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As the title suggests, Shirley's poem is a statement about the inevitable finality of death. The opening stanza contrasts the fleeting accomplishments of human beings with the permanence and unavoidable reality of death. The first three lines contrast "the glories of blood and state" with "shadows, and not substantial things." The "armour" designed to protect cannot shield from "fate." The regal and power of "kings" is contrasted to the "scythe and spade" of the undertaker. This first stanza helps to establish the mood of the poem as one of seeing life in the eclipse of death. The fleeting nature of human beings is explored further in the second stanza, with opening lines that contrast the moments where individuals kill in the name of war and honor of the state with the moments when they, themselves, as "pale captives, creep to death." The last stanza concludes the poem with the idea that while individuals can honor themselves for upholding their obligations to nations during wartime, there is little difference between "victor-victim" because of the reach of death, which, in the final analysis, reaches all.
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