Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Shield of Achilles

The Shield of Achilles,  Monoprint, (29 3/4" x 19 1/2")
The Shield Of Achilles
by W. H. Auden

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 q
uick, 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.

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