Why Did Percy Bysshe Shelley Write Ozymandias?

In the world of literature, Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ozymandias” stands as an iconic poem that continues to captivate readers even today. Its exploration of power, time, and the inevitable decline of human achievements resonate deeply with audiences across generations. But why did Percy Bysshe Shelley write “Ozymandias”?

What inspired him to craft this thought-provoking masterpiece? In this article, we will delve into the motivations behind Shelley’s creation, examining the historical context, personal experiences, and philosophical influences that shaped the poem’s genesis.


Why Did Percy Bysshe Shelley Write “Ozymandias”?

The Curiosity Behind Shelley’s Pen

Percy Bysshe Shelley, a renowned English poet of the Romantic era, possessed an insatiable curiosity that led him to explore various themes and concepts through his writing.


“Ozymandias” is no exception, as it showcases Shelley’s intellectual inquisitiveness combined with his poetic prowess. Let’s uncover the reasons that prompted him to pen this iconic work.

Historical Context: Unearthing Ancient Egypt

During the early 19th century, the world witnessed a renewed interest in the study of ancient civilizations.


Egypt, with its rich history and enigmatic monuments, particularly captivated the imaginations of scholars and artists alike.

The discovery of the Rosetta Stone in 1799, which enabled the decipherment of hieroglyphics, further fueled this fascination.


Shelley’s Inspiration: The Rivalry with Horace Smith

It is worth noting that Shelley’s composition of “Ozymandias” was spurred by friendly competition with his fellow writer and friend, Horace Smith.

In 1817, both poets agreed to compose sonnets inspired by the statue of Ramses II (also known as Ozymandias) that had recently arrived in London.

This challenge provided Shelley with a specific focus and infused his creative process with a sense of urgency.

 Questioning Power and Hubris

The Transience of Greatness

At the heart of “Ozymandias” lies an exploration of the transience of human power and greatness. Shelley, influenced by the Romantic movement’s emphasis on nature and the sublime, sought to depict the fleeting nature of human achievements in the face of time’s relentless march.

The poem’s enduring appeal lies in its ability to evoke a sense of humility and reflection upon the insignificance of worldly power.

The Critique of Hubris: Why Did Percy Bysshe Shelley Write Ozymandias?

Shelley’s “Ozymandias” serves as a cautionary tale, exposing the inherent flaws of hubris and excessive pride.

The colossal statue of Ozymandias, once a symbol of absolute power, now lies shattered and forgotten in the desert.

By portraying the downfall of a mighty ruler and his empire, Shelley raises profound questions about the corrupting influence of unchecked authority.

Personal Experiences: Shelley’s Radical Stance

Beyond historical and philosophical influences, Shelley’s personal experiences and political beliefs also played a significant role in shaping his work, including “Ozymandias.”

Opposition to Tyranny and Despotism

Throughout his life, Shelley was a staunch advocate for political and social reform. He vehemently opposed tyranny and despotism, championing the cause of individual freedom.

It is within this context that “Ozymandias” gains additional layers of meaning, serving as a scathing critique of oppressive regimes and autocratic rulers.

Impact of Shelley’s Exile

In 1818, Shelley faced exile from England due to his radical political views. This forced separation from his homeland undoubtedly influenced his writing, including the composition of “Ozymandias.”

The poem’s themes of disillusionment, loss, and the transient nature of power reflect the emotions and experiences he encountered during this turbulent period of his life.

Conclusion: Why Did Percy Bysshe Shelley Write Ozymandias?

Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ozymandias” is a poetic masterpiece that transcends time and continues to resonate with audiences today.

Through the exploration of historical context, personal experiences, and philosophical influences, we have gained insight into why Shelley wrote this iconic poem.

By questioning power, critiquing hubris, and drawing from his own beliefs and experiences, Shelley crafted a work of art that serves as a timeless reminder of the ephemeral nature of human achievements.

“Ozymandias” stands as a testament to Shelley’s literary genius and his ability to capture the essence of the human condition.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the main message conveyed by “Ozymandias”?

“Ozymandias” conveys the message that even the most powerful individuals and empires are subject to the passage of time and the ultimate decay of their achievements. It serves as a reminder of the impermanence of human existence and the futility of pursuing power without considering the consequences.

How did Shelley’s personal beliefs influence “Ozymandias”?

Shelley’s personal beliefs, particularly his opposition to tyranny and his advocacy for individual freedom influenced “Ozymandias.” The poem serves as a critique of oppressive rulers and a reflection on the dangers of unchecked authority.

Did Shelley draw inspiration from other literary works while writing “Ozymandias”?

While Shelley’s inspiration for “Ozymandias” primarily came from the statue of Ramses II and his rivalry with Horace Smith, it is possible that he drew inspiration from other works as well. The influence of Greek mythology and classical literature on Shelley’s writing is well-documented, and these sources may have contributed to the poem’s themes.

How did the publication of “Ozymandias” impact Shelley’s literary career?

The publication of “Ozymandias” helped solidify Shelley’s reputation as a talented poet and a prominent figure within the Romantic movement. The poem’s timeless themes and evocative imagery resonated with readers, further establishing Shelley’s legacy as one of the most influential poets of his time.

Is “Ozymandias” a true story or a fictional creation by Shelley?

“Ozymandias” is a fictional creation by Shelley. While the poem draws inspiration from the statue of Ramses II, the narrative depicted in the poem is entirely imagined. Shelley used this imaginative framework to convey timeless truths about power, hubris, and the passage of time.

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