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The Unknown Citizen

The Unknown Citizen

by W. H. Auden

Analysis: Calling Card

Sort-of-Ironic Rhymes

It’s hard to pull off rhymes in 20th century poetry. First, because it sounds old-fashioned, like you’re trying too hard to write "Poetry." Second, because there aren’t many "masters" to serve as models. W.H. Auden is a notable exception to the trend. He gets away with rhymes in part because we’re not sure he’s doing it with a straight face. But he might be. You just don’t know, especially in a dramatic poem like "The Unknown Citizen," where the speaker is a fictional person. Did Auden use rhymes in part to make fun of the speaker? Maybe, but they sound so natural and unforced that we don’t necessarily have to explain the decision as an ironic one. We’ll call it "sort-of-ironic" and leave you to figure out what the heck that means.

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