WH Auden the shield of Achilles Critical Analysis

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WH Auden the shield of Achilles Analysis : Dear students, today I am going to analysis critical WH Auden the shield of Achilles . Hope you will enjoy my writing. But before that look through the following poem the shield of Achilles.

wh auden the shield of achilles

Poem the shield of Achilles

She looked over his shoulder
For vines and olive trees,
Marble well-governed cities
And ships upon untamed seas,
But there on the shining metal
His hands had put instead
An artificial wilderness
And a sky like lead.

A plain without a feature, bare and brown,
No blade of grass, no sign of neighborhood,
Nothing to eat and nowhere to sit down,
Yet, congregated on its blankness, stood
An unintelligible multitude,
A million eyes, a million boots in line,
Without expression, waiting for a sign.

Out of the air a voice without a face
Proved by statistics that some cause was just
In tones as dry and level as the place:
No one was cheered and nothing was discussed;
Column by column in a cloud of dust
They marched away enduring a belief
Whose logic brought them, somewhere else, to grief.

She looked over his shoulder
For ritual pieties,
White flower-garlanded heifers,
Libation and sacrifice,
But there on the shining metal
Where the altar should have been,
She saw by his flickering forge-light
Quite another scene.

Barbed wire enclosed an arbitrary spot
Where bored officials lounged (one cracked a joke)
And sentries sweated for the day was hot:

A crowd of ordinary decent folk
Watched from without and neither moved nor spoke
As three pale figures were led forth and bound
To three posts driven upright in the ground.

The mass and majesty of this world, all
That carries weight and always weighs the same
Lay in the hands of others; they were small
And could not hope for help and no help came:
What their foes like to do was done, their shame
Was all the worst could wish; they lost their pride
And died as men before their bodies died.

She looked over his shoulder
For athletes at their games,
Men and women in a dance
Moving their sweet limbs
Quick, quick, to music,
But there on the shining shield
His hands had set no dancing-floor
But a weed-choked field.

A ragged urchin, aimless and alone,
Loitered about that vacancy; a bird
Flew up to safety from his well-aimed stone:
That girls are raped, that two boys knife a third,
Were axioms to him, who’d never heard
Of any world where promises were kept,
Or one could weep because another wept.

The thin-lipped armorer,
Hephaestos, hobbled away,
Thetis of the shining breasts
Cried out in dismay
At what the god had wrought
To please her son, the strong
Iron-hearted man-slaying Achilles
Who would not live long.

Read More: Use of Myth In Auden’s Poetry

theme of the shield of Achilles analysis

Now it’s the time to discuss WH Auden the shield of Achilles analysis

The shield of Achilles is a lyric poem which has been written by W.H Auden. This lyric poem is divided into three parts and each part consists of three stanzas. Thus there are nine stanzas in all. In this poem, Auden used mythical technique popularized by T.S Eliot to make his comment on the modern condition. The mythical method consists in juxtaposing the past and present. The past is contrasted with the present, the similarities between the two are stressed and in this way some particular experience or situation is universalized.

In the very first part of the poem, Auden has described the ancient Homeric Shield of Achilles on which brightness and beauty of the Greek World has been inscribed. The vines, olive trees, marble statues, well admistretened cities with ships sailing in the seas are the beauty of the Greek World. He says:

“She looked over his shoulder

For vines and olive trees

Marble well-governed cities

And ships upon untamed seas

But there on the shining metal

His hands had put instead

An artificial wilderness

And a sky like lead”

The beautiful images which were curved on the shield is contrasted with the earthy shield of the modern world. On this shield it is inscribed that “an artificial wilderness and a sky like lead presents the truth of modern life. The emptiness and the hollowness of modern society is indicated in this inscription. There is a picture of modern wasteland. We get the picture of the land which is totally barren without any feature or blade of grass.

There is nothing to eat and no place to sit and rest. This is the modern wasteland full or crowd who like dumb driven cattle are unable to think for themselves and mechanically carry out the dictates of their leaders and rulers.

“A million eyes, a million boats in line

Without expression, waiting for a sign”

In second part, it is the religious decay and desolation in the modern age which has beens commented upon. On the Homeric shield were curved scenes of religious ritual, showing cows decorated with flowers and wine and food being served in celebration of some ceremony. But on the modern shield are curved big concentration camps where pale prisoners of war are tide to the stake and brutally shot dead.

how does the ‘shield of achilles’ represent the homeric world?

In the third part of this poem, we are told that on the Homeric shield were curved pictures of Athless busy in their games and men and women dancing rhythmical and sweetly. But on the modern shield there are no dancing floors or playgrounds but only week-choked fields. There are no sportsmen but only “rugged urchin” callously throwing stones at birds or girls being raped or boys quarrelling among themselves and knifing each other. Life is very brutal and beastly and entirely has lacked in the sympathy, love and friendship, which characterized life in the past. The poet says in the poem:

“A ragged urchin aimless and alone

Flew up to safety from his well aimed stone

That girls are raped that two boys knife a third”

In this way, by using the mythical technique Auden has telescoped whole ages of history within the compass of small lyric and commented upon the spiritual decay and desolation in the modern age.

Anyway you may check the following Youtube video about wh auden the shield of achilles.

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