Why does the speaker use the phrase "poor crooked scythe" in the poem "Death the Leveller"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Personifications of Death often show him wielding a scythe, but in Shirley's poem "Death the Leveller ," the scythe belongs not to Death but to one of the dead. At the end of the first stanza, the poet writes that "sceptre and crown" will be equal with "the poor...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Personifications of Death often show him wielding a scythe, but in Shirley's poem "Death the Leveller," the scythe belongs not to Death but to one of the dead. At the end of the first stanza, the poet writes that "sceptre and crown" will be equal with "the poor crookèd scythe and spade" when their owners are dead. As the scepter and crown symbolize royalty, the tools of the peasant's trade—the spade for digging and the scythe for reaping—are symbolic of one of the lowest statuses in life.

In the next stanza, soldiers who kill each other in battle are compared to peasants reaping the field. The sword, therefore, is implicitly compared to the scythe, despite the difference in their uses and the type of men who yield them. Such comparisons serve the poet's purpose of pointing out that all are equal in death, whatever their station or function in life. Only virtue matters once the king, soldier, or peasant is dead.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team