The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Aeneas at Washington” is a thirty-nine-line poem in blank verse. It utilizes an occasional Alexandrine or six-beat line, very likely in oblique tribute to the hexameter line of the Latin poetic source, Vergil’s Aeneid (c. 29-19 b.c.e.) for Allen Tate’s hero/speaker, Aeneas.

The poem opens with Aeneas in medias res, recounting an episode from Vergil’s epic. In this particular episode, Vergil borrows from a narrative technique used in one of his Homeric sources, the Odyssey (c. 800 b.c.e.). In that far more ancient epic, Homer, rather than directly relating to the audience Odysseus’s adventures on his return voyage, has Odysseus himself tell his hosts, the Phaiakians, the story of his travels. In the same way, Vergil, who is writing for a Roman audience to celebrate Imperial Roman values, has his hero, Aeneas, tell Queen Dido of Carthage the story of the night Troy finally fell to the Greek forces which had been besieging the city for nine years. So, too, Tate begins with Aeneas virtually in midsentence as he is describing the horribly bloody moment in which Neoptolemus, the son of the dead hero Achilles, mercilessly slaughters the Trojan king, Priam, and his queen, Hecuba, along with their children, as they huddle near the altar to Athena.

As the title informs the reader, however, while this Aeneas may be the man of whose exploits Vergil sang, those ancient times and places are far behind him now; he is instead in Washington, D.C., the capital of a modern,...

(The entire section is 644 words.)