How does Auden contrast reality and expectation in The Shield of Achilles?

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The "Shield of Achilles" by W. H. Auden contrasts war as portrayed in Homeric epic with the modern reality of mechanized warfare. The device he uses is to imagine if Thetis, the mother of Achilles, were looking over the shoulder of Hephaestos as he forged the shield, expecting the shield to contain the elements we find described in ancient epic, and instead sees a scene from a twentieth century war:

She looked over his shoulder …

White flower-garlanded heifers, …

She saw by his flickering forge-light

Quite another scene.

This device makes the horror of modern war more vivid by viewing it through a lenses of antiquity and heroic myth, defamiliarizing it to make readers aware of the ways in which we have become desensitized by the ubiquity of mechanized warfare in our era.