James Shirley

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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:
http://www.all-creatures.org/poetrydir.html
 


"Joyful Curmudgeon"
An oxymoron?
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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