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the thirties forties1
The Thirties & Forties
  • The Thirties
  • The poets who began to emerge in the 1930s had two things in common; they had all been born too late to have any real experience of the pre-World War I world and they grew up in a period of social, economic and political turmoil. Perhaps as a consequence of these facts, themes of community, social (in)justice and war seem to dominate the poetry of the decade.
  • The poetic imagee of the decade was dominated by four poets; W. H. Auden, Stephen Spender, Cecil Day-Lewis and Louis MacNeice, although the last of these belongs at least as much to the history of Irish poetry. These poets were all, in their early days at least, politically active on the Left. Although they admired Eliot, they also represented a move away from the technical innovations of their modernist predecessors. A number of other, less enduring, poets also worked in the same vein. One of these was Michael Roberts, whose New Country anthology both introduced the group to a wider audience and gave them their name.
  • The 1930s also saw the emergence of a home-grown English surrealist poetry whose main exponents were David Gascoyne, Hugh Sykes Davies, George Barker, and Philip O'Connor. These poets turned to French models rather than either the New Country poets or English-language modernism, and their work was to prove of importance to later English experimental poets as it broadened the scope of the English avant-garde tradition.
  • John Betjeman and Stevie Smith, who were two of the most significant poets of this period, stood outside all schools and groups. Betjeman was a quietly ironic poet of Middle England with a fine command of a wide range of verse techniques. Smith was an entirely unclassifiable one-off voice.
the thirties forties2
The Thirties & Forties
  • The Forties
  • The 1940s opened with the United Kingdom at war and a new generation of war poets emerged in response. These included Keith Douglas, Alun Lewis, Henry Reed and F. T. Prince. As with the poets of the First World War, the work of these writers can be seen as something of an interlude in the history of 20th century poetry. Technically, many of these war poets owed something to the 1930s poets, but their work grew out of the particular circumstances in which they found themselves living and fighting.
  • The main movement in post-war 1940s poetry was the New Romantic group that included Dylan Thomas, George Barker, W. S. Graham, Kathleen Raine, Henry Treece and J. F. Hendry. These writers saw themselves as in revolt against the classicism of the New Country poets. They turned to such models as Gerard Manley Hopkins, Arthur Rimbaud and Hart Crane and the word play of James Joyce. Thomas, in particular, helped Anglo-Welsh poetry to emerge as a recognisable force.
  • Other significant poets to emerge in the 1940s include Lawrence Durrell, Bernard Spencer, Roy Fuller, Norman Nicholson, Vernon Watkins, R. S. Thomas and Norman McCaig. These last four poets represent a trend towards regionalism and poets writing about their native areas; Watkins and Thomas in Wales, Nicholson in Cumberland and MacCaig in Scotland.
w h auden
W. H. Auden
  • WystanHugh Auden was born in York, England, in 1907. He moved to Birmingham during childhood and was educated at Christ Church, Oxford. As a young man he was influenced by the poetry ofThomas Hardy and Robert Frost, as well as William Blake, Emily Dickinson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Old English verse. At Oxford his precocity as a poet was immediately apparent, and he formed lifelong friendships with two fellow writers, Stephen Spender and Christopher Isherwood.
w h auden1
W. H. Auden
  • In 1928, his collection Poems was privately printed, but it wasn't until 1930, when another collection titled Poems (though its contents were different) was published, that Auden was established as the leading voice of a new generation.
w h auden2
W. H. Auden
  • Ever since, he has been admired for his unsurpassed technical virtuosity and an ability to write poems in nearly every imaginable verse form; the incorporation in his work of popular culture, current events, and vernacular speech; and also for the vast range of his intellect, which drew easily from an extraordinary variety of literatures, art forms, social and political theories, and scientific and technical information. He had a remarkable wit, and often mimicked the writing styles of other poets such as Dickinson, W. B. Yeats, and Henry James. His poetry frequently recounts, literally or metaphorically, a journey or quest, and his travels provided rich material for his verse.
w h auden3
W. H. Auden
  • W. H. Auden was a Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets from 1954 to 1973, and divided most of the second half of his life between residences in New York City and Austria. He died in Vienna in 1973.
