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I met a traveler from an antique land

Who said:—Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,

Half sunk, a shatter’d visage lies, whose frown

And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamp’d on those lifeless things,

The hand that mock’d them and the heart that fed,

And on the pedestal these words appear:

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”

Nothing beside remains: round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

To the Moon
Art thou pale for weariness

Of climbing heaven and gazing on the earth,

Wandering companionless

Among the stars that have a different birth,—

And ever changing, like a joyless eye

That finds no object worth its constancy?

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822), one of the major Romantic poets of 19th-century England, was a political radical who was expelled from Oxford University when he was 19 for a pamphlet he had written advocating atheism. “Ozymandias,” which was inspired by the broken remains of a colossal statue of the Egyptian king Rameses II, cautions against the arrogance of political power, reminding its readers that even the proudest empires decay and disappear. It is Shelley’s best known short poem and one of the most admired sonnets in English literature. The poet, whose second wife was Mary Shelley, author of the gothic novel Frankenstein, died shortly before his 30th birthday in a boating accident during a storm. An unconventional, politically provocative figure during his brief life, Shelley is now acknowledged to be one of the great figures of English poetry.

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