[Marxism] The Unknown Citizen

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Oct 22 13:09:54 MDT 2018

W.H. Auden is my favorite poet. Unfortunately, Poem Hunter only has one 
of his poems online, obviously dictated by copyright laws. The other 
major poetry database, Poetry Foundation, only has a handful. This 
motivated me to buy a used copy of the Collected Poems, a 915 page 
Vintage paperback for only $14.99. I turned through the pages a few 
minutes ago and picked out this quintessential 1939 poem that reflects 
his political sensibility--so far from the "proletarian" dictates of the 
Communist Party. There is no need to puzzle over its meaning. It speaks 
for itself.

When he was at Oxford, became part of the “Oxford Group” that was also 
called the “Auden Generation.” Stephen Spender, another favorite of 
mine,  C. Day Lewis, and Louis MacNeice were also members. The Oxford 
Group was influenced by Marxism but as should be obvious from the poem 
below, with a distinctly Brechtian sardonic outlook.

The Unknown Citizen

(To JS/o7/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 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 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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