"Death Has Done All Death Can"

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Last Updated on September 27, 2016, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 338

Context: After is a companion piece to Before. In Before we see two men in a deadly quarrel because one has wronged the other. The question is, however, who is the wronged and who the wronger? There is no solution for the problem except to fight it out: if the culprit wins, life will take its toll of him; if the wronged man loses, he will have his reward as a martyr in heaven. There can be no question of forgiveness by the wronged man, because wrong must always be resisted and evil not be crowned on earth; God will be the judge. The wronger, obdurate until the end, refuses to admit his wrong, and so the duel takes place. In After the winner of the contest looks at the corpse of the victim: death has done all that it can do to him. He is now in a new life in which his wrong and the survivor's vengeance are alike inconsequential. It is only at this place in the poem that the reader learns the victor in the duel is the wronged man: God has shielded the protector of right and has vindicated him, as in the ancient trials by combat. The speaker in the poem concludes by wishing that the two of them were again boys: the victim's outrage, God's patience, and man's scorn would then be easy to bear.

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Take the cloak from his face, and at first
Let the corpse do its worst.
How he lies in his rights of a man!
Death has done all death can:
And, absorbed in the new life he leads,
He recks not, he heeds
Nor his wrong nor my vengeance–both strike
On his senses alike,
And are lost in the solemn and strange
Surprise of the change.
Ha, what avails death to erase
His offence, my disgrace?
I would we were boys as of old
In the field, by the fold:
His outrage, God's patience, man's scorn
Were so easily borne.
I stand here now, he lies in his place:
Cover the face.

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