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‘Ozymandias’ is the Greek name for Ramses II, who ruled Egypt for sixty-seven years from 1279 to 1213 BC. He was a military conqueror and a great builder, but Shelley’s sonnet describes how the achievements of even the mightiest tyrants are obliterated by time. Only the Pharaoh's arrogant passions, as expressed in the ruined statue, have survived, outliving both the sculptor (‘The hand that mocked them') and Ramses himself ('the heart that fed'). His many monuments have reverted to 'The lone and level sand'.
Shelley wrote 'Ozymandias' in a sonnet-writing competititon with his friend Horace Smith. It was first published in the Examiner on 11 January 1818. Shown here is his draft of the poem, with the line 'My name is Ozymandias – King of Kings' at the top. Horace Smith's rival sonnet has an almost identical phrase, so perhaps this was the cue for the competition. It is derived from a description by Diodorus Siculus of words carved on the pedestal of a statue of Ramses II: 'King of Kings am I, Osymandias. If anyone would know how great I am and where I lie, let him surpass one of my works.'
A fair copy of the sonnet, in more or less its final version, is on the other side of the page. Shelley used this notebook between 1817 and 1819. It also contains drafts of To Constantia, Prince Athanase and To Constantia, Singing, and fair copies of two prose works: A Refutation of Deism and Essay on Christianity.
My name is Ozymandias – King of Kings
A pedestal in
There is A pedestal is
There stands by Nile a lone single pedestal, On which, two trunkless legs are
the wreck of a colossal form
two trunkless legs of
marble grey The wrecks of a colossal image stand stand
Quiver thro sultry mist,
th[r] beneath the sand
Shine thro the sultry mist
Half s[a]nk a shattered visage lies whom
shattered leg half sunk whose gathered frown Beneath
[smile] & wrinkled lips impatient of command
Betray the sculp
A half sunk beneath
Its shattered head is lying on the sands
Whose gathered frown, & curved lips betray
The And on the
Betray some sculptors art, who
Percy Bysshe Shelley; (1822) Mary Shelley; (bequest, 1851) Sir Percy and Lady Shelley; (bequest, 1889) Lady Shelley; (gift, 1893) Bodleian.
Bodleian Shelley Manuscripts, III (1987), ed. P.M.S. Dawson, esp. pp. 342-5; Shelley’s Guitar, no. 74.