Stephen Spender Poetry: British Analysis
Stephen Spender seems always to have struck his readers as halting. Even in the relatively confident writing of his youth, he was the most likely of the Auden Group to avoid the extreme pronouncements to which his seemingly more self-assured contemporaries—especially Auden himself—were prone. Taken as a whole, his poetry appears to reflect a perpetual debate, an unresolved tension over what can be known, over what is worth knowing, and over how he ought to respond as a poet and as a citizen of a modern society. Taken separately, his poems—particularly the best and most representative ones—exhibit an attraction or a movement sometimes toward one side of an issue, and sometimes toward the other. Almost always, however, such commitment at least implies its opposite.
This tension itself may account for the continuing appeal of so many Spender lyrics, decades after they were written and after their historical context has passed. Obviously they conform to the demand for irony and ambiguity begun in the late 1920’s by I. A. Richards and William Empson and prolonged until recently by their American counterparts, the New Critics. In this respect, if not in others, Spender established a link with the seventeenth century Metaphysical wits so admired by T. S. Eliot. The qualifying tendency of Spender’s poetry connects him also with the postwar movement among a younger generation of British poets—notably Philip Larkin, Donald Davie, and Kingsley...
(The entire section is 3611 words.)
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