Death the Leveller

by James Shirley

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How does killing men bring fresh laurels in "Death the Leveller"?

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In the second stanza of the poem, the narrator describes soldiers as "men with swords" who "reap the field." In other words, these soldiers use their swords to mow down their enemies in battle, just as a farmer might use his scythe to mow a field of his crop during the harvest. The word "reap" establishes the metaphor which compares the soldiers, and their actions, to farmers, and theirs. The narrator says that the soldiers "plant fresh laurels where they kill"; I take this to mean that the soldiers reap honors for their victories in battle—as laurels are bestowed on victors—but even these soldiers who survive and accrue such honors will one day "yield" to death, just as their opponents did. In the first line of the third stanza, the speaker says that "The garlands wither" on the brows of the victors, and they die, just as everyone else does eventually.

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