In Ozymandias, Shelley uses great poetic irony to underline the ridiculousness of human pride in the face of Time. He shows that human glory is ephemeral and is reduced to nothing by the sheer passage of time, and juxtaposes the mortal with the immortal. This juxtaposition serves to represent the contrast between the aspiration of greatness and actual greatness. He also serves to highlight the belief that human greatness can survive through art and ideas, and not through hubris or pride. Thus, Ozymandias’s “frown and wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command” survive only because the sculptor was able to render them through his art.
In fact, they are a truer representation of his cruelty than he would probably have desired, as this sculptor would also have been a part of the populace that Ozymandias ruled over. Contrasting hugely with the absence and death of mighty Ozymandias is that sculptor’s art, which lives on centuries after his own death – “its sculptor well those passions read, which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things. ” In the face of nature, art and time, Shelley shows that human hubris is reduced to nothing.
Also, the inscription by Ozymandias that urges the onlookers to “Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair! ” in the end mocks the king’s own hubris as all there is left to see is decay and vast stretches of “the lone and level sands”. The way the passage of time has been presented also makes the irony greater – “antique land”; speaking from the vantage point of history Ozymandias’s pride seems even more ridiculous in the face of his total eventual destruction, which was inevitable. Neither his property nor this self proclaimed “king of kings” himself can conquer the ravages of Time.