I think continually of those who were truly great Themes

Stephen Spender

Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“I think continually of those who were truly great” springs from an era of great enthusiasm for the potential of people to change their world. The Marxist dogmas that many of the idealistic upper-middle-class English people adopted were, in many ways, a well-intentioned effort to improve the state of the poor and underprivileged. Spender gave up his affiliation to Marxist ideologies after seeing the inconsistencies of the communist leaders in the Spanish Civil War. Spender was also to lose some of his naïve optimism about life after he witnessed the protracted suffering and death of his sister Margaret, who died of cancer on Christmas day, 1945. His “Elegy for Margaret” is much more somber than this earlier elegy, yet the sense of triumph is still evident, and the sense that this life is only a phase of one’s total existence is still very strong.

The exact philosophy that undergirds this poem is ambiguous. One can find evidence of strong Christian convictions as well as views that are more Eastern or Hindu in their mystical view of life. As critic Sanford Sternlicht has noted, throughout his life, Spender remained “unsure of, and ambivalent toward, philosophy, aesthetics, religion, politics, and sexuality.” This ambivalence helps explain why this poem does not fit firmly into any given philosophical or religious agenda. Spender is speaking of the universal yearnings of the soul and of the sense that all of humanity is connected to the past...

(The entire section is 537 words.)