Stephen Spender, an English poet, essayist, and novelist, was a significant literary figure in the 20th century. Born in 1909 and passing away in 1995, his work spans much of the century and reflects many of its major political and cultural shifts.
Stephen Spender was Auden’s close associate at Oxford. He was educated at University College School, Hampstead and University College, Oxford: He travelled widely in Europe, and lived for two years in Germany after Oxford. In the beginning, he was a Marxist and Champion of the poor and the oppressed. Latter, however, he got disenchanted with Marxism, learned more and more towards the exploration of deeper human problems. The later Spender is a Romantic, he is even called the modern Shelley. His notable works are Poems (1933). Vienna (1934)—a poem. The Destructive Element (1935) criticism. The Trail of Judge (1938) a verse-play. The Still Centre (1939), Ruins and Visions (1942).
Stephen Spender as a poet: Stephen Spender born in 1909 is the third and youngest of the two English poets (namely, WH Auden, C. Day Lewis and Stephen Spender) that was hailed in 1934 as constituting a hope for poetry.”
Spender has been fairly sanely criticised by his contemporaries. But he has rarely been considered on his own merits, and too often merely in relation to the group of poets, with which he is associated.
Spender was one of the poet of this group who clung to his own experience. He did not seek patterns from thinker or remedies from doctors, but sought to interpret himself in the light of his common humanity, and to interpret humanity in the light of himself. There is a basis of acceptance of social outlook in Auden and Day Lewis, which is much stronger in them than in Spender. Spender has his drama: a struggle to adopt his individualism to his social views and a struggle to understand and perfect his individuality. It so happened that he was sufficiently a personality, that his own experience was rich enough and right enough for his interpretation to be an adequate basis for lyric-poetry.
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- Spender was born in London into a literary family; his parents were both writers. He studied at University College, Oxford, where he became friends with fellow poets W.H. Auden, Louis MacNeice, and C. Day-Lewis, who collectively would become known as part of the “Oxford Group” of poets.
- He was deeply influenced by the political and social upheavals of his time, particularly the rise of fascism in Europe and the Spanish Civil War, where he briefly participated.
- Spender’s early poetry, such as the collections “Poems” (1933) and “Vienna” (1934), was noted for its engagement with social issues and leftist political ideology. He was often grouped with the generation of 1930s poets who were known for their political activism.
- Over time, his work evolved to include more personal and introspective themes. His style, initially marked by the influence of T.S. Eliot and W.B. Yeats, became increasingly distinctive, characterized by its lyrical quality and emotional depth.
Major Themes and Works:
- Spender’s poetry often grapples with themes of identity, the role of the artist in society, and the impact of political and social change. His work is noted for its humanistic approach and concern for social justice.
- Some of his notable poetry collections include “The Still Centre” (1939) and “World Within World” (1951), the latter of which is also a highly regarded autobiography.
- In addition to poetry, Spender wrote essays, literary criticism, and novels, including “The Temple” (1988), which is semi-autobiographical.
Influence and Contributions:
- Spender was influential in bridging the gap between the modernist and post-war generations of poets. His work reflects both the intellectual rigor of modernism and the more personal, reflective style that emerged after World War II.
- He also played a significant role as an editor and critic, contributing to several literary journals and magazines.
Recognition and Honors:
- Spender received numerous accolades throughout his career, including being appointed to the Order of the Companions of Honour for his services to literature.
- He was also known for his work in promoting cultural and intellectual exchanges between writers in the East and West during the Cold War.
Stephen Spender’s work remains an important part of the literary landscape of the 20th century. His poetry, marked by its lyrical quality, social consciousness, and exploration of personal and political themes, reflects the turbulent times in which he lived. His contributions as a writer, critic, and cultural ambassador have left a lasting impact on the world of literature.