Department of English
Master’s program: English Literature
Prof. Sameera Al-Khawaldeh
Modernism and Neo-Classicism in Auden’s “The Unknown Citizen”
As a Marxist poet, Auden in “The Unknown Citizen” gives evidence of his culture shock when suddenly confronted with American chaos and consumerism after taking the American citizenship and living in New York. He believes that poetry is a sociopolitical weapon that should be directed to reform society; he talks about citizenship, social problems around, political competition, and totalitarianism shown in the materialism engaged by the government.
As a poet, Auden writes in different forms and styles that fluctuate between traditional and modern. He is considered a modernist writer, but a different version of modernism that has its own features and distinguishes him from others who were experimenting obscure forms and new usage of language. He uses varieties of tone, form and content. In “The unknown Citizen” Auden moves away from a merely personal to an intellectual statement that poetry could make about society. The unique speaker, who seems to be a governmental officer and sits shuffling papers everyday and knowing many details except what really matters, represents the corruption in the American community.
Modernist poets do not cancel all traditional forms and language, but they use them unconventionally. Auden’s form of “The Unknown Citizen” is traditional to a certain extent. The poem does not follow a standard rhyme scheme. Instead, it alternates between a few different, simple rhyme schemes. The poem begins with an ABAB pattern, but then switches to a rhyming couple (AA, BB, etc.). In spite of traditions, Auden shows linguistic innovations in this poem through the use of linking verbs, relative pronouns, auxiliary verbs, words that are not originally poetical (statistics, employers), certain terms (installment...