Martinelli is a Seattle-based freelance writer and editor. In this essay, Martinelli examines how Spender's poem delivers a Marxist message about Communism, education, and the need for social revolution.
Spender's poem "An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum" is an excellent example of his lifelong dedication to the pursuit of social change and human equality. During the earliest stages of his writing career in the 1920s and 1930s, Spender was a pacifist and Socialist. He was so stirred to action by the proletarian struggle that he joined the International Brigades—an international force of volunteer soldiers organized by the French Communist Party leader Maurice Thorez and the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Clearly, Spender was an advocate for the working class and an avid supporter of sociopolitical reform. His poetry was a reflection of his support of social reform. Even as he aged, Spender continued to fight for social change and equality for all of humankind. Although he became less of a vocal supporter of Communism, these ideals were still at the foundation of his writing and his political ideology. In the turbulent decade of the 1960s, Spender wrote "An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum," a vivid, didactic poem calling for a Communist social reform that mirrors the writings of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels in their penultimate work The Communist Manifesto.
In 1848, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels wrote The...
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David R. Slavitt
In the following essay, Slavitt recounts a poetic incident at Yale during lectures given by Spender and Robert Frost.
The day I remember with greatest clarity of my four years as a Yale undergraduate was the one on which Stephen Spender and then Robert Frost appeared and I saw that poetry wasn't just a literary genre but, literally, a blood sport.
Spender had come two or three years before to read poems, so this time, when he offered Norman Holmes Pearson the choice of a reading or a lecture, Pearson suggested that, for variety's sake, the lecture might be agreeable. Spender said he would be happy to deliver it.
Happy, though, turned out not to be quite the right word. The trouble was that Cleanth Brooks introduced Spender. Cleanth, a short, courtly Southerner with thick eyeglasses and steel-gray hair, initiated the proceedings with a typically graceful few words from the stage of the large lecture hall in S.S.S. (Sterling Sheffield Strathcona Hall), and then sat down on an armchair at the side of the stage. Spender—not yet Sir Stephen, for this was 1955, I think—shambled to the lectern, drew a sheaf of folded pages from jacket pocket, and commenced to talk, the burden of his message being that we should never trust any critic who was not, himself, a poet. Ostensibly, he was attacking F. R. Leavis, but it was malapropos here, because Cleanth, on the stage with him, motionless, as if he were trying somehow to disappear...
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