Stephen Spender (1909–1995) was an English poet and essayist. As a young man, he became friends with W.H. Auden, Louis MacNeice, Cecil Day-Lewis, and Christopher Isherwood, a loose collection often referred to as “the Auden Group” or “MacSpaunday.” He published many collections of poems, including The Still Centre and Ruins and Visions, and numerous volumes of nonfiction and other works, including Learning Laughterand Love-Hate Relations.

On Fame and the Writer

The following was given at a meeting organized by Foyles Bookshop in London last spring. Writing in these pages, Robert Craft recently observed: “Next to Auden, the most abiding concern in the Journals is with what Spender sees as a lack of recognition.”[^*] This remark surprised me a bit and …

Survivor

The note about the author printed on the last page of this novel throws much light on it: “Harry Mulisch…Holland’s most important postwar writer…[was] born in 1927 in Haarlem to a Jewish mother whose family died in the concentration camps, and an Austrian father who was jailed after the war …

B. B. and Company

A movie about the life of Bernhard (after 1914 known as Bernard) Berenson might bear a resemblance to Citizen Kane, though taking place in much more exalted circumstances. It would be an American story of a man who, emerging from a background of poverty and hardship, moves into a world …

Forster’s Shadow

Members of my literary generation first met E.M. Forster in the early 1930s. Before this, while we were undergraduates, he was a legend to us. Howards End seemed one of those books that make each reader a unique discoverer of its partly realistic, partly symbolic world. It was a novel …

‘The First Man on Earth’

One day in June 1940 after reading in the London Times a lyrical account of the invasion of France by beautiful Nazi soldiers—their blue eyes smiling under steel helmets wreathed with wild-flowers, while their tanks were roaring across the green fields—I turned on the radio. The BBC was playing Schubert’s …

Victims of Politics

Moravia’s latest novel is haunted by German ghosts: Dürer, Kleist, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Kafka, and the voice of Hitler, which is heard through loudspeakers. Lucio, the narrator, goes to Anacapri after taking a degree at the University of Munich with a thesis on Heinrich von Kleist. He has brought his German …

Bleeding Poetry

Many years ago, at a time when I was obsessed by Rilke’s poetry, I happened to cut myself shaving, and (looking in the mirror) I thought: “If Rilke cut himself shaving, he would bleed poetry.” Robert Hass, in his long, wide-ranging introduction to Stephen Mitchell’s translations, quotes the young Russian …

Changeling

A young English critic, Blake Morrison, has written recently that Tony Harrison may well be “the first genuine working-class poet England has produced.”[^*] There are poems in Continuous to support such a claim. In nearly all the Meredithian sixteen-line sonnets which make up this volume, the poet looks back to …

Guilty Secrets

John Fowles’s introduction to this collection of the stories of Stefan Zweig begins: Stefan Zweig has suffered, since his death in 1942, a darker eclipse than any other famous writer of this century. Even “famous writer” understates the prodigious reputation he enjoyed in the last decade or so of his …

The Glow of Irreality

The coincidence of the exhibition “Kandinsky: The Improvisations” at the National Gallery of Art in Washington with the publication of Elizabeth Napier’s translation of Kandinsky’s book Sounds(Klänge) is happy. Both belong approximately to the second decade of the present century. Kandinsky painted the first Improvisation in 1909. In 1913 Klänge, …

Elbe Swans and Other Poets

The date is 1647—or perhaps Herr Grass would prefer to say 1647/1947. The meeting of German poets at Telgte, between Osnabrück and Münster, takes place while the Thirty Years War is drawing to a close, three years before the signing of the Treaty of Westphalia, and during the period of …

Issyvoo’s Conversion

Christopher Isherwood has often been accused of egotism in his work. Yet in the sense in which the word is usually employed this seems to me to miss the point. The self-solidification of the true egotist acts as a wall between him and people. The strident ego sings only its …

Meat Loaf

In this quietly scarifying, very funny, and wonderfully compassionate novel, the poet James Schuyler invents over-lapping scenes describing middle-class suburban Americans leading some of them “normal” and apparently healthy lives and others lives which are “mentally disturbed.” The action alternates between “homes”—those of the Taylor family, the widow Mag Carpenter, …

The Weimar Wind Tunnel

The period between 1917 and 1933 in Germany, Austria, and most other countries of Central Europe seems today like some terrible subsidence of history, a grand canyon. At the bottom of this canyon we see a life going on that was particularly active in literature and all the arts. Centered …

Heaven Can’t Wait

W. B. Yeats during the mid-Thirties remarked that the spiritual forces dominating humanity could be divided into three ages: first, the religious-ritualistic age of Greek antiquity; second, the modern political age through which we are now passing. He said the third and last age would be that of communication with …

Hardy Hardy

When I was a boy, all modernists were considered lunatics within the professional middle-class circle of my family. Yet the complete Wessex edition of Thomas Hardy’s novels and poems was on our bookshelves, and we read them. Tess of the d’Urbervilles was considered dangerous but dealing with A Serious Subject, …

The Mythical Life of D.H. Lawrence

David Herbert Lawrence was born a perfect little Oedipus Hating his father, bread-winner, who worked the pits, Loving his mother, school-marmish, so superior. Mother and son walked together in the honeyed sunlight Over the pitch-black mine, and watched the Red Admiral Flatter bright-mauve rocks with …

Traveling Light

Patrick Leigh Fermor is renowned for his exploits in Crete during the war. Together with his companion Xan Fielding, he captured the German commander of the island, General Kreipe. During periods when, disguised as Cretan shepherds, they were in hiding, they exchanged reminiscences of their prewar boyhoods. A Time of …

Melancholic and Magic History

Over ten years ago, at the time of a PEN Club conference held in Tokyo, I traveled for a few days through Japan together with Alberto Moravia, the husband of Elsa Morante. One day, looking out of the train window at the brilliantly sunlit fields and sea—green and blue shining …

The Cult of Joe

In the early Thirties when Christopher Isherwood and I used to go every summer to Sellin on the Baltic island of Ruegen, we would walk on the beach discussing writers who had become legendary to us. A figure whom we much speculated about was J. R. Ackerley, author of a …

Two Poems

CYRIL CONNOLLY, NOVEMBER 1974 This hews you to your statue: Flakes away the flesh Back to bone intellect; Lays bare the brow, pure semi-circle. Star-striking dome— Sidera sublime vertice— Proves finally your head was Roman. This seals your eyelids; sharpens The …

Among the Israelis

From the outside, to newspaper readers, Israel may seem a country awaiting its doom. So going to Jerusalem over Christmas and the New Year for a few weeks, I half expected that I would find Israelis paralyzed, as the French were in 1939, anticipating their destruction. Having got there, however, …

Auden at Milwaukee

(This is a note from my diary written on my sixty-first birthday, February 28, 1970, after dining with Auden on his sixty-third birthday, February 26, 1970, in New York.) Dined with Auden. He’d been at Milwaukee Three days, talking to the students. “They loved me. They were entranced.” …

In Eliot’s Cave

In his essay “Literary Biography” in Golden Codgers, Richard Ellmann points out that even in the most candid biographical writings, like Michael Holroyd’s account of Lytton Strachey and his love life with Carrington, something is kept back, “the precise anatomical convolutions remain shrouded by the last rags of biographical decorum.” …

W. H. Auden (1907–1973)

This is the address which Mr. Spender gave at the Cathedral Church, Oxford, on October 27, 1973, in memory of W. H. Auden