A sceptre is like a staff, which is held by a king and obviously a crown, which is a symbol of their high authority. The use of the word “must” denotes that it was fate for him to die and the word “tumble” gives the impression of a long, fast fall from power. “Down” also means to the level of the poor who caused him to be beheaded. Shirley then continues to suggest how death is natural and linked to the infamous grim reaper, “with the poor crooked scythe and spade”. A scythe is a harvesting instrument which is known to be wielded by the grim reaper and spade is related to digging holes, hence forth, digging graves. This connects to how death is just apart of life, in which even those not close with nature, will endure at a predestined point in their lives.
The next stanza describes a battle possibly within a field harvested by the poor. The line “And plant fresh laurels where they kill” signifies that as people die, those that are alive move on, forgetting about those who were heroic. “Early or late, they stoop to fate” which basically means, death will catch up to you sooner or later. The word “stoop” gives the impression that they lower themselves to death whether it is against their own will or not. This makes death a leveller as it makes no exceptions. Shirley further describes the victims as “pale captives” that “creep to death”. Pale captives could mean two things, it could refer to the idea of death making us colourless and trapped as you cannot escape from death or it could signify the King before he was executed. To creep to death gives the feeling of the victim slowly passing away into deaths hands, a way which nearly everyone dies.
The third stanza indicates the irony of the importance of power after death. “The garlands wither on your brow” signifies how a person would wither and die like nature. Also, the change from third person to second person. Shirley wants you to feel what it must be like to be close to death and how anyone would “boast no more your mighty deeds” as in the face of death, these achievements are worthless, levelling out those who reside on the street to those who rule over countries. “Upon Death’s purple altar now” implies that death will place you where it wishes; in addition, the colour purple is related to royalty, which mocks his current status.
“Your heads must come to the cold tomb” means that right there, right then, he is to die unavoidably at the cold hands of death. Shirley finishes, “Only the actions of the just smell sweet and blossom in their dust” denoting that if the King had perhaps stepped down, he would have lived longer and therefore, be remembered for longer. In each stanza, Shirley uses rhyming couplets e.g. “Early or late, they stoop to fate” which in literature, is recognized as the basic and decided truth. This associates back to death being a leveller as ‘his’ decision is final.
In conclusion, “Ozymandias” and “Death the Leveller” each use death to illustrate that everyone, in time, no matter how mighty or great they may be, will eventually succumb to the sardonic natural process of death in their lives. Using powerful figures to support this view, they link how death and nature are corresponding and even those who are born great will surrender to it ultimately. This quality makes everyone and everything in life similar and making death a leveller.