Saturday, August 23, 2008

w. h. auden

i've been thinking about this poem for awhile. i read it when i was in college...the second i guess i was twenty-five or twenty-six. (remember julie? the class we met in...)

we read this poem...

The Unknown Citizen
(To JS/o7/M/379 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 a saint,
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 Installment Plan
And had everything necessary to the Modern Man,
A phonograph, 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.

so after my surprise at reading the pretender, this poem came back into my mind. when we did it in my class, it was a strange discussion. our professor was this very enthusiastic and fairly brilliant man. he read us this poem and asked us what we thought. a man who was pretty outspoken in the class immediately announced that he liked it. that he wanted to be the man this poem was written for. that it seemed this unknown citizen lead an admirable life and he'd be proud to live a life like the one described here. at which point, my professor had no fucking clue how to proceed...

it wasn't about whether or not this poem was describing a way of life that we agreed with or not. it was about analyzing the poem...what we felt about it, yes, but also what auden was trying to say in it. but the personal stamp of approval this man had put on mr. unknown citizen made any further analyzing a little tricky. my prof looked at me with eyebrows raised. rather than speak to my prof, i turned to the man in my class and asked him if whether, in achieving all of these things, he'd like at least a little something to be personally unique about the journey for him? maybe his name? the name of his children? something uniquely him...

i think the discussion went alright from there. i do recall the professor being relieved that we could discuss it somewhat, but i also recall that it was a very careful discussion...never quite going to the root of things.

i understand why the discussion had to be that way. i understand that my mother feels the way she does. (did you miss that parallel?...i know it's where i was headed all along, but realize you can't read my mind...) even my spouse was quick to tell me that there was nothing wrong with the way of life described in this poem...why does everyone feel the need to tell me that? life isn't that freaking different, you know. much of my life is conventional. and the areas that aren't so much, it'd be a truckload easier if i went ahead and made them so. i think about it sometimes. but the bitterness that follows isn't worth thinking about it too long.

anyway, my thoughts have tread into weird places lately. hopefully letting this out will let me work passed this...whatever it is. the-rapist on monday...woo-hoo...lots to talk to her about. she often wants to discuss my mother and i often tell her it's a screwy relationship that isn't changing so there's really no reason to go there. maybe i'm think?

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