Ozymandias’s Statue?

Answer: It declares his greatness, but only ruins remain.

3. What is the only thing remaining in the vast desert?

Answer: The ruined statue

4. Who was Ozymandias?

Answer: A pharaoh of ancient Egypt

5. What quality of Ozymandias does the narrator represent?

Answer: His arrogance

Answer briefly in your own words

1. Write a brief note on the theme of ‘transience of power’ as discussed in the poem.

Answer: The theme of ‘transience of power’ in the poem is illustrated by the ruined statue of Ozymandias, once a powerful king. Despite his boastful claim as the “King of Kings,” his empire has crumbled, and his statue lies in pieces, buried in the sands of time, symbolising the inevitable decline of all rulers and their regimes.

2. ‘The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed’. Whose hand and heart has the poet referred to in this line?

Answer: The poet has referred to the sculptor’s hand and Ozymandias’s heart. The sculptor mocked the passions of the king through his art, while Ozymandias’s heart fed on those same passions.

3. How does the poet describe the expression on Ozymandias’s face?

Answer: The poet describes the expression on Ozymandias’s face as a frown, with a wrinkled lip and a sneer of cold command, capturing the king’s arrogance and sense of superiority.

Answer in detail.

1. Bring out the central idea contained in the poem ‘Ozymandias of Egypt’ by P.B. Shelley.

Answer: The central idea of the poem ‘Ozymandias of Egypt’ by P.B. Shelley is the transient nature of human power and the enduring quality of art. The poem portrays the inevitable decline of all leaders and empires they build, however mighty they may be. The shattered, colossal statue of Ozymandias, with its boastful inscription, highlights the futility of human arrogance and the ephemeral nature of political power. Despite the king’s claim to greatness, nothing remains of his empire but a broken statue in an endless desert, underscoring the poem’s message that human achievements are temporary and insignificant in the grand scheme of time. In contrast, the art that captures this moment endures, suggesting the lasting power of artistic expression.

2. Identify the figures of speech in the poem.

Answer: The poem ‘Ozymandias of Egypt’ employs several figures of speech, including:

  • Irony: The inscription on the pedestal reads, “My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!” This is ironic because the once-great king’s works have crumbled into ruins, and there is nothing left to admire or fear.
  • Alliteration: The repetition of consonant sounds, as seen in “boundless and bare” and “lone and level,” creates a rhythmic effect that enhances the poem’s desolate tone.
  • Imagery: Vivid descriptions such as “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone” and “shattered visage” paint a clear picture of the ruined statue and the surrounding barren desert.
  • Metaphor: The statue itself is a metaphor for Ozymandias’s hubris and the eventual decay of his power and empire.
  • Synecdoche: The use of a part to represent the whole is seen in “the hand that mocked them,” where “hand” stands for the sculptor who created the statue, capturing the essence of Ozymandias’s character.
  • Personification: The “sneer of cold command” on the statue’s face is given human attributes, emphasizing the king’s arrogance and tyranny.

These figures of speech work together to underscore the poem’s themes of impermanence and the enduring nature of art.

Extra questions and answers

1. “I met a traveller from an antique land, Who said—‘Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert.”

(i) Who did the speaker meet?

Answer: A traveller from an antique land.

(ii) What did the traveller describe?

Answer: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone standing in the desert.

(iii) Where were the legs of stone located?

Answer: In the desert.

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17. Explain how Percy Bysshe Shelley juxtaposes the permanence of art with the ephemerality of power in ‘Ozymandias of Egypt’.

Answer: Percy Bysshe Shelley juxtaposes the permanence of art with the ephemerality of power in ‘Ozymandias of Egypt’ through the depiction of the ruined statue. While the mighty Ozymandias’s empire has crumbled into oblivion, the artistry of the sculptor endures. The statue’s face, though shattered, still conveys the ruler’s arrogance and pride, preserved by the sculptor’s skill. The words on the pedestal, though ironic in their boastfulness, remain as a testament to the transient nature of human authority. This contrast highlights that while political power fades, the expression of that power through art remains, immortalizing the human experience beyond the lifespan of its subjects.

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