"The Unknown Citizen " (1939), by W. H. AUDEN (1907-1973) | Le citoyen inconnu (traduit par Stéphane Chabrières)

The Unknown Citizen is a poem by W. H. Auden, written in 1939 and first published in 1940. It is the epitaph of a man, identified only by a combination of letters and numbers ("JS/07/M/378"), and described entirely in external terms. He is said to have lived an entirely average, therefore exemplary, life; the last lines of the poem dismiss the questions of whether he was "free" or "happy", implicitly because the statistical methods used by the state to describe his life have no means of understanding such questions.

The Unknown Citizen Le Citoyen inconnu

(To JS/07 M 378
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 a 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.

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.

 

From Another Time by W. H. Auden, published by Random House. Copyright © 1940 W. H. Auden, renewed by The Estate of W. H. Auden. Used by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

 


(A JS/07/ M 378

Ce monument de marbre

est érigé par l'Etat)

 

Selon le bureau des Statistiques c'était quelqu'un

contre qui il n'y eut aucune plainte officielle,

et tous les rapports sur son comportement sont d'accord pour dire,

au sens moderne d'un mot démodé,

que ce fut un saint,

Car en tous domaines il servit la Communauté.

Excepté durant la guerre, jusqu'au jour de la retraite,

il travailla dans une usine et ne se fit jamais licencier,

il donna satisfaction à son employeur, la compagnie des moteurs Fudge.

Mais il n'était pas un briseur de grève et n'avait pas d'idées bizarres.

Car son syndicat rapporte qu'il payait ses cotisations,

(Notre rapport sur le syndicat montre qu'il était sain)

et nos psychologues sociaux trouvèrent

qu'il était apprécié de ses camarades et aimait boire un verre à l'occasion.

La Presse est convaincue qu'il achetait un journal chaque jour,

et que ses réactions aux publicités étaient en tous points normales.

Les enquêtes à son sujet prouvent qu'il était totalement assuré,

et sa carte de santé montre qu'il fut admis à l'hôpital une fois mais en ressortit guéri.

A la fois l'enquête des producteurs et le niveau de vie élevé démontrent

qu'il était totalement réceptif aux avantages de la vente à crédit

et qu'il possédait tout ce qui est nécessaire à l'Homme Moderne,

un électrophone, une radio, une voiture et un frigidaire.

Nos sondeurs d'opinion ont constaté

qu'il avait les bonnes opinions au bon moment;

En temps de paix, il fut pour la paix; quand il y eut la guerre, il partit au front.

Il se maria et ajouta cinq enfants à la population,

ce qui, selon notre notre eugéniste, était le bon chiffre pour un parent de sa génération.

Et nos professeurs rapportent qu'il n'interféra jamais avec leur enseignement.

Fut-il libre? Fut-il heureux? La question est absurde;

S'il y avait eu quelque chose qui clochait, nous l'aurions certainement su.