Summary of Death The Leveller
James Shirley’s “Death the Leveller” is a poem about how good deeds can help people get through the pain of death.
James Shirley’s poem “Death the Leveller” is a hauntingly philosophical piece about how death’s sad march crushes the pride and glory of people. It paints a very clear picture of death as the ultimate conqueror whose kingdom is ruled by perfect equality. The first line of the poem reminds the reader that it’s pointless to be proud of where you were born and where you live. Death is cruel, and no armour can protect you from it. The ultimate leveller comes and touches both kings and fools with his cold hands. The king’s sceptre and crown fall to the ground and lie next to the poor peasant’s scythe and spade.
Victory and success in the world are also meaningless before death. Some men pick up enemy heads and pile them up on the battlefield to get laurels to put on their heads. Even they will have to bow their heads in front of death. But humans still fight and kill each other like mindless animals.
Strength and courage will also be gone one day. We all die helpless and weak. The wreaths on our heads die and lose their beauty, and we forget about the victories they once told us about. We lose our charm, too, and, like pale prisoners, we creep to our deaths with a weak murmur. Death’s altar is purple, and there has never been any “blue blood” there. Here, the winners are also the losers. Even the winners are killed and put to rest in cold tombs.
In the end, we all have to go back to the dust we came from, but the good deeds of the righteous will grow from the dust and smell sweet for all time.
Death The Leveller has a recurring theme about how vain and proud people are, but in the end, they don’t matter because death is coming for us all. But the poem ends on a hopeful note because of what the person who just escaped death does.
There are many figures of speech in the poem, which add to its beauty. Death is shown as a person who is “laying his icy hands.” The beautiful contrast between “sceptre and crown” and “scythe and spade” is an example of metonymy.
The poem was first included in “The Contention of Ajax and Ulysses” by James Shirley as Calchas’ hymn at Ajax’s funeral.
Analysis of Death The Leveller
“Death the Leveller” is a poem written by the great English poet James Shirley. It is a funeral song that talks about how death is something that happens to everyone and is a leveller. The poem reminds us that all of our glory and accomplishments are just shadows and that only our good deeds will bloom into a sweet fragrance. Death is an inevitable part of life that can’t be avoided. In short, death is something that comes with being human. The abstract noun “Death” is pictured as a person who goes to every man and puts his cold hands on them. Here, the word “death” is used as if it were a cold person. This is a figure of speech called “personification.” “King” is written as “Scepter and Crown.” The figure of speech is called metonymy.
The poet says that everyone dies, and death doesn’t care if you are rich or poor, a king or a beggar. Everyone will go to the cemetery, where death equalises everyone. Death is also called a leveller or a bulldozer because of this. The “crooked scythe and spade” is a symbol for farmers and people who work hard. This type of wordplay is called metonymy
The poet says that some men fight with their swords on the battlefield and win when the war is over. The King will plant new laurels, which are evergreen plants that stand for victory, as a sign of their victory. But these people who have won so many fights will lose to death one day. They give up when death comes for them. They start to look like pale war prisoners. Here they are, people who are going to die.
The poet tells the winners, like the kings, army generals, and soldiers, that their garlands will die. Garlands are a sign of honour and victory. “Garlands” don’t last long and are mostly just shadows. So, they shouldn’t talk too much about how well they did in the war. One day, they will all be sacrificed at the altar of death. Here, everyone will die at the same time, whether they win or lose. Their heads will fall into the icy tomb in the cemetery. After people die, only the good things they did will turn into flowers that smell nice. The poet uses a figure of speech called an “Oxymoron” when he says “victory-victim.” When two words that mean the opposite of each other are used together, like “winner” and “loser,” this is called an “oxymoron.”
So, “Death the Leveller” is full of figurative language that adds to the beauty of the poem.