The speaker of W. H. Auden’s poem “The Unknown Citizen” gives recognition and admiration to an unidentified and nameless national who is described as a “saint”. In contrast to the aforementioned, W.H. Auden ridicules the speaker and his values by making clear and direct implications that through his lifetime of service to the “Greater Community,” the citizen had lost his ability to identify that he truly was. Even in the description of the poem title, the citizen is not recognized by name or by rank, but merely a citizen that served his country for the intended purposes. W.H. Auden completes his satire through his selected language, that showcases his use of ironic contrast that can be noted as a intellectual exchange between the speaker who is in charge of delivering the poem, and the unknown and unnamed citizen’s eulogy and the approach and attitude of the poet.
Even though the speaker eulogizes the citizen as he speaks about him in honor and acclamation, the speaker’s tone is underlined with patronizing element. He solemnly is denouncing the citizen as he addresses him as if he were a good little boy and the speaker was his pedagogical authoritative figure. Initially it is expressed that “the reports of his conduct” were concluded that the citizen was a “saint.” To further imply that the aforementioned statement was accurate, the speaker informs the listeners, spectators and audience that the citizen “satisfied his employer,” that the public attitude analysts were “content” because his views were “proper”, that he conceived “the right number of children” to the population, and he “never interfered” with his descendents education. The speaker displays that he is satisfied with his consideration and what is deemed as consummate behavior, but as the poem progresses it leads to inquiries about the standards for which that the citizen is being criticized. Evidence of W.H. Auden’s attitude towards the speaker’s principles is made apparent in the last two lines of the poem through the connotation of “free” and “happy”, and the evocative uncertainty of “absurd” and “wrong”:
. “happy” and the suggestive ambiguity of “absurd” and “wrong”: “Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd: Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard”.
In American culture words like “free” and happy are considered to make positive references and are considered to be nice. On the other hand, the speaker immediately negates the words meaning by following his statement with comments about their absurdity. The last colon that was used makes reference that “absurd” is relative to the citizen’s unhappiness and lack of freedom. Other depicting of the speaker’s connotations may suggest that the questions are absurd to even consider. To guide the audience and clarify the issue at hand, W.H Auden follows “free” and happy” with “wrong”. Still “wrong” can have duplicate implications. It can be implied that “wrong” is an indicator that the citizen was not happy nor free, or the citizen was made aware that something were “wrong” with him being happy and free. W.H Auden did an excellent job of posing the question to the audience and encouraging them assess the perception and to question the if the speaker’s values indicate a negative reference of freedom and happiness.
W.H Auden uses irony and a patronizing tone to illustrate the differences between himself and the speaker’s attitude toward the citizen. The speaker gives glorification to the citizen when he articulates, “ Our researchers into public opinion are content. That held the proper opinions for the time of year.” In contrast, W. H Auden implies that the citizen is not independent and does not think for himself. Overall the tone of this poem shows the speaker’ views and W.H Auden’ perceptions of the main character.
This poem does not focus on woodwork, but the ironic past relationship. Thomas Hardy illustrates the perceptions between the joiner and his wife clash when characterizing the meaning of the workbox. The joiner perceives the workbox as a allegory about ‘ timer’s varied doom” where it focuses on the craft of the box to express the juxtapositions of life and death that is sophisticated and offensive, direct and elaborate, and expressed by each board of the box. For his wife the workbox is a representation of a harsh memories of a man that she remembered from her past and deeply cared for. The secrets of her past with this man have been held for quite some time and if revealed may be devastating to her husband and her life. So to prevent her past from being the cause of such a catastrophic event she keeps her secrets hidden from her husband.
This poem is interesting because it displays how someone’s past can be the cause of his or her current misery. The tone of the joiner is one of a man that is proud for replenishing a priceless work of art(workbox). He is passionate about his profession and his ability to use present the restored box as a gift to his wife. Due to joiner’s ignorance of the relationship that his wife had with John, he presented the box with the following statement, “The shingled pattern that seems to cease; Against your box’s rim; Continues right on in the piece; That’s underground with him.” It was not until his wife’s expression changes and her mood transformed from excitement to gloom that the joiner realized that she knew John, but was unaware of how well she knew him. It was also kept in secrecy the knowledge of how John died from the joiner, but showed to be a cause of the wife’s unhappiness in which the onset came after the joiner presented her with the workbox and the location of its retrieval.
There are a few intricate details related to the workbox itself that need to be noted. The first is the box consists have “polished oak” and the clasps and other adjoining parts is made out of “shingled pattern”. The description of the boxes grain implies that it is “shingled” which is a reminder for the audience that this term is used by Hardy and Emily Dickinson to describe coffins as houses for the dead. Shingles were made from raven oak, which is applicable to the time and setting of the poem.
When a man presents a gift to his wife his intentions are typically to gain a response of happiness or elation but in this case he asked his wife “But why do you look so white, my dear” ? At this time in the poem the joiner assumes that the wife is gloom because she knew John as an acquaintance, but the poem does not go into detail about any intimate details of their relationship, it also neglects to mention if the wife knew of john’s fate, and why the workbox was placed on top of his coffin opposed to inside of his coffin like the rest of the “shingled pattern that lay beneath with him”. The gift is supposed to represent unity and gift of giving as the joiner presents it to his wife, but in actuality it is a representation of painful memories that may be the cause of a separated and disjoined marriage.
- Auden, W.H. “Unknown Citizen.” Carson Newman College. 2 April 2016
- Wenborn, Neil. “Reading Thomas Hardy: Selected Poems.” 2 April 2016
- Wenborn, Neil. “Reading Thomas Hardy: Selected Poems.” 2 April 2016