SHIELD OF ACHILLES


(After Auden, 1952)

 

Peering over his shoulder

the goddess of love in all her melting forms

sees no glad world of giving

molded there, no inlaid scenes of sacrifice

or service or of modest

calm obeisance to acknowledged modes

of conduct, much less law.   Abrading

the bronze surface as it sets, corrosive pride

coils, pitting the golden arc

of honor, clouding clear air.


Absorbing what her spouse has made

she shudders, seeming for the moment older:

emblazoned at the center

of the metal field a bulky figure squats,

sniffing the sluggish breeze for those that doubt

or might decline to play his

cat-game, batted publicly

from paw to paw.


Degraded from foundations

out, the house of freedom trembles towards the pit,

unmoored by shouted or implicit

threats infesting it.

The bulwarks sought do not appear,

submerged in self-regarding greed

or fear.  The Botticelli

gaze turns gray.  Her jealous hairy

husband sneers triumphantly

then limps away.




Version first published in What Rough Beast, June 29, 2019