I'm studying the poem 'Ozymandias' by Percy Bysshe Shelley. The language is a bit complex, and that's why I want someone to tell whether my interpretation is correct or not.

[...] on the sand, 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 these lifeless things [...]

What I think it means (in the literal sense):

The broken face of a man's statue lies on the sand. Its outward arrogance tells that its sculptor captured the passions well. The passions still survive, carved on that lifeless statue.


I'm slightly confused about what 'read' in this line means:

its sculptor well those passions read which yet survive

Did the sculptor understand the passions well or did he portray them really well in the statue?

  • Welcome, Soha. This question is more suitable for Literature.SE. – Mick Feb 6 '17 at 16:37
  • @Mick I'm sorry. I didn't know that site before. It would probably be best if this question is migrated to that site. – Soha Farhin Pine Feb 6 '17 at 16:38
  • The site is still in beta. I'm not sure if questions can currently be migrated to it. It may be easier to re-post there and delete this question. – Mick Feb 6 '17 at 16:39
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    @Mick I think this question is more related to the understanding of English language, rather than literature. – Soha Farhin Pine Feb 6 '17 at 16:44
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    @Willow Rex You mean in the literal sense? – Soha Farhin Pine Feb 6 '17 at 16:49

Note that 'hand' and 'heart' are the grammatical OBJECTS of 'survive'. The passions survive (or outlive) the hand of the sculptor (which mocked them) and the heart of the ruler (which fed them). But ironically, these passions, while they have outlived the living hand and living heart, do so because they are carved on lifeless things (i.e. bits of stone).


Read in this instance appears to be similar to knew or understood. The idea is that the sculptor who made the statue of Ramesses understood the personality of his subject. Specifically, he understood it well enough to reproduce it in stone. In this way, it's similar to the use of the word read in British English in appropriate contexts to mean "academically study" (one might say "I'm reading physics at Cambridge", for example). I couldn't find a reference to when the word was first used in this context, but it's likely to have been before Shelley's time.


its sculptor well those passions read which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things

can be read as "The sculptor had a full and thorough understanding on the emotions he carved into the stone."

  • Thanks! But it's not a complete answer. Can you clarify that my interpretation is correct? – Soha Farhin Pine Feb 6 '17 at 17:31

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