W H Auden’s collection of poems The Shield of Achilles was published in 1955. The poem that provides the title to the collection, ‘The Shield of Achilles’, is a powerful rejection of war-related violence.
In the poem, Auden questions the validity of traditional notions of honour and fair war in an age in which war has become mechanised and impersonal. The poem references Homer’s The Iliad, in which Thetis, mother of the warrior Achilles, asks Hephaestus to forge a shield. Achilles’ shield is beautifully engraved with scenes representing war and peace, work and leisure. In his poem, Auden re-imagines how the shield of a modern Achilles would look in the modern age, when the rules of war and the role of the hero have been rewritten. The poem explores the complex relationship between art and war, and the ethical problems that the representation of violence for aesthetic purposes entails.
- Full title:
- The Shield of Achilles
- 1955, London
- Faber & Faber
- W H Auden
- Usage terms
‘The Shield of Achilles’: Copyright © 1952 by W.H. Auden, renewed.
Reprinted by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.
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- Held by
- British Library
- Article by:
- John Sutherland
- Literature 1900–1950
John Sutherland describes the life of W H Auden and takes a look at three of his poems.