Death the Leveller

by James Shirley
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According to James Shirley, what happens to the men who "reap the field" with swords in "Death the Leveller"?

The men who "reap the field" of battle with their swords end up captives to death. They lose their strength and glory and go to their tombs.

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In James Shirley's poem "Death the Leveller," the speaker describes men with swords who "reap the field" in battle. They kill their enemies as if they were mowing down wheat. These warriors appear powerful and dangerous, and they win glory by their acts of war.

Yet these men, for all their "strong nerves," will someday have to yield to death. Their will give up their breath just like everyone else. Fate will catch up with them, and they will "creep to death," an inglorious image indeed. Their strength will fail and their glory will fade. They will no longer be able to boast of their "mighty deeds." Rather, they will go to their tombs as captives to death even though they were conquerors in life.

Indeed, this poem focuses on how death comes to everyone, high and low. Kings feel its "icy hand" just like peasants do, for "in the dust be equal made" all people. The things of this world, therefore, are mere "shadows," the poet argues. They cannot prevent death.

The poet ends on a hopeful note. The "actions of the just," he says, will still "Smell sweet and blossom" even after the people who did them have died. Their deeds of love and righteousness will live on and continue to fill the world with beauty.

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