Death the Leveller

James Shirley 1596 (London) – 1666 (London)

The glories of our blood and state
Are shadows, not substantial things;
There is no armour against Fate;
Death lays his icy hand on kings:
Sceptre and Crown
Must tumble down,
And in the dust be equal made
With the poor crookèd scythe and spade.

Some men with swords may reap the field,
And plant fresh laurels where they kill:
But their strong nerves at last must yield;
They tame but one another still:
Early or late
They stoop to fate,
And must give up their murmuring breath
When they, pale captives, creep to death.

The garlands wither on your brow,
Then boast no more your mighty deeds!
Upon Death's purple altar now
See where the victor-victim bleeds.
Your heads must come
To the cold tomb:
Only the actions of the just
Smell sweet and blossom in their dust.

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

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James Shirley

James Shirley (or Sherley) was an English dramatist. He belonged to the great period of English dramatic literature, but, in Charles Lamb's words, he "claims a place among the worthies of this period, not so much for any transcendent genius in himself, as that he was the last of a great race, all of whom spoke nearly the same language and had a set of moral feelings and notions in common." His career of play writing extended from 1625 to the suppression of stage plays by Parliament in 1642. more…

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    "Death the Leveller" Poetry.net. STANDS4 LLC, 2020. Web. 30 Oct. 2020. <https://www.poetry.net/poem/20492/death-the-leveller>.

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