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James Shirley – 11 February 2008
“Death the Leveller” is a poem written by James Shirley, the
English dramatist born 1596 in London. Educated at Oxford and
Cambridge, he taught school, but left teaching and began to write
plays. He produced over forty dramas that are witty, satirical, and
refined. Severely burned in the Great Fire of London in 1666, James
Shirley and his wife died the next day.
I chose this poem for today because it reminds me of the Book of
Ecclesiastes in which “the Preacher, the son of David, king in
Jerusalem” declares that “All is vanity,” and that “the fate of the sons
of men and the fate of beasts is the same. All go to the same place. All
came from the dust and all return to the dust.” Both writers end their
observations on a positive spiritual note – at least where those who are
“just” are concerned. Ecclesiastes ends with “For God will bring every
act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or
evil.” James Shirley ends his poem with “Only the actions of the just /
Smell sweet and blossom in their dust.”
Death the Leveller
By James Shirley (1596-1666)
The glories of our blood and state
Are shadows, not substantial things;
There is no armor 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 crooked 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.
For poetry and stories, visit:
No! I see all the beauty of God's creation and I'm joyful. At the
same time, I see all the suffering and corruption going on in the
world, and feel called to help expose and end it so that we may have true
peace and compassion.
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