‘Ozymandias’ was written by English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822). Although a member of the upper classes Shelley was a radical young man, eloping twice with young women; he died at the age of just 29. Shelley was also a political radical and wrote poems such as ‘England in 1819’‘The Mask of Anarchy’ exploring the political state of the country at that time.

This poem, ‘Ozymandias’, is based on a king of ancient Egypt, also known as Ramesses II. It was written in a writing competition with his friend and fellow poet Horace Smith, whose poem ‘On A Stupendous Leg of Granite, Discovered Standing by Itself in the Deserts of Egypt, with the Inscription Inserted Below’ never gained as much recognition.

Shelley’s poem is strange mix two forms of sonnet, the Shakespearean and the Petrarchan. It uses vivid imagery to convey its message of transience and impermanence. More recently the poem was used in an advert for the TV series Breaking Bad; and in the comic series Watchmen a character is named Ozymandias. Both of these use the themes of poem to highlight similar ideas. Dizraeli also references the poem in his piece ‘Celebrate’, which you can watch elsewhere on the Page Fright site.

You can also watch on Vimeo.

Writing resources – Dizraeli and Percy Bysshe Shelley