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Shield of Achilles, The

The Shield of Achilles

a collection of poetry by W. H. Auden, published in 1955. The title poem is among his finest, its bitterly elegiac view of the modern human condition tempered by its depth of imaginative compassion and the resonant accomplishment of its form. The volume also includes two of Auden's major poetic sequences, ‘Bucolics’ and ‘Horae Canonicae’. The former consists of seven vividly illustrated and technically inventive meditations on various landscapes and natural phenomena. In a tone combining philosophical seriousness and witty informality, the poems consider the ethical implications of man's interactions with nature. The sections of ‘Horae Canonicae’ follow the order of the Church's seven traditional hours of prayer to present an encompassing statement of the individual's complicity in the acts of his civilization, the ‘lying selfmade city’ to which he belongs. The poems acknowledge human fallibility and guilt as the fundamental basis of true community as an ordinary day is shown to contain a judicially ordered death emblematically equivalent to the Crucifixion. The sequence is the most powerful of Auden's poems that draw directly on his radical Protestant theology. ‘Ode to Gaea’ and ‘The Truest Poetry Is the Most Feigning’ are among the other notable poems in The Shield of Achilles, which is widely regarded as the most valuable of Auden's later collections.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Seven Against Thebes (Hepta epi Thēbas; Septem contra Thebas) to Sir Walter Scott and Scotland