The narrator or speaker of the sonnet did not see the statue himself. He recalls meeting a traveler "from an antique land" (line 1) who describes the ruins of a monumental statue he saw in the desert of his native country, and the meaning conveyed by the statue. The meaning is found in the sculptor's original rendering, as well as the ruined remains. The legs of the statue are "vast and trunkless," and near them on the sand lies the head, "whose frown/And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command" on the face indicates that the sculptor caught the pride as well as the contempt the king had for others whom he considered lesser beings. The words "cold command" in line 5 indicate that the king was a military leader, more than likely interested only in conquest, wealth and power. Yet the king was not a complete arrogant tyrant, and he also cared for and fed his subjects: "The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed" (line 8). The face of Ozymandias depicted in the statue reveals a great deal about the character of the king.
Shelley uses the words "frown," and "sneer" to describe the king's visage, insinuating that this was a man of power who looked down on his subjects as well as on other rulers. Shelley also employs adjectives and nouns to build an image of something strong, enormous, vast and seemingly indestructible, and then nouns such as "decay" and "wreck" to carry out his theme that eventually power turns to dust.