Poem study 1- James Shirley (1596-1666) 'Death the Leveller'

Essay by m_iria_mA-, August 2004

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The poem 'Death the Leveller' was written for the upper class educated. Many other people could not understand it. It holds many words that people in the late 1500's didn't understand. Words like 'Sceptre'- an ornamental rod held by a king/queen as a symbol of power are used in 'Death the Leveller'. Shirley's argument is that a high rank+ position wouldn't last and we can't defend ourselves from death. He tries to make us see that good and just actions will live on, but no matter how rich or poor you are, we will all be judged the same in death. 'Death the Leveller' also has a rhetorical side, and Shirley's tries to put his point across by using phrases like; " The boast no more about your mighty deeds".

The structure of 'Death the Leveller' is a 3-stanza poem of similar shape and length giving it a stereotypical look, except for lines 5 and 6 of each stanza were the lines are given emphasize, as they are the main parts.

Words used in lines 5 and 6 of each stanza are very similar, example;

"Sceptre and Crown must tumble down" and "Early or late, they stoop to fate". Two words that don't rhyme are used first, and then the last word of the line always rhymes with the third word used. Many of the words and phrases used are symbols of royalty such as 'Crown', 'Garland' and 'Swords' and 'Armor' are used. These are a sign of war or battle. 'Death the Leveller' generally has a rhyme sequence of AB, AB, CC, AD. 'Come and tomb' in stanza three are an exception.

The poem is written in English, and was printed at the time of the parliamentary victory for Oliver Cromwell and the execution...