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The Shield of Achilles

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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 …