To what extent do you regard 'The Shield Of Achilles' as characteristic of Auden's work as whole?
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To what extent do you regard 'The Shield Of Achilles' as characteristic of Auden's work as whole? At first glance Auden's poem the 'Shield of Achilles' appears to be focused on the classical world. The poem's classical nature is first indicated by the title- Achilles was of course a famous Greek hero, and throughout the poem there are further classical references, many of which Auden has taken from Book XVIII of Homer's Iliad- 'Marble well-governed cities' (l.3), '...athletes at their games' (l.46), 'Hephaestos, hobbled away' (l.61). However, the poem also combines these classical details with the modern world- 'Proved by statistics' (l.17), 'Barbed wire enclosed an arbitrary spot' (l.31). Although there is this unusual combination of classical and modern, the poem can be seen as timeless: Column by column in a cloud of dust They marched away enduring a belief Whose logic brought them, somewhere else, to grief. ('The Shield of Achilles' ll.21-23) Here the army who are 'enduring a belief' (l.21) that they are doing good can be as easily applicable to the modern day (i.e.
Auden also refers to this cyclical nature in 'September 1, 1939' Exiled Thucydides knew... The habit-forming pain, Mismanagement and grief: We must suffer them all again ('September 1, 1939', ll.23-33) Here Auden is talking of the Athenian philosopher and historian Thucydides who is again underlining that human history will keep repeating because humans do not seem to learn from it: For the present stalk abroad Like the past and its wronged again Whimper and are ignored... ('A Walk After Dark', ll.31-33) those who 'whimper' continue to be 'ignored' by those in power and so mistakes continue to be made. Similarly in 'The Shield Of Achilles', the 'strong iron-hearted man-slaying Achilles' (ll.65-6) is seen as a great hero in classical times because of his warrior status. However, in today's world the general perception of Achilles would be exceedingly different as violent, warrior-like attitudes to problems are increasingly condemned by today's society; the response to a "well-aimed stone" (l.55) shouldn't be to throw a stone back. It is this kind of moral "vacancy"(l.54) that leads warriors to wreak destruction upon society.
('Epitaph on a Tyrant', ll.1-6) The poem is referring to a dictator whose ideas of perfection, which cause children to 'die on the streets', are another man's nightmares, thus perfection should not always be strove for. Although like many of Auden's poems 'The Shield Of Achilles' is characteristic in certain features, it is perhaps impossible to outline a characteristic Auden poem. 'The Shield of Achilles' lacks many features that would make it characteristic. For example, poems such as 'Moon Landing' and a 'Walk After Dark' are rife with colloquial ('Mneh'- 'Moon Landing', ll.22) and recherché ('Lacrimae rerum'- 'A Walk After Dark', l.30) language, whereas ' The Shield of Achilles has none, instead the language in the poem obeys the poem's principle of contrast- it alternates between classical and modern language. Therefore it's reasonable to say that there are many re-occurring themes throughout Auden's poems, but not that there are entire poems which are 'characteristic'. 1 It is notable that 'Ist September 1939' appeared on many websites after the September 11th attacks in 2001. Vicki Rounding 2709B
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