A Mother

W.H. Auden's poem The Shield of Achilles is inspired by Thetis' actions in The Iliad. When Patroclus wears Achilles' armor and is killed, Thetis, Achilles' doting mother, goes to Hephaestos and requests a new shield for her son. She desires and expects a shield depicting the glorious results of war, a shield worthy of adorning her great warrior son. In her idealism, perhaps naiveté, she feels that Achilles, carrying his new shield, will be invincible in battle. Thetis' maternal notions serve to blind her from the tragedy fated for her son, and in her blindness can only imagine the traditional notion of a romanticized war; to imagine anything else would be to accept fate. Hephaestos, on the other hand, is fully aware of the true nature of war. As such, he creates the shield to depict the tragic reality of battle, to disillusion Thetis regarding her son's impending demise. The author's perspective is congruous with Hephaestos', and his attitudes expressing the senselessness of war are prevalent throughout the poem. The poem's tensions lie in Thetis' desires to see her son in a pure and victorious setting when contrasted with the brutalities on the shield; the conflict is resolved at the end with Thetis' eventual understanding that the war she exalts will result in her son's death. The harsh images of war depicted in the shield forged by Hephaestos reflect truisms that contrast with Thetis' maternally deluded concept of a glorified war.

At the beginning of the poem, Thetis conveys her expectations for the shield; she imagines the shield depicting the life she wishes for her son, ignoring all semblance of war in favor of a beautiful city. Her impressions of the city are that it is a classic and peaceful society, unaffected by any war. She envisions "vines and olive trees, marble well-governed cities, and ships upon untamed seas.  The imagery here characterizes her son's life in another time, and retains his character

Page 1 of 6 Next >

Related Essays