Saturday, December 8, 2007

Literary Interlude: An Excerpt from “Shield of Achilles” by WH Auden

Reading Havana Noir this week brought this poem to mind. Although it uses a scene from the Illiad to comment on war, particularly WWII, I think it really touches upon the dehumanizing effects of brutality, especially the last verse I’ve excerpted. You can easily get the complete poem on the internet or at your library.

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
Quick, 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.

I have come to the conclusion that blogger hates poetry. I can't tell you what I go through. The beginning of some of the lines is idented. I've tried to rectify it twice. I hope it goes through as entered this time.


rsnlk said...

Apparently not. What a travesty. I'm working on it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this poem. And I have had the same problem with blogger and verse.

Cuban-American Auden fan