Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.

I do get that it says that the one who made the statue did a really good job of bringing the haughty Pharaoh's emotions to life; that a subordinate clause promptly follows (starting with a 'which') the subject of which are these "passions" again; and that the next line brings the focus back to the sculptor and reverses the power dynamics, describing the sculptor instead as the one who literally plays with these "passions" and in whose hands the preservation of the Pharaoh's memory and legacy solely lies.

What I don't get is the structure in the last bit.

Is the last line just an extension of the adjective phrase ("stamped on those [..]") in the second line? If that is indeed the case, shouldn't there be a "by" in middle? "stamped on these lifeless things by the hand that [...]"? It'll be a case of omission then. But what for? Merely for the sake of brevity? For added effect? Or for more impact?

Or is it developing the "sculptor" clause at the beginning further, as in the sculptor consists of "the hand that mocked [...]"?


The passions survive the hand that mocked [the passions] and the heart that fed [the passions].

That means that the passions (by being impressed on the lifeless statue) outlived both the sculptor's hand and the pharaoh's heart.

I don't know if this definition of survive is confusing you, or if it's just the convoluted syntax in general. From Oxford Dictionaries Online:

survive: 1.2 [with object] Remain alive after the death of (a particular person) ‘he was survived by his wife and six children.’

A couple more comments:

Mock here means either to mimic or to mimic derisively. Which of these meanings did Shelley intend? Or did he deliberately leave it ambiguous? I can't say for sure; he used it with both of these meanings in other poems.

There's an implied them after fed, and dropping it is one of the things that makes the grammar confusing. I'm not sure whether dropping this them is strictly grammatical, but poetic license excuses a lot.

  • Ooh! Now I get it. Thanks a bunch. It was not "survive" that was the issue but the grammar of the entire thing. But now I get it. I haven't seen "survive" being used in this sense without so much as a preposition so that's also where I wasn't being able to connect the dots. Thanks for clearing this up for me again. Jun 16 '18 at 7:18
  • That line has puzzled me for years. Now it finally makes sense.
    – Torisuda
    Jun 23 '18 at 23:42
  • 1
    @Torisuda: I was also puzzled; I didn't figure the grammar out until years after I first read the poem.
    – Peter Shor
    Jun 24 '18 at 15:33
  • It appears that Poetry Foundation's explanation of Ozymandias gets it wrong, too. (Maybe they're right and I'm wrong, but I don't think so.)
    – Peter Shor
    Jan 13 '19 at 21:53

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.