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This review is taken from PN Review 61, Volume 14 Number 5, May - June 1988.

READING SPENDER, REREADING AUDEN Stephen Spender, Collected Poems 1928-1985 (Faber and Faber) £4.95 pb
Stephen Spender, Journals 1939-1983 (Faber and Faber) £15
Stephen Spender, A Version of the Oedipus Trilogy of Sophocles (Faber and Faber) £12.50
Stan Smith, W. H. Auden (Basil Blackwell) £3.95 pb
Alan Bold (ed.), W. H. Auden: The Far Interior (Vison Press/Barnes and Noble) £15.95

In the course of his discussion of Romanticism in The Struggle of the Modern, Stephen Spender quotes from A Midsummer Night's Dream Shakespeare's famous description of poetic creation:


The poet's eye, in a fine frenzy rolling
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.


Spender's own struggle has been, I think, that of a poet of visionary tendencies inadequately equipped to give shape to his vision, to localise and define. He has himself, with characteristic honesty, drawn attention to his own 'weak sense of form'; and reading through his new Collected Poems, one realises how broad are the implications of that phrase.

Spender remains best known for his early poems, poems of youthful aspiration and revolt, often characterised by a Shellpyan yearning towards extremes of space and light: 'There is never a wide enough space', he wrote in 'Variations on My Life', 'never a white enough light'. The same fundamental impulse gives rise to the figures imagined as stepping from confinement into a fresh and luminous world in 'Oh young men, oh young comrades'1 and 'An Elementary School Class Room in a Slum'; the heroes whose sunward journeying in 'I think continually of those who were truly great' leaves 'the vivid air signed with ...


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