Poetry analysis: The Unknown Citizen by W.H. Auden


By W.H. Auden (1907 – 1973)

The poem was written by W.H. Auden in the 20th century on which it was characterized as one of modern poetry. From a brief look, we can know that the poem used non-poetic language, means that it barely used any metaphors or any other figurative languages. The language is simple, so that it easy to catch the meaning literally. However, the further, deeper, or the actual meaning that the poet wants to deliver, is actually difficult to understand. From the form aspect we can also see that the poem was written in the free verse, because it is unrhymed. It consists only one stanza, though actually, since the poem is a modern poetry, it is hard to tell, whether it consists only one or more than one stanza. The rhyme of the poem follows:

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

He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be                                 (a)

One against whom there was no official complaint,                         (b)

And all the reports on his conduct agree                                           (a)

That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a

   saint,                                                                                               (b)

For in everything he did he served the Greater Community.           (c)

Except for the War till the day he retired                                          (d)

He worked in a factory and never got fired,                                     (d)

But satisfied his employers, Fudge Motors Inc.                                 (c)

Yet he wasn’t a scab or odd in his views,                                           (e)

For his Union reports that he paid his dues,                                     (e)

(Our report on his Union shows it was sound)  

And our Social Psychology  …


–         The character of the poem and how he is

The title The Unknown Citizen related to the content in which the main character that was portrayed within the poem is known by “He”. In the poem, “He” is described as a good person who loves to work and has big dedication and also loyalty to the country and to the employer he is working for. It can be seen in the 7th – 8th line “That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a saint, For in everything he did he served the Greater Community,”. The Greater Community here probably refers to the States, as what is written in second line.

–         Detail analysis related to the content

The very first line of the poem, (To JS/07 M 378, This Marble Monument, Is Erected by the State) seems like an address at the first glance. When we look more carefully, the letter JS seems like the initial name of somebody that the speaker of the poem addressed to. There is not enough proof, whether it was refer to the unknown citizen’s name or somebody else. The capital letter M is probably referring to the sex, Male. If it refers to the unknown citizen, the reason is clear because the speaker of the poem used the pronoun ‘He’ to refer to the unknown citizen. The rest, I have no idea about the number 07 and 378. They probably symbolize the date, month or address number. The Marble Monument, I believe that it is sort of special monument, most likely grave, built by the States for respecting the death of the unknown citizen.

The next line starts to explain the condition or what has happened to the unknown citizen. He was dead. His dead body was found and brought to the Bureau of Statistics to be identified. The information from the Statistics showing that ‘He’ was an active person, as we can see in the line, “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.” All the reports that informed about him, all was agree that ‘He’ was type of person who can be compared as a saint, wise and never tried to do anything wrong. ‘He’ already did such a great job for serving the Greater Community that most likely refers to the States. From this line, there is also a possibility that ‘He’ was a soldier. He” could be died after joining the war. However, in the following line it is explained that ‘He’ was an employee or worker in Fudge Motors Incorporation.

He” is typically a workaholic man, so even though he is should be retired, he is still continuing to work and satisfying his employer. The reason of his retirement is probably also due to the war that occur at that time. The area he is living or working in probably was affected by the war so that he unintentionally died. “He” is also type of man who always pays his dues or taxes. It can be seen in the lines that state “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”. That could be a reason why the government builds the Marble Monument for honoring him, beside for his hard works. Regarding with humanity values, it is also impossible to just let the dead body of him, without taking care of it.

The point of matter here is why people do not know about him. There is a possibility he is enjoyed too much his works so that he did not much care to interact with others or just for show up. “He” seems did not really care with the condition or situation around as he is a self-centered person. The word ‘unknown’ in the title of the poem may not refer to the name of the dead citizen, but more pointed to the history of what the dead citizen has done. Since he died a long time ago, many people most likely forgot about his struggles or all good things he has done as a hero.

–         Illustration

From the whole poem, we can pull the sequences of event that illustrated within the poem. The poem illustrates about the finding of someone’s dead body that difficult to identify. The speaker of the poem was able to o see the sequences of event about what happened to “He”. After the dead body of “He” was found, it was being examined or investigated first by Bureau of Statistics to get some data. Then some reports about “He” showed that he was kind of good, wise and religious person as a saint. He has a big dedication and loyalty to the State and his company. From the reports of his Union, He is also a hard-working man who always does his job properly and always pays his taxes.

–         Theme  and the poet’s message

The poem mainly tells about the life of an unknown citizen, or a normal citizen who the identity could not be found. The theme of the poem is that it is important for being sociable and known by many people because that is live in a normal way. Even though it is also important to care about yourself like, your job, your individual life, but we should remember that we live in this world not alone. There will come a time when will need the others’ help. The idea that is developed within the poem is like what happened to the unknown citizen in the poem, he indeed a good person, yet he has not any connections so that when he died, no one could recognize who he is. The poet may intend to tell us a message that if you do not want to be ended up or died in that way, being famous is not count as a bad thing. At least, do not be focused too much to your own life because we also need to work with others. It does not imply that we have to be famous first in order to be acknowledged by others, but it is all about what we have done to our society. The character “He” in the poem seems to symbolize a hero who well-known by his great dedication, yet “He” is ‘unknown’ due to the society gradually forget about him. His name like faded from people’s mind slowly. From this point, the poet probably wants the reader to always respect their heroes, people who had struggled hard for the sake of their country. A nation will lose its identity if it forgot its history.


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