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Analysis of the Poems by W.H. Auden Essay (Critical Writing)

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This paper analyzes the two poems by W. H. Auden: ‘The Shield of Achilles’ and ‘The Fall of Rome’.

The Shield of Achilles

The Shield of Achilles was written by W.H Auden to demonstrate the differences between ancient Greek and the modern world. The poem is written in response to Homer’s poem the Iliad, to show the heroic past as opposed to the unenthusiastic situation of the current society. The poem describes the irrelevance of a life that lacks confidence. It portrays a society that does not have values and beliefs which are important in molding society to success. It further describes a jumbled crowd of people who have no idea of what is expected of them. In this society, people put an effort to contribute opinions on how various issues are run in the community. This society has gone astray from its true meaning with nothing much to look forward to. The poem shows how Homer’s legend has turned into a story for modern society.

Auden describes how a dictatorial government that is witnessed in contemporary society degrades the citizens. He further uses the poem to explain how contemporary society has become inactive. Thetis, Achilles mother glances and identifies the shield that Haphaestous had placed on his shoulder to be given to Achilles. Achilles is a great Greek fighter who was known for his prowess in the Trojan War. The shield represents historical art that shows the civilization of a given period.

The shield was crafted by the god Haphaestous for Achilles. Auden describes an artificial wasteland that is unproductive. This portrays the emptiness and vainness of a way of life that is at the edge of nonexistence. Artificial in this case shows the hollowness of this society. Auden further describes a sky that looks just like lead, and this depicts the chilly and bitter behavior of this society.

Thetis looked at the shield that Haphaestous had designed for her son Achilles. She was hoping to find happiness like the vine and olive plants that are described in the poem. However, what she saw was destruction and hopelessness for this society. The society was facing false wilderness which was beating them from all directions. They were in great suffering and torment with nothing to protect them. Auden described how the sky had even changed into a terrifying scene.

Society was facing destruction with no food and water. The land is described as having no feature and was exposed to dust everywhere. The neighborhood and its people were nowhere to be seen. The land had become infertile and was no longer producing any food for these people. This shows how much damage had befallen this nation and their suffering was immense. Their live hood had been taken away and they had nothing to call their own.

Auden describes a bare land that is dry and does not produce anything. There is no food for the people there is no sign of close relationships. In the period of war human beings have insufficient basic needs for their survival. A large number of fighters are described who are waiting for orders from their leader. The fighters are jumbled up and do not have the ability to make decisions on their own. They were standing with no expression and did not have the ability to communicate.

This shows that this society has no power to give ones’ opinions. The matters of the war were not conferred by a large number of people but rather an authoritarian few. People had to follow what was put across without any questions. Auden says that nobody was cheered and this means that no one was seen as a hero. Issues were not discussed within the society but rather laws were followed without any questions.

Thetis hoped to see well-governed cities and strong government to protect the nation. She was hoping to see that her nation was going to enjoy prosperity and richness. This, however, is not the case because she sees cities that have fallen and leadership that is oppressive. There is corruption and disregard of laws in this society with people being unable to protect their own land. Soldiers follow orders without any cause or reason and have no justification for their actions.

They have no idea of where they are going and have no intentions of finding out. They aimlessly walk to their doom and they have no one to save them. Thetis notices that the whole army was going to be destroyed and they will be left without any strength even before their bodies die. They are faced with the inevitable doom for they have no cause in life. Everything to them is meaningless and they do not care at all about what befalls them. There is bloodshed and pain everywhere as the city is brought down with no hope of redemption.

Thetis further looks at the shield to see if there are any signs of the Greek culture. Libation in the poem means the Greek culture of pouring wine as an offering to their gods. Thetis did not see the cultural practices of the Greek people and this meant they were no longer adhered to but rather were forgotten. She noticed that there was a place where prisoners captured in the war had been put. Auden says that a barbed wire is used to confine the prisoners where they are enslaved and mistreated.

Warriors idled laughing to pass time as they had nothing to do. Then the poem further describes how the prisoners are cruelly tied up and murdered in cold blood. This is an overwhelming act going on in the Greek society that carries with it a lot of devastating results. This contemporary society has forgotten its religious beliefs and may not be saved. It is a show of how morality has been put aside and replaced by immoral activities that are embarrassing.

Thetis sees how the current society has forgotten their religious beliefs and convictions. She sees a society that has left behind all the religious activities that have molded their society to that day. She is amazed by how society neglects good practice that has helped create a strong society. She notices how prisoners are mistreated and hanged to die in a culture that is not witnessed in their society. These people do not have a heart and are happy to kill others without any justification. Others are idly laughing showing how demoralized society has become. It is evident that the religious and moral values of society are no longer valued in this modern society.

