The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“I think continually of those who were truly great” is an untitled poem that first appeared in New Signatures, a collection of poetry selected by Michael Roberts to offer an imaginative and intellectual blend that would deal positively with the problems of the twentieth century. This popular collection also represented the works of emerging poets such as W. H. Auden, C. Day Lewis, William Empson, John Lehmann, and Richard Eberhart, who collectively became known, for a time, as New Signatures poets. Spender contributed more poems than any of the others, and his seven poems promptly became part of his collected canon.

“I think continually of those who were truly great” is written in free verse with three stanzas containing eight, seven, and eight lines, respectively. The meter of the poem is highly varied, containing fine examples of most meters used in English poetry. While this poem settles into no regular meter, line length, or rhyme scheme, it is, nonetheless, highly musical with its syncopated rhythms and sharp images.

The opening line of the poem, which is typically used in place of its omitted title, sets a tone of reminiscing about the great; the verb “were” signals that those the poet admires are already dead. The second line declares that these noteworthy souls were born to greatness, having existed before birth and having had a history of the greatness they would realize in life on earth. The language is...

(The entire section is 503 words.)