Read poem, here.
On the first reading of “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley, and without the proper knowledge of history and curious facts, it is impossible to know the real story behind Shelley’s sonnet. But that does not make it more difficult to understand and interpret because, even though the poet wrote about a precise leader and a precise sculpture, it is relatable to any world leader (be it from distant or contemporary ages) and any symbol that represents him and his power.
Everything that goes up eventually has to go back down. Be it an apple thrown to the ground by gravity, be it any living creature that ends up back inside the earth that gave it life, be it empires, civilizations, dreams, ideologies. Anything that has put its feet on the world we live in someday will have to fade not only from earth’s surface, but from the memory of man. Shelley is not only telling the story of the collapse of the Egyptian Empire symbolized by the fallen statue of Ramses II surrounded by deserted lands: he is telling the story of anything. It has as general a subject as it can be; it can be considered as a metaphor of anything that you see or have heard of: the inevitable fall.
Pride, power, greed, great buildings and grater civilizations are not enough to stop the race of time: man always looks at things from his miniature point of view where everything is possible, where memory stands forever, where life is just a small part in the immortality of power. But the truth is far away from man’s perspective: he does not know what will happen in the distant or even in the near sight future. As powerful and beautiful as a civilization can be, it will be flushed down the toilet, eventually, by another more powerful and more apt for the current situation. Ramses II saw his land and his people as immortal, his buildings as untouchable by time (on that he was almost right) and he never even dared to imagine that a couple of millennia later there would not be but ruins of his civilization still grasping the land of his nation, and only the “two vast and trunkless legs of stone” living in the land where he used to rule while the rest of his body and almost all that is left of his civilization lies trapped behind a jail of clear glass walls in a far away land where only the Mickey Mouse tourists are there to remember him.