w h auden4
W. H. Auden
  • A Selected Bibliography
  • Poetry
  • Poems (privately printed, 1928)Poems (1930)City without Walls (1969)Academic Graffiti (1971)Epistle to a Godson (1972)Thank You, Fog: Last Poems (1974)Selected Poems (1979)Collected Poems (1991)
the unknown citizen by w h auden
The Unknown Citizenby W. H. Auden
  • (To JS/07 M 378This Marble MonumentIs 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)
the unknown citizen by w h auden1
The Unknown Citizenby W. H. Auden
  • 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.
the unknown citizen by w h auden2
The Unknown Citizenby W. H. Auden
  • 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.
commentary the unknown citizen
Commentary - The unknown citizen
  • The “Unknown Citizen” is a poem written by W.H.Auden and it is set in the Eighteenth Century. In this poem, people do not have the rights for freedom, and formality is to be expected of all members of society. It was written to illustrate the kind of influence the government had on the people, and what is expected of them.
  • The title “the unknown citizen” is used to emphasize the fact that the person who is referred to by the poet is insignificant. The imperative point in this poem is his contribution to the state. Since he is seen as the government’s ideal citizen, the government tries to use him as a role model in hope that a majority of the state would follow his behavior. This is evident from the line “To FS/06/M/378 this marble monument is erected to the state”. It shows that the person is not important as he is not named and is only known as a series of numbers. The marble monument is made for the state to be used as propaganda to influence society.
commentary the unknown citizen1
Commentary - The unknown citizen
  • This poem is written in a satirical tone which carries on throughout the poem. The poet has chosen to write it in this manner to hide his criticism of the “unknown citizen”. We could see that the entire poem is praising the achievements of this man. The poet describes him as a “saint”, “modern man”, “he was popular with his mates” and “ he was fully sensible”. However, the writer isn’t proud of this model citizen. It is because he conforms to society and follows the rigid rules that are passed by the state. The poet then uses a satirical tone to convey his sentiments toward this man.
  • The two poetic devices that are used by the poet to emphasize the tone of the poem are rhyme and rhythm. A special rhythm called the anapestic rhythm is used by the poet. The beat of the rhythm makes the poem dull. On the other hand, the last two lines have a different rhythm “Was he happy? Was he free? The question is absurd: Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.” It is telling the reader that people in that era conformed to the norm and followed what the government felt was right. In addition, they could not think for themselves as this wasn’t allowed in society. Hence, the poet raises up this important concern, are the people happy? It is a technique that allows the readers to finally see the people’s sympathetic situation and to have a climax in the Eulogy.  Also, the rhyme scheme of the poem is constant. However, there are a few lines that do not rhyme. I feel that this is done to put emphasis on certain lines that are critical.  
  • Unlike today, people in the Eighteenth Century had to conform to all the rules set by the government. They did not have the luxury we have of being able to express our own opinions freely. The poet had successfully made the readers understand the structure of society in the past by extensive use of satirical tone, rhyme and rhythm.
commentary the unknown citizen2
Commentary - The unknown citizen
  • The voice that speaks the eulogy is the poet. He is conveying his view of the society as well as what the government wants. The entire Eulogy is talking about how great this man was and what he has contributed to the country. However, this Eulogy is unrealistic as it does not include the person’s character and his true feelings. It is just merely stating facts that the government wanted to hear and not what the person really felt. Therefore the poet wrote this poem to show the readers that in reality, this person should not be proud of what he has done as he is just conforming to his duties as a citizen of that era. Thus the poet wrote the poem in a sarcastic tone to show to the reader what he felt, because by praising his achievements, he is demonstrating the government ideals.
  • From the phrase “when there was peace, he was for peace; when there is war, he went”. This shows that people in that era do not have a mind of their own. They follow the rules and regulations that were set for them without thinking for themselves. As the “unknown citizen” is the government’s ideal citizen, we can conclude that people at that period were similar to this character. They are restricted by the rulers and pressured by society to do things that they may not want to do; an example of this is going to war.
commentary the unknown citizen3
Commentary - The unknown citizen
  • Unlike today, people in the Eighteenth Century had to conform to all the rules set by the government. They did not have the luxury we have of being able to express our own opinions freely. The poet had successfully made the readers understand the structure of society in the past by extensive use of satirical tone, rhyme and rhythm.