I believe Auden’s poem, The Shield of Achilles, is meant to show the stark reality of life.He points out that people sometimes like to ignore the severity of situations and look at the happier sides of them.Auden appears to have adapted Achilles’ shield to real-life situations such as war, sacrifice, rape, and murder.
Instead of “Marble well-governed cities and ships upon untamed seas, there was “an artificial wilderness and a sky like lead.”This paradoxical verse is meant to show that a shield of war is an instrument of death and destruction, not glory.Although Homer writes of glorious warriors, Auden writes of “a million eyes, a million boots in a line, without expression, waiting for a sign.”Auden shows the reality of war– that soldiers reluctantly leave their families to face a world of destruction and possibly death.
Auden compares the sacrifice of “white flower-garlanded heifers” to a communist-style government with “bored officials” bounding men to posts driven in the ground in preparation of a public execution.He then tells of the replacement of “men and women in a dance moving their sweet limbs quick, quick, to music” for “a weed-choked field.”Auden is showing us what the world has come to; that all the fields of happiness have been choked with the infestation of “weeds” and are now dead.
In last verse, Auden tells us of the survival of the fittest and the war on the streets.He speaks of “a ragged urchin” trying to kill a bird just to survive in a world where the self-evident truth is that girls are raped and little boys stab one another, and not of promises being kept and of someone being able to cry over another person’s grief.This shows the stark reality of life and that if our world keeps disintegrating we will all turn out like “iron-hearted man-slaying Achilles.”
I believe that Auden wrote this poem trying to relate the fact that there is no glory in rape, killing, an