Verse > Anthologies > William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. > The Book of Elizabethan Verse
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William Stanley Braithwaite, ed.  The Book of Elizabethan Verse.  1907.
 
Death the Leveller
By James Shirley (1596–1666)
 
THE GLORIES 1 of our blood and state
  Are shadows, not substantial things;
There is no armour against Fate;
  Death lays his icy hand on kings:
        Sceptre and Crown        5
        Must tumble down,
And in the dust be equal made
With the poor crookèd scythe and spade.
 
Some men with swords may reap the field,
  And plant fresh laurels where they kill:        10
But their strong nerves at last must yield;
  They tame but one another still:
        Early or late
        They stoop to fate,
And must give up their murmuring breath        15
When they, pale captives, creep to death.
 
The garlands wither on your brow;
  Then boast no more your mighty deeds;
Upon Death’s purple altar now
  See where the victor-victim bleeds.        20
        Your heads must come
        To the cold tomb:
Only the actions of the just
Smell sweet and blossom in their dust.
 
Note 1. From The contention of Ajax and Ulysses, 1659. “Shirley’s songs,” says Mr. Bullen (Introduction, Lyrics from Elizabethan Dramatists, p. xiv), “remind us sometimes of Fletcher, sometimes of Ben Jonson. He was of an imitative turn, and followed his models closely; but in his most famous song, The glories, etc., and in those equally memorable stanzas (Victorious men, etc.), he struck an original note, deep-toned and solemn.” [back]
 
 
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