Stephen Spender

Stephen Harold Spender (February 28, 1909 - July 16, 1995) was an English poet and essayist who concentrated on themes of social injustice and the class struggle in his work. Template:Wikiquote

Born in London to a journalist father, Spender went to University College, Oxford, where he met W. H. Auden. He did not finish his degree and went to Germany. Around this time he was also friends with Christopher Isherwood (who had also lived in Weimar Germany), and fellow Macspaunday members Louis MacNeice, and C. Day Lewis. He would later come to know W.B. Yeats, Allen Ginsberg, Ted Hughes, Joseph Brodsky, Isaiah Berlin, Mary McCarthy, Roy Campbell, Raymond Chandler, Dylan Thomas, Jean-Paul Sartre and T. S. Eliot, as well as members of the Bloomsbury Group, in particular Virginia Woolf.

His early poetry, notably Poems (1933) was often inspired by social protest. His convictions found further expression in Vienna (1934), a long poem in praise of the 1934 uprising of Viennese socialists, and in Trial of a Judge ( (1938), an anti-Fascist drama in verse. His autobiography, [World within World] (1951), is a re-creation of much of the political and social atmosphere of the 1930s.

When the Spanish civil war began, he went with the International Brigades to fight against Franco's fascist forces. Harry Pollitt, head of the Communist Party, told Spender "to go and get killed; we need a Byron in the movement."

A member of the political left wing during this early period, he was one of those who wrote of their disillusionment with communism in the essay collection The God that Failed ( (1949), along with Arthur Koestler and others. It is thought that one of the big areas of disappointment was the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia, which many leftists saw as a betrayal. In WWII he was with the London fire service.

With Cyril Connolly Spender co-founded Horizon magazine and served as its editor from 1939 to 1941. He was editor of Encounter magazine from 1953 to 1966. Spender taught at various American institutions, accepting the Elliston Chair of Poetry ( at the University of Cincinnati in 1954.

Spender's sexuality has been the subject of debate. Spender's seemingly changing attitudes towards homosexuality and heterosexuality have caused him to be labeled bisexual, repressed, latently homophobic, or simply someone so complex as to resist easy labeling. Many of his friend in his earlier years were gay. Spender himself had many homosexual affairs in his earlier years, most notably with Tony Hyndman (who is called "Jimmy Younger" in his memoir World Within World). During World War II, he decided to shift his focus to heterosexuality, marrying concert pianist Natasha Litvin in 1941. Consequently, he toned down homosexual allusions in later editions of his poetry.

In 1980, following a lecture in Oneonta, New York, Spender's plane was grounded due to bad weather, so he took a taxi 287 miles to Manhattan for a date with Jacqueline Onassis. "I simply had to get there," he said.

Spender was knighted in 1983.

Spender sued gay author David Leavitt for allegedly using his relationship with "Jimmy Younger" in Leavitt's While England Sleeps in 1994. The case was settled out of court with Leavitt removing certain portions from his text.


Selected Bibliography


  • Twenty Poems (1930)
  • Vienna (1934)
  • Poems of Dedication (1936)
  • The Still Centre (1939)
  • Collected Poems, 1928-1953 (1955)
  • The Generous Days (1971)
  • Selected Poems (1974)
  • Collected Poems 1928-19851986)
  • New Collected Poems Edited by Michael Brett, 2004






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