Day 22 – 30 Days, 30 Readings: “The Unknown Citizen” by W. H. Auden

W. H. Auden Category:W.H. Auden

W. H. Auden Category:W.H. Auden (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you have been following along since the beginning of this month, thank you! If you are just joining me here on day 22 of  National Poetry Month, welcome. I took on a personal challenge of recording and posting one poetry video per day for these 30 days of April. It seemed like a more do-able feat than writing a poem a day, but wow has it taken up time. An average of three hours per day, not to mention the time put into pouring through books, and thinking about what to read! So far I have stuck to it. Most of the poems are on the short side, but I’ve tried to do a variety of poets, and styles, and not repeat poets along the way. You can scroll back through these posts this month to watch here on The Dad Poet where I provide perhaps just a tad more commentary, as well as some related videos and readings. Just click on the days on the calendar there to your right, or you can take the short route and catch up via my YouTube playlist for 30 Days, 30 Readings. 

Today’s poem strikes me as a little spooky, considering some discussions I’ve had with friends lately about just how much information is available on each of us, and how it might be used. The poem was written by W. H. Auden, and published in the New Yorker in 1939. Yet is as timely as ever. I was reading an article earlier this evening which asserts that there is written proof that Auden was passed up for the Pulitzer Prize in 1945 for his supposed “communist, anti-war leanings. ”  Those were the days when they could haul you away just for your political view point. Does this have a more recent familiar ring to it? I want to point out that the fictitious citizen in the poem liked A drink, not to drink. He was sociable, but still able to be controlled.

I am not sure my reading is the best among those available online, but considering my recent comments about FaceBook becoming GovernmentSpybook, I feel a certain affinity for it.  Tom O’Bedlam (who has the voice of a god, by the way) on the Spokenverse channel on YouTube has some great information in the description associated with his reading, as well as a link to a flawlessly beautiful reading by Alfred Molina.

The poem is not divided into stanzas, but is split up on your screen simply to fit in all the words. I had debated over using images or doing a face to face reading, but in the end decided, I wanted you to focus on the words, audio-book style. I thank you for listening.

The Unknown Citizen

by W. H. Auden

(To JS/07 M 378 This Marble Monument Is Erected by the State)

He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be
One against whom there was no official complaint,
And all the reports on his conduct agree
That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a
saint,
For in everything he did he served the Greater Community.
Except for the War till the day he retired
He worked in a factory and never got fired,
But satisfied his employers, Fudge Motors Inc.
Yet he wasn’t a scab or odd in his views,
For his Union reports that he paid his dues,
(Our report on his Union shows it was sound)
And our Social Psychology workers found
That he was popular with his mates and liked a drink.
The Press are convinced that he bought a paper every day
And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way.
Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured,
And his Health-card shows he was once in a hospital but left it cured.
Both Producers Research and High-Grade Living declare
He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Instalment Plan
And had everything necessary to the Modern Man,
A phonograph, a radio, a car and a frigidaire.
Our researchers into Public Opinion are content
That he held the proper opinions for the time of year;
When there was peace, he was for peace: when there was war, he went.
He was married and added five children to the population,
Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his
generation.
And our teachers report that he never interfered with their
education.
Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.

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9 thoughts on “Day 22 – 30 Days, 30 Readings: “The Unknown Citizen” by W. H. Auden

  1. Who the hell was it who wrote:

    “Auden and Isherwood sailed away
    In a beautiful pea-soup fog.
    They sailed away for days and days
    And out of the gloom of their cerebral haze
    Came one of those highly symbolical plays
    About the skin of a dog.”

    M

    Like

  2. This is indeed spooky and we would be naive to think there isn’t an essential truth in the poem – even more so now than when it was written.
    I love the lines at the beginning –

    ‘For in everything he did he served the Greater Community.
    Except for the War till the day he retired’

    How subtly that ‘except for the war’ is slipped in!

    Like

  3. When I was in high school, I found this poem in an old college English textbook of my father’s. It prompted me to check out a book of Auden’s poetry from the library, and I fell in love with the poem “August, 1968”:

    The Ogre does what ogres can,
    Deeds quite impossible for Man,
    But one prize is beyond his reach:
    The Ogre cannot master speech.

    About a subjugated plain,
    Among it’s desperate and slain,
    The Ogre stalks with hands on hips,
    While drivel gushes from his lips.

    To me, this is the Unknown Citizen’s rebellion against the Ogre State. The Citizen has poetry, the State has none.

    Like

  4. Pingback: Friday Flashback, Funeral Blues by W. H. Auden | The Dad Poet

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