W.H. Auden was born in York in 1907. During his studies in school, he excelled in sciences and thought of being a mining engineer. He also started reading Freud and acting in school plays. In the winter of 1922, Auden published his first poem in the school magazine. Autumn of 1925, Auden enrolls in the Christ Church College, Oxford, where he studied the natural sciences as well as economics, politics and some philosophy. He was known as a teaching poet. “His poems and his essays on poetry inform, and even provide pointed morals” (Johnson, 27). Throughout his later life, he taught in schools and colleges.
Auden abandoned his beliefs in Christianity and later expressed openly his homosexuality. At age 26, Auden fell in love with a man who was younger than he was (Johnson, 30). Although he published love poems earlier, now he started writing more openly and freely. He started living his life happily, participating in school events and making new friends. He was slowly becoming a lyrical poet, writing poems of love between friends, lovers, family and the human race.
In the early 1930’s,Auden belonged to a circle of promising young poets who were strongly advocated liberal or radical actions to effect change in politics. In 1930, Auden professionally publishes his first volume of Poems. The book focused on English capitalist society as well as societal problems. In 1935, Auden, still involved in a homosexual relationship, got married. The Nazis in threatened Erika Mann and in order to protect herself, she asked Christopher Isherwood to marry her. Isherwood felt that it would be a better idea if Auden would marry her (Johnson, 32). Never met before the ceremony, Auden and Mann got married and he dedicated a collection of poems to her.
Auden moved to New York in 1939, where he met his lover, Chester Kallman (Johnson, 36-37). Kallman and Auden traveled across America where Auden would often write landscape poetry. Auden died in 1973 of a heart attack in the Kirchstetten House (Johnson, 66).
The poem, “The Unknown Citizen” by W.H. Auden, discusses the idea a Government’s view of perfect modern man. Auden wrote this poem in the late 1930’s, which helps in understanding the situation America was going through. America was going through great changes due to the Great Depression. In order for the Government to obtain information on each citizen, the Government implicated a system of social security. It was said to be advantageous for the well being of each individual, yet it was a way for the Government to retrieve information about anyone’s personal life.
“And all the reports on his conduct agree/ That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a saint” (3-4). I think that The Unknown Citizen criticizes modern society by describing an ordinary life of a man. The poem satirizes that the trend of modern society has been not humane and anonymous by carrying the word “unknown” in the title. I think that Auden inquires of the readers whether the trend is right and how the society should change by questioning “Was he free?” and “Was he happy?” in the last stanza.
I feel that the speaker in the poem is the poet. From reading on Auden’s biography, I learned that he questioned politics often. He is writing about the conditions in which he either witnessed or even endured in his life. He describes the ideal man as; “He was a married and added five children to the population” (25). He was not even capable to conceive one child for he was gay.
This poem mocks the American Government and their views of the ideal man. Auden knows that there is such ideal man in the world. By depicting the image of the ideal citizen, he is trying to inform people of the concept of social security. It is intended to help each citizen when in reality it is a tool for the Government to keep track of each person.