[Skip Navigation]

Plagiarist Poetry Sites: Plagiarist.com | Poetry X | Poetry Discussion Forums | Open Poetry Project | Joycean.org
Enter our Poetry Contest
Win Cash and Publication!

Visitors' Comments about:

The Unknown Citizen

W.H. Auden

Add a new comment.

poets intention
Added by: Sean
for your edification- this poem is intended as the inscription on the base of a fictitious monument to a citizen of a modern nation.

source- college board
Added by: Stave
One thing that just sorta stuck out to me is the fact that he worked for "Fudge Motors, Inc." Sounds a bit like Ford Motors, doesn't it? And Ford was the guy that invented the assembly line, making it possible to produce hundreds of identical clones of a machine. Hm.
Added by: daniel
Well, I think this is a personal poem about how he was a coward when he left Britain in January of 1939. Many British thought that he came to America to be safe FROM the imminent war in Europe. This poem is a reflection of how he was not a good, loyal citizen but rather how a good citizen should be like.
this is a very thought-provoking poem
Added by: Lynaya
I think this poem is about how people can know you casually, but not personally. For example, everything that they knew about this guy, they knew FROM facts, receits, and records. Nothing else. They didn't know if he was happy, depressed, romantic, abusive, etc. They didn't know anything about him inside. It just makes me think about how many unknown citizens are in our own lives. How many people do we think we know, and we can name off facts, where they live, how old they are, etc.? But how much do we actually know? Do we know what people actually go through or have gone through in life? Or are we ourselves an unknown citizen, allowing people only to know facts, rather than feelings or emotions? Okay, so im done rambling on, but I really like this poem. Take care~
Added by: Poetry Fan
Lynaya certainly raises some interesting and pertinet points about this poem. I suggest that students look up two poems by Simon Armitage ( a contemporary English poet). The first is called simply 'Poem' and the other 'About His Person'. Both are a comment on a person after they have 'gone' (possibly dead but Armitage is deliberately ambiguous). In 'Poem' the man is constructed simply through his actions and in 'About His Person' he is constructed via the possessions he carries with him. Both have a familiarity and resonance with Auden's poem - that people create impressions of us through our acts and possessions but that they never really 'know' us.
Added by: Erica
I think this poem is ironic and deals with conformity of society (how the government handles us). It shows how the government wants us to behave and act. The subject in this poem is made up, isn't real. Auden is speaking through an official who sees this man as an example of what the perfect citizen of that town should be like.
An analysis
Added by: Carol
"The Unknown Citizen" comments on how Auden feels the government is in total and unfeeling control of the people. The poem is an epitaph, "erected by the state", not to mourn the loss of, but to celebrate the existance of, a perfect citizen. In the eyes of the government, the man buried "was a saint" because he fit so perfectly INTO the mold of the modern citizen. The entire work, if read in a choppy, mechanical voice, would sound like a robot barking out a report of automobile sales or stock market fluctuations. The report mentions everything the citizen contributed to economy "the Press are convinced he bought a paper everyday", to the war, to proper demography "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 to the general apathetic and obedient attitude of society "For in everything he did he served the Greater Community...Yet he wasn't a scab or odd in his views". The unknown citizen is representative of all men in modern society, made robotic and unfeeling by the great control panel of an indifferent government. He also mentions propaganda and how the government uses it to mollify our minds: "...his reactions to advertisements were were normal in every way". Auden suggests the ideal citizen will have no individual thoughts, emotions, or desires. Much like the society of Huxley's "Brave New World" or Orwell's "1984", Auden describes a government with totaltarian control over the populace; a power-hungry association that uses the easily controlled masses to benefit itself. The poem refers always to "our teachers", "our Eugenists", "our researchers" and so forth, suggesting that the government oversees all these institutions. The line "He was popular with his mates and liked a drink" infers that not only does the government oversee the citizen's contributions to the community in public, it also moniters his private life. The last lines complete the chilling theme of the poem. The final questions are indeed ironic; judging by the description of his life, obviously the citizen wasn't free, and without freedom it is impossible to be happy. The last line is Auden's final satirical jab at the government. Of course something was wrong, but because the government has selective hearing, any plea for reform remained unheard. With this poem, Auden suggests that as long as society runs smoothly, as long as the government can produce pleasing reports on its citizens, and as long as no questions are asked about the validity of it all, the government will continue to not give a damn about the people's true freedom and happiness.
Added by: Bob Maybe
This poem reminds me of many other works I've read. It is a call for help. Auden was a liberal, but maybe he was afraid of totalitarianism, and this poem served as a defense for himself to SHOW he wasn't a communist.

Still, I consider this poem a reminder that the exterior of a man has no relevance to the interior nor to the man himself.
Added by: Kim
Quick question, does anyone know of a "Fudge Motors Inc."?

This guy was too perfect, he could never exist.
Added by: uzi
I think this poem is trying to tell us that we need not to be perfect. The title alludes to the fact tha this sort of person is unknown because they don't exist, and if they did would they really be happy and perfect? Just something to think about.

» Add a new comment.

« Return to the poem page.