I think continually of those who were truly great
I think continually of those who were truly great.
Who, from the womb, remembered the soul’s history
Through corridors of light where the hours are suns
Endless and singing. Whose lovely ambition
Was that their lips, still touched with fire,
Should tell of the Spirit clothed from head to foot in song.
And who hoarded from the Spring branches
The desires falling across their bodies like blossoms.
What is precious is never to forget
The essential delight of the blood drawn from ageless springs
Breaking through rocks in worlds before our earth.
Never to deny its pleasure in the morning simple light
Nor its grave evening demand for love.
Never to allow gradually the traffic to smother
With noise and fog the flowering of the spirit.
Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields
See how these names are fŠted by the waving grass
And by the streamers of white cloud
And whispers of wind in the listening sky.
The names of those who in their lives fought for life
Who wore at their hearts the fire’s center.
Born of the sun they traveled a short while towards the sun,
And left the vivid air signed with their honor.
Stephen Spender is, IMHO, one of the most underrated poets of the last century. Which is not to say that I think he’s an incredibly great poet or anything – just that he deserves to be far more widely read than he is today.
Today’s poem is one I have a love-hate relationship with. On the one hand, I’m not too fond of the overall sentiment, and all this over the top hero-worship definitely puts me off. On the other hand, I can’t get away from the fact that there are some brilliant lines in this poem (I particularly love the “desires falling across their bodies like blossoms” line).
The way I rationalise it to myself, then, is this – if this poem had been written even slightly less skilfully, it would have deteriorated into something trite and unaffecting. That Spender manages to say something so hackneyed and still make it beautiful, is a serious compliment to his skill as a poet.