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W. H. Auden's poem "The Shield of Achilles" contrasts idealized expectations of humanity with a much harsher, grimmer reality. In particular, the poem paints a disparity between civilization's potential for balance and constructive order and its capability of barbarous destruction. The poem tells an alternate version of a scene from Homer's Iliad in which the nymph Thetis, mother of Achilles, gazes upon the decorated shield the armorer-god Hephaestos has created to console her grieving son and protect him in battle. The poem consists of nine stanzas total, four shorter-lined octets and five longer-lined septets. The octets tell of Thetis' expectation of civilized imagery on the shield, describing in brief, rhythmic lines the idealized illustrations of reverence and harmony she has imagined. The septets, which occur in pairs between the octets, describe the illustrations Hephaestos has actually put onto the shield: barren wastelands; depersonalized, obedient armies; onlookers apathetic to a ruthless execution; and a jaded youth continuing the violent actions that have surrounded him his entire life. A final octet concludes the poem, betraying Thetis' disappointment with the shield's grim depiction of humanity and foretelling of Achilles' impending death.
Achilles, Auden, Composition, Pierrot, Shield, Song
Date of Defense
March 27, 2012.
A Thesis submitted to the College of Music in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Music.
Includes bibliographical references.
Clifton Callender, Professor Directing Thesis; Ladislav Kubik, Committee Member; Matthew Shaftel, Committee Member.
Florida State University
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