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By Stephen Spender

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 fêted 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 centre.

Born of the sun, they travelled a short while toward the sun

And left the vivid air signed with their honour.


Stephen Spender, “The Truly Great” from Collected Poems 1928-1953. Copyright © 1955 by Stephen Spender. Reprinted by permission of Ed Victor Ltd.

Source: Collected Poems 1928-1953 (Random House Inc., 1955)

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Poet Bio

Stephen Spender
Sir Stephen Spender was born in London and attended Oxford University, where he became friends with the poet W. H. Auden. Auden convinced Spender that poets should find their material in the everyday world and in seemingly unpoetic things. In his poetry, Spender creates tension between the need to engage this world and a desire to transcend it. After being disillusioned with politics around 1940, his poetry became increasingly introspective. See More By This Poet

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