This loss of value is attributed to bad governance and empty promises. The people are tired of waiting for change to happen and thus they take matters into their own hands. The government does not offer then the required security and thus crime has become rampant that even murder without conviction is witnessed in this society.

The commander has used his authority to manipulate the people. The people are not able to understand that they cannot be forced to do what they do not want to do. They had no hopes that there was salvation and thus no one came to their rescue. They succumbed to death even before their bodies died because their self-worth had been degraded by the dictatorial authority. Thetis glanced at the people playing music and others playing the games while moving their bodies vigorously.

However, the reflection on the shield showed there was no joy and only pain was in the lives of the people. There were only images of decaying and decomposition as Auden writes of a weed-chocked society. The people in the society were just killing one another even for no cause at all. This is described by Auden where the rough urchin is seen throwing stones at the birds for no reason at all. The people in modern society have resolved to harm each other just like animals do.

Thetis hoped her son Achilles to experience a good life free from all sorts of danger. She was able to see what the future held for her son through the shield that Hephaestos had designed. She was then able to understand that her son will not have a good life, with everything a mother would like for her son. Instead, she saw pain and sorrow going to befall her son. She saw a desolate life for a brave and strong warrior who had many depending on him. The soldiers stand motionless without any expression waiting for directions from their leader. Their leader is no longer strong and not capable of leading them to their glory. It is definite that they would face destruction from the enemy.

They were a multitude who had nothing in their power to save them from their miserable lives. They have to face the wrath of the enemy and suffer greatly. The poem is able to tell us that Achilles will not be able to live a long life. He was going to die young before he could enjoy life to its fullest. Thetis was sad and horrified to know that her son Achilles was going to carry the shield that represents all the evil things of bloodshed and brutality to the war.

The other thing that this society has forgotten is its core beliefs and principles. Society has become morally degraded by having crimes like rape as a way of life. There is a rugged boy who is described to have lost all hope in life and is completely lost and alone. The poem describes that all that the boy has seen and experienced is rape crimes, violence and other immoral activities. This shows that this society does not care about protecting its moral values. It is described that promises are not kept in this society. Small children are abandoned and left alone to feed for themselves. The poem also describes how this society does not weep when others weep.

This shows how they do not care for each other and everyone has left to mind their problems. This means that compassion for one another is not witnessed in this modern world. People are mean and greedy and less concerned with what others are going through in their lives.

This poem portrays some form of rhetorical scenes that are noticed visibly. The poem offers a contrast in what Thetis hoped to find in the shield and what she is able to see. There is also the contrast between traditional Greek and modern society. Many times Thetis looks at the shield Hephaestosis had placed in his shoulder hoping to see happiness and great joy for the people of Greek. The real images that are portrayed in the shield are very different from all this.

The land is barren and the people are no hope in life. The irony is well portrayed in the poem of the shield of Achilles. Thetis is ironic in the way she was hoping to see a shield that will be used in a battle designed with images of great joy. Achilles is a warrior an iron-hearted slaying hero, yet Thetis is surprised that Hephaestos had made a shield that shows great destruction to make him happy. When she ordered a shield to be crafted for Achilles she know well it was for battle, yet she is terrified at the destruction that can be the only definite result.

The fall of Rome

The poem of the fall of Rome talks of the Roman problems and political chaos. This poem describes a society that is collapsing under its weight. The poem begins by explaining how those not paying taxes are pursued by the state. Auden describes how the city of Rome is faced with the threat of an outbreak of flu. The flu had killed many people in this society and thus there was danger of another attack. The state had increased the taxes regularly causing problems for the citizens because food prices went up.

This brought about a huge economic decline which contributed to the decline of Rome. The poem further describes how people had imaginary friends which means how the state had ignored people’s problems. The state was worried about taking care of its own image with little regard for the suffering of the people. The insignificant clerk who is mentioned in the poem also shows how minor the people were in the eyes of the state.

The society of Rome is faced with difficulties in many sectors. People had suffered enough and were running away abandoning their belongings because there was no peace. This is illustrated in the poem about the abandoned train. Society was in chaos and the government was not helping them. This society was also faced with the problem of moral degradation. The laws of the country had been abandoned by the people. Crime and violence and filled the nation with people fleeing from destruction.

The poems talks of outlaws that had covered the whole society. This means that the government policies were shaky leading to crime and violence all over. The people were expecting the government to be available to the people as their protector but this was not the case. The government was run by a few powerful people who looked after their own interests before the needs of the people. This greatly contributed to the fall of Rome.

