The Truly Great

By Stephen Spender 1909–1995 Stephen Spender
I think continually of those who were truly great.
Who, from the womb, remembered the soul’s history
Through corridors of light, where the hours are suns,
Endless and singing. Whose lovely ambition
Was that their lips, still touched with fire,
Should tell of the Spirit, clothed from head to foot in song.
And who hoarded from the Spring branches
The desires falling across their bodies like blossoms.
What is precious, is never to forget
The essential delight of the blood drawn from ageless springs
Breaking through rocks in worlds before our earth.
Never to deny its pleasure in the morning simple light
Nor its grave evening demand for love.
Never to allow gradually the traffic to smother
With noise and fog, the flowering of the spirit.
Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields,
See how these names are fêted by the waving grass
And by the streamers of white cloud
And whispers of wind in the listening sky.
The names of those who in their lives fought for life,
Who wore at their hearts the fire’s centre.
Born of the sun, they travelled a short while toward the sun
And left the vivid air signed with their honour.

Stephen Spender, “The Truly Great” from Collected Poems 1928-1953. Copyright © 1955 by Stephen Spender. Reprinted by permission of Ed Victor Ltd.

Source: Collected Poems 1928-1953 (Random House Inc., 1955)

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Poet Stephen Spender 1909–1995


Subjects Living, The Mind, Time & Brevity, Nature, Landscapes & Pastorals, Arts & Sciences, Social Commentaries, History & Politics

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 Stephen  Spender


Stephen Spender was a member of the generation of British poets who came to prominence in the 1930s, a group—sometimes referred to as the Oxford Poets—that included W. H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood, C. Day Lewis, and Louis MacNeice. In World within World: The Autobiography of Stephen Spender the author speculated that the names of the members of the group became irreversibly linked in the minds of critics for no other reason . . .

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SUBJECT Living, The Mind, Time & Brevity, Nature, Landscapes & Pastorals, Arts & Sciences, Social Commentaries, History & Politics


Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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