Poem that makes me think – The Unknown Citizen, Wystan H. Auden


Time is going to be a bit tricksy for analysis for a couple of weeks, so instead I’m going to post a Poem That Makes Me Think for a few weeks until I have a little more free time.

The Unknown Citizen

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 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


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.


If you lead an ordinary, everyday life, does that mean it is a life somehow less worthy than one full of drama and activity that the world needs to know about? Is the only way to guarantee you are remembered after you are gone is to do something that stands out against what everyone else is doing? Is that why people do some of the things they do, in an effort to make sure that not only are they noticed, but that they are remembered?

If you live your life constantly worrying about what legacy you will be living behind, does that somehow make your life better for living, or worse?

Moreover, so what if your life’s a regular 9-5, or a nomadic existence, or whatever it is to you – surely that’s the point – it’s your life, and however others see fit to interpret is entirely inconsequential to your perception of it.

This poem makes me think of I Am Mine by Pearl Jam 🙂


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