Rome was also faced with many issues that destructed moral values in the society. The poem talks of city prostitutes who were in the urban areas in large numbers. The prostitutes had become very many and many people had forgotten their religious and cultural customs to engage in prostitution. Men would go looking for the prostitutes abandoning their families and children. This was a very bad spectacle in that society that had in the past maintained and nurtured family values.

Prostitution brought with it many problems of diseases and breaking marriages. This destructed the social order of this society and there was chaos everywhere. Society was reduced to moral decay and ignorance which contributed to the death of so many people. This caused great suffering especially to the elderly who wished their cultural values would be observed once again. Rome harbored so many prostitutes and crimes that played a great role in the fall of Rome.

The poem of the fall of Rome explains how the people had many financial problems. The economic situation in Rome was bad and many people had no source of income. This economic instability was caused by bad governance and ill policies. The government had not put into place the right measure to ensure the people were able to get enough income for feeding their families. The government only cared for the needs of the rich so that they could in turn give the government money.

The poor in the society were considered to be irrelevant thus this led to increasing in crime in the nation. Lack of employment opportunities led many to engage in crime to afford food and basic amenities. This further worsened the economic situation in the nation leading to further problems. Industries were firing people since they did not make enough money to pay employees. This in many ways contributed to the collapse of Rome as depicted by Auden.

The poem further explains how the state will come to the rescue of its people. The poem talks of large golden moss which shows how the government guarantees freedom for the people. This however is not the case since the insignificant clerk is seen in the poem to explain the low class in the society. These poor people have nobody to rescue them from their problems. The rich people in society benefit from all the good things that the poor can only dream about.

The poem states that in other areas of the society huge groups of reindeer wander all over. This means things that have not yet been explained in a society that is assumed to be united and civilized. This is because they have lost all hope of survival and have given up on the fight. This beats them down and they are faced with poverty and diseases and many succumb to death.

The poor economic situation further led to a mass uprising from the people. They were fighting to be given food and shelter by the government but the government was not prepared to offer them anything. They had no hope for the future and many children and pregnant women suffered the most. They succumbed to starvation and diseases since there was no help. The health facilitates did not have enough to help the sick thus they had to die.

People wished that the past cultures and practices would be followed again. This is because the ancient governance was fair and honest to the people bringing economic prosperity. The poem talks of praise for ancients practices because that is how the people wished to be governed. But this did not happen because the government would not allow any sort of rebellion from the people. Those who were accused of going against government laws would be punished severely.

Auden writes about Cato who willingly recommends helping provide a solution to the moral breakdown in the society. This, however, does not produce any results and the people revolt because of food prices and low wages. This brings more chaos into society causing many people to lose their lives. He further talks about the flu that had claimed the lives of so many people. This is because of the poor sanitary conditions that the society was exposed to and the congested population that was easy to transfer the flu very fast. This society as explained by Auden in the poem experienced great hardships in their daily routines in many sectors.

They were politically oppressed and this led more to the deterioration in their health facilities that caused many people to die. Society suffered a massive loss even for their animals and many people were left with no places to live in.

The system of governance was corrupt and contributed to the decline of the economy. The institutions that were put in place were rotten from the begging thus many sectors of the country began to decline. The state used the loots they got from the conquered communities badly causing the taxes to shoot up thus the common man was left in poverty. The country’s agricultural sector was non-productive with the farmers left in debt. Rome was not producing any products within the state that could be exported thus business and technological advances were very limited. The army was very costly for the state since they wanted a strong army because they had many enemies trying to enter the Roman territory. This caused them a lot and with few resources, the state had little to modernize the army. The other communities eventually had better weapons than Rome leading to his downfall.

Rome had a wide range of political corruption in the system of governance they applied. The people were not given an opportunity to select their own leaders but rather it was done depending on favors. Those in power had the power to decide who will succeed then as a way of protecting each other from political responsibility. This saw many corrupt leaders get to power while the poor people continued to suffer.

The infrastructure that was put into place was very poor because the government did not give support to the people. This led to poor technological advances and at the same time no technological advance at all. In this way, trade and industry were affected and many businesses would not make money. Other neighboring nations made much more advances and therefore Rome was left behind in all sectors. The economic activities were not developed and many of them collapsed. An agricultural sector that was doing well in the past also went down worsening the situation for the nation.


Auden had written many great and influential poems that touched on various areas in many societies. He has put a lot of detail in the two poems the shield of Achilles and the fall of Rome. Both of these poems talk of the challenges that modern societies face compared to ancient times. The societies in these two poems face great hardships with government institutions that are dictatorial and oppressive. Auden has explained how the modern society regimes degrade the common man as opposed to the past regimes. He further explains that modern society has become very corrupt and full of greed to realize the importance of community unity. In this poem, Auden has clearly shown how important it is for society to work together to protect themselves from bad leadership.

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