A poem by Britain's poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy drew global attention last week, earning some feisty critiques and sparking American columnist Mason Lerner of The Faster Times to quip "There is no longer anybody who can argue that we are any less cultured then the Euros."
What poetic subject could cause such a stir? David Beckham, the dashing English footballer and global celebrity, who fell injured last Sunday and lost out on his chance to compete in this summer's World Cup.
Duffy, whose role as laureate gives her the difficult task of writing occasional poems that aren't, well, horrible, seized on the cultural moment that was Beckham's fall -- and on the name of the little tendon he snapped -- drawing parallels between battles on the football pitch and the Trojan War, and comparing Becks' hard luck to the death of a certain Greek hero. Beckham, you see, tore his Achilles tendon.
In case your knowledge of Greek mythology is a little rusty, legend has it that the nymph Thetis dipped her young son Achilles in the river Styx to make him immortal, and his un-drenched heel remained his only sliver of vulnerability. That heel, as you're probably familiar, proved Achilles' undoing. The Achilles tendon (Beckham's undoing) is so named because of its attachment to the heel. This was all too tempting for Duffy, who explained Beckham's similarities to Achilles on British radio:
"He is almost a mythical figure himself, in popular culture. People like Beckham in their public lives are stories the rest of us follow. The whole point of Greek myths is the combination of triumph and tragedy...The most tragic image was him being unable to walk and crying on the side of the pitch. You just thought how all the money in the world and private planes can't sort this. It was a very moving moment."
It was a moving moment, no doubt. But is Beckham worthy of such a lofty comparison? Is he an Achilles of pop culture? Of sport? Duffy isn't the first, at least, to think him worthy of high art. Madrid's Thyssen-Bornemisza museum exhibited a video of Beckham sleeping.
Duffy's sinewy poem, its style fitting for a soldier or a footballer, is below. Does she pull it off? Give the poem a read and feel free to share your opinion in the comments below.
Myth's river -- where his mother dipped him, fished him, a slippery
golden boy flowed on, his name on its lips.
Without him, it was prophesied, they would not take Troy.
Women hid him, concealed him in girls' sarongs; days of sweetmeats,
spices, silver songs...
But when Odysseus came, with an athlete's build, a sword and a shield,
he followed him to the battlefield, the crowd's roar,
And it was sport, not war, his charmed foot on the ball...
But then his heel, his heel, his heel...