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

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 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
And our teachers report that he never interfered with their
Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.

49 responses to “The Unknown Citizen

  1. After reading this poem i was unsure on how to describe this poem, so I visited sparknotes and they had this “It is an examination of the tortured psyche of the prototypical modern man—overeducated, eloquent, neurotic, and emotionally stilted. ” This encompasses the struggle that this man has.

  2. He may be an unknown citizen to the country or the world but he lived his life to the fullest and will always be an unforgettable person to those who love and care for him. What really matters in life is not some title or special status but how your remembered by your loved ones and that you know at least you left your mark in the world.

  3. I liked that this poem was about an ordinary person. Most of what we read these days are about celebrities getting into trouble so it was refreshing to read something about an ordinary life.

  4. Without some sort of high distinction one goes unnoticed despite the good that they brought in the world. It is kind of depressing when one realizes that the good people go overlooked. I guess it is a lesson learned that recognition should not stop one from doing good things.

  5. Do we really need to be extraordinary to be happy and free? And who shall define the universal happiness? That are my questions in response to the author’s original questions in the end. If the unknown citizen is behaving himself quite well all his life in the society, and he has a decent job and family of seven, he could be content and satisfied in the world full of people who are way less fortunate than he is. If I were that man, I would be a pretty happy person already.

  6. I believe that the poet suggests that the modern man is slave to routine and that he is incapable of understanding such concepts freedom and happiness.

  7. There are a lot of these unknown citizens. Citizens that do what they need to do to put their part in the world, but aren’t acknowldged

  8. The unknown citizen represents an average man who lived an average life. As I read the poem I would question as to why this poem represented just an average man, Until I got to the end and noticed that it concluded with a question , “was he free, was he happy?”. This poem shows that this man was an average citizen and was acknowledge as a person without individualism. It shows that he was dictated by the great social, political, and economic forces that seek to establish conformity.

  9. I found this poem slightly refreshing. A tribute to the common man. He was not an extravagent hero, nor did he live an elaborate life. He lived his life day to day. A good life, with a family and was able to provide for them and lived with moderate wealth. Although he did not make a mark in the history books, he is the kind of person that keeps the world turning.

  10. I think we all are unknown citizens due to the fact that nothing in our life stands out unless we are famous, rich, or a criminal.

  11. this was a pretty good poem and was pretty much about a mans life and how ordinary he was. seems like he lived a good life and supported his country during peace or war. my assumption is that this poem is to all the citizens who contribute but are not acknowledged because they aren’t actual soldiers.

  12. I’m not famous. I’m not a ruler of a country. I’m not the president. I’m an unknown citizen that goes through life following all the rules all the laws and going about life the right way. This poem kind of describes the typical nine to five ordinary human worker.

  13. The one thing I got out this poem is who am I? I’m just as predictable as almost everyone in the world. Are we different? maybe in an individual level we are but in a society we are like ants in an ant colony. We live day by day most of us to go to school in hopes of getting a career. But is it really what we want or is it what others want for us? The poem made me think about what I really want in life, and not settling for anything less.

  14. The first time reading this poem I did not understand it at all and it went over my head because the person the narrator was talking about was so ordinary. It finally hit me that being ordinary was the point of the poem. I liked this poem because it made me think about what the poet was trying to say although he did not directly say the word ordinary. The poet took a different approach which was describing the average man. I do not think there is anything wrong with being average as long as you are satisfied with your life.

  15. At forst reading this poem I feel this person was just another ordinary being going on about their day. At the end of the poem it says “Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd,” I agree it is absurd. People go on about their business without taking notice of it and given grattitude.
    But then looking at this poem from another perspective, “Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard,” it could be interperated as someone that had lived a certain way in silence and suddenly decided to do a shooting or other rage. This statement brings me to think this person could be that person you think you know but is not otherwise.

  16. When I read this poem, I felt like there could have been two approaches to what the writer was trying to accomplish by writing this. The first was that he may have been very literal in his writing, saying that a person who lives a content life can still be happy and have a sense of fulfillment. Yet, I also get the feeling that the whole poem could have had a sarcastic tone at the same time. The poem describes a man who abides by the rules, does what he is asked, pays his fees, thinks what society tells him to think, and in the end successfully raises a family. In every sense of this poem, the word that screams out to me is conformity. The saint of this society is pretty much a robot, and to have him think for himself or oppose societal views is a malfunction that would have to be made aware to the public. I feel like it’s everyone’s desire to take a risk in life. At some point we’ve all fantasized about becoming a rock star legend or a renown artist, but if we never take that risk we fall into the same routine lifestyle that the majority of the population has already experienced. By the ideas of Sir Ken Robinson, everyone wants to be in their element, it’s just a matter of finding it.

  17. I actually admire the idea of an unknown citizen. To me this poem made it seem as though this man did live a happy simple life. Although he did not achieve anything great according to this poem but he did father five children and you can ask any respected parent, they will tell you that is their greatest achievement. If people would live more like this unknown citizen maybe there would be less chaos in the world. Society needs to learn to be content with the simple things in life there is no need to be great in order to be remembered. One will always be remembered by the right people once they are gone.

  18. As I read this, I am thinking to myself, society is truly something. One does not get appreciated or noticed unless they have done something wrong. Yes this man was considered an unknown citizen, because like many Americans who just want to live their lives, when something happens or their credit is destroyed, it is then they go from an unknown citizen to a very known citizen. This poem is a light bulb for all American to have.

  19. This poem to me sounds like it telling the story of a man who has become a ‘modern’ man as far as the public eye goes. He wakes up and puts his pants on one leg at a time like everyone else. It sounds to me that his poem is more about the economy as a whole what is expected from us and less about individualism and what we can do as a person.

  20. I get the sense that this man did as he was told and did not want any conflicts in life. Because of this he may have sacrificed some of his happiness and freedom. There is no way to tell if he was really happy, but he was probably content for the most part.

  21. A man is not the statistics he leaves behind. There is more to life than the perceptions of others.

  22. i feel like the guy was being told what to do thing with his life. When to go to war, how many children he should have, and be a good person with no complain about the world he live in.

  23. This man they’re speaking of is a man who is worth a lot. Yet no one knows of him so it’s an unnoticed talent that’s taken. There must’ve been more people like this back then that were known for being brilliant.

  24. Totally love this poem! I deeply love the wake up call it gives to make people realize that we made of feelings. We not zombies but that is exactly how we act. We act like if everything is ok and that life keeps on going. Yes, life does keep on going. The question here is: Can you keep up with life? I have always thought of me and my future as any other normal citizen. I think: Is this it? Am I just going to study, get a job, get marry, have kids and finally die? Is this life? What makes me different from others? So, what is special? Most of the people have these same desires.

  25. I believe this poem represents an average persons life, now and days we just live to live . We never know if people are happy or not . It seems like the man just lives his life day by day not actually living and enjoying his life he was an “average man”.

  26. “Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd.” Freedom and happiness are often confused or/and overlooked by the substitution of material objects and financial security.

  27. This is kind of a chilling tale of a future that may lay in store for us. A future where happiness is not a factor in ones life only if he paid his bills and worked hard and had a set number of children. At what point do we lose out humanity, at one point are we just a name on a piece of paper and a number to be tallied?

  28. I don’t know if this poem is telling me what to do or recommending the ideal life for someone. I know its not a guide to life or anything like that but i have a my own personal agenda. but is it telling me what not to do in order to be Happy. Is it something that I read so I know what not to do. I would just need some clarification because this poem confuses me.

  29. People have their own fantasies about life. What it should consist of. What would make it exciting or boring. This man lived a life with no confrontations he was the ideal image of the perfect man. To me a life without confrontation or excitement is not one I want to live but I believe this shows that for some people that is all they want.

  30. I’m not exactly sure what this poem is saying, especially in the ending. Was he free? Well, as far as he knew. But it seems like he was just another follower, blindly doing whatever was expected of him at the time. Nobody admires the common man, because his life is uninteresting. He let society define him, because he was happy to conform to the mode.

  31. I liked this poem because it was short but very well written. It discussed the life of an average man who served in the military. He worked everyday to provide for his family but when needed for war, he was ready.

  32. This man seems to blend in with society as an ordinary citizen. He who works, lives, and breathes nothing less than living an average life. This man represents those who have distinctive qualities in life who live day by day without any complaints. This man is not important in society nor nothing less, just an average human being on this planet who works his way through to live a decent life.

  33. I find that I neither enjoy nor understand the poetry we have been reading and listening to. Perhaps if I understood more,I would enjoy it more. The subject in the poem ‘the unknown citizen’ is a bland character. Perfectly defined as he is agreeable, non irritating, indifferent, and lacking in individuality.

  34. The poem’s title says it all the unknown citizen, living a modest yet average life set in an unknown time period. Perhaps this speaks of being an average citizen living your life by the standards set by society, confines of a set standard, average in every way.

    “…Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd: Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.”

    You may speculate that this average citizen was merely another statistic and may be a been dehumanized as the standard set by the state of what a citizen should be.

  35. This is an interesting poem. I think it describes the typical person who works day to day to achive his or her goals without paying so much attention to little things in life.

  36. i didnt really understand this poem that much, but if it was about what i think it was about i really like it. Thats because i got that what you do and your love towards others is more important than any personal triumph.

  37. This poem by W.H Auden is an obvious job at society and it’s governing

  38. This was a great poem because it gets one thinking about THEIR place in this world as well. To some extent, it can even be discouraging knowing that the mojority of people are just invisible… falling into a category of people unrecognized because the lack of popularity or creativity they have upon the society. It is somewhat sad, because everyone deserves the recognition for their hard work, and the appreciation for all they do for this world. Especially when they keep it all in, and bottle themselves up, and settle for this placement, and believe that it is okay to be “just” another person passing through life.

  39. The ending to the poem had me wondering and I think that there are many people like him who have good intentions in this world and many people like them are never recognized or alnowledge because of lack of popularity and so on. He’s motivation is so consisting that a person never realized if they are happy or not.

  40. This poem reminds me how insignificant, at least most of us, we are in this world. We are just shadows passing through without leaving a foot print.

  41. This poem was about an everyday person that had nothing special about him in the eyes of others. The last part “Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd: Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.” confused me does it mean that he was not happy with his life because he had no special quality.

  42. It is interesting to how peoples lives turn out for them. they might have a significant role in certain day to day situations but in greater picture they are simply ordinary people with no significance to the bigger picture of the world.

  43. haha this was a good poem that left me puzzled, idk if its supposed to do that, but it did great poem just wish i understood it better.

  44. Many people, like the man explained, exist in society, but because they lack money, popularity or something to make him known, they go unnoticed.

  45. This poem was neat since I feel like I could gather a few themes from it. I really feel that this poem deals with the mild mannered mediocrity people in our perspective seem to have. However, they have so much significance in the lives they live.

  46. It is interesting that the title of this poem “The Unknown Citizen” sound very similar to “The Unknown Soldier”. So, I am wondering if the author of “The Unknown Citizen” intended to make a connection with the symbolism of “The Unknown Soldier”. In, other words giving tribute to all the good citizens that everyday contribute to society and yet are not acknowledged.

  47. This was a very interesting poem. I’m struggling trying to figure out the purpose of this poem. Was it to point out that many people live life by the books and do everything that a “normal” person would do? Or perhaps it has to do with the type of person they were and what the went through. Then I look at the title and I think the latter. I think it’s meaning is to show that there are many people who do the “normal” thing and don’t live life to its fullest potential, but thats the beauty of poetry. You can decide the meaning for yourself and apply it to your own life however you see fit.

  48. I think people such as the man in the poem still exist but are more typically found in previous generations. My grandparents are very much like almost identicle, especially my grandfather. He is very knowledgable with a witty sense of humor and is loved by all, but in such terms he was the unknown citizen as was much of his generation. However i feel people such as this are remembered not for their actions as a citizen but for their daily deeds as a person and the love they spread. I think that is much more important.

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