What is the difference between 'blue-eyed boy' and 'mister death' in 'Buffalo Bill's'?

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The blue-eyed boy in the poem is Buffalo Bill, or William Cody, to give him his real name. The expression means someone who is widely admired and respected. Buffalo Bill was just such a man, earning the admiration and respect of millions for the many extraordinary feats of skill he performed at his famous Wild West shows. Over the years, Buffalo Bill became famous, a living embodiment of the Old West, that romanticization of American history for which Cody was arguably more responsible than anyone else.

It's fair to say that Cummings is less than impressed with the whole Buffalo Bill legend, which he seeks to undermine in this short but strikingly effective poem. Once upon a time Buffalo Bill was indeed the "blue-eyed boy" who looked so fine as he rode upon a silver stallion while shooting no fewer than five clay pigeons at a time.

But no matter how handsome or distinguished Buffalo Bill may have looked back in the day, he's now well and truly dead and has been for a long time. Cummings' poem can be seen, then, as a memento mori—a reminder of the inevitable death that awaits us all. Even great Western heroes like Buffalo Bill must die eventually, and when they do, Mister Death, a personification of death like the Grim Reaper, will be waiting for them.

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