Stephen Spender Spender, Stephen (Vol. 1) - Essay

Spender, Stephen (Vol. 1)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Spender, Stephen 1909–

Spender is an English poet and novelist, and former editor of Encounter. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 11-12.)

Stephen Spender had begun very much under Auden's influence, but had shown from the beginning a preference for simpler lyrical modes and a much less complicated sensibility…. Spender lacked metaphysical wit, and his poetry is both less complex and less exciting than Auden's; but from the beginning he could show a quiet control in descriptive or confessional verse that has its own appeal….

Spender's range is limited. After he had outgrown his rather shrill imitation of Auden he cultivated his own quiet autobiographical style, as unlike Auden's really as any modern poetry could be, and equally unlike Eliot….

David Daiches, The Present Age in British Literature, Indiana University Press, 1958, pp. 48-9.

Spender is an uneven poet, and many of his interesting poems, which hold us by reason of their sensitiveness or evident sincerity, fail to achieve full harmony of style or total unity of effect…. Spender is [a] most personal poet … [and his poems are] largely private confessions….

All that is most positive in Spender's poetry would seem to spring from gestures of imaginative and emotional charity; and it is, of course, this aspect of his work that most engages the Christian critical mind. Against Spender's disposition of mind and his poems, which may be viewed as his "good works" (both being interpretable in a pan-Christian fashion), must be placed his rejection of belief and his repudiation of the church as an enemy of light and the forces of the new…. Spender's position with regard to faith is therefore not an anti- but a non-relational one….

In the poet's scheme of things, love takes the place of deity, though he is careful to allot it no omnipotent power. [Part] of Spender's originality lay in his thinking of eros as agape. He envisaged libidinal self-fulfilment in terms of the love-feast of brothers, camaraderie and intimacy between all men, and a personal care and concern for their condition….

Everywhere, in speaking of love and socialism, Spender seeks to present an organic image—a physical objective correlative, which shall express the actual or potential concrete living of the situation…. Spender's large avoidance of the abstract, with which Marxist thought is overloaded, gave to his poetry an immediate appeal all too rare in Communist poets.

Derek Stanford, Stephen Spender, Louis MacNeice, Cecil Day Lewis ("Contemporary Writers in Christian Perspective"), Eerdmans, 1969, pp. 13-20.

Since the 1930s, the poetry of Stephen Spender has been in relative obscurity, partly, no doubt, on account of other poetry which has successfully competed for general attention and partly for certain of its intrinsic qualities. Many of the poems are pure: they do not come to us immediately; they are detached from the everyday things of the world and cannot be approached in the workaday frame of mind in which one comes in from the street to read the headlines and throw away the bulk mail. Their neglect is due also, perhaps, to the quality of uncertainty, which results in embarrassment to the reader when his expectations in a poem are suddenly defeated by a word or phrase which injures the tone that had been established….

Many of Spender's poems seem to speak from the center of the self almost in their entirety: in these poems the images derived from the outside world appear to have been refined of their mundane origins and turned into the elements of pure song. As to whether a poem ought to aim at such purity Spender is again ambivalent: he speaks sometimes on behalf of and sometimes against its independence from the world.

A. K. Weatherhead, "Stephen Spender: Lyric Impulse and Will," in Contemporary Literature, Vol. 12, No. 4, 1971 (© 1971 by the Regents of the University of Wisconsin), pp. 451-65.