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Two Shields 

By Stephanie Burt

Greek Anthology, 6:127-28


I hated the fray.

I couldn’t wait to leave—as I have left

the chaos of blade and lance

and mud-caked boots and thin shaft after shaft

of futile, or snapped, or bloody arrows,

piled up over young men who woke as the sun rose

but would not live out the day,

What’s the point of dying for renown?

The dead have less use than a pebble, a shell, a smooth stone.

Now the girls who love Artemis dance

around my perfect bronze-bordered circumference,

and the man who used to carry me, having grown

too old to fight, has thankfully come alone

to her grove, said her prayer, and set me down.


Bright thing, sacred thing, accessory

to the Great Man theory of history,

accoutrement of a conqueror who brought peace

by ruling everything, enjoy your place

high up on the temple wall, with your polished trim.

When you were Alexander’s your gold rim

was marbled with bits of soil, blood, pus, and bone.

He would not leave the world alone,

and you had no choice. You had to accompany him.

Stephanie Burt is Professor of English at Harvard. Her recent books include AFTER CALLIMACHUS (Princeton, 2020); DON’T READ POETRY: A book about how to read poems (Basic, 2019); and ADVICE FROM THE LIGHTS (Graywolf, 2017), an NEA Big Read selection.


Cy Twombly

Fifty Days at Iliam: Shield of Achilles


Oil, oil crayon, and graphite on canvas

191.8 x 170.2cm