Ozymandias Discussion Questions

Instructor: John Hamilton

John has tutored algebra and SAT Prep and has a B.A. degree with a major in psychology and a minor in mathematics from Christopher Newport University.

Are you interested in teaching your 6th-12th grade students about the two 'Ozymandias' poems? The following discussion questions will help them delve into the details of the legendary literary contest.

The Two Ozymandias Poems

In 1818 the two romantic poets Percy Bysshe Shelley and Horace Smith settled a friendly challenge by publishing their own Ozymandias poems. Who knew poets were so competitive? The results were two fascinating glimpses into how time ultimately ravages all things. Your middle and high schoolers will benefit by comparing and contrasting the two 14-line sonnets, as they learn about the various poetic techniques used by the two romanticists.

Questions About Shelley's Poem

  • In line one of Shelley's poem, what might you infer about the traveler and the antique land?
  • How did the phrase 'shattered visage' in line four create an image in your mind's eye?
  • What did the phrase 'and sneer of cold command' in line five suggest about the way the real Ozymandias (Pharaoh Ramses II) ruled over Egypt?
  • To what was Shelley making an allusion to when he said 'stamped on these lifeless things?'
  • How would you evaluate 'and the heart that fed' in line eight, which many people believe to be the most enigmatic phrase in the poem?
  • Why do you think Shelley chose to use the word 'Wreck' in line 13, and why do you think he capitalized it?
  • How did the phrase 'the lone and level sands' in line 14 announce emphatically what had became of the real Ozymandias and his empire?
  • Why do you judge Shelley chose to use an irregular sonnet for his poem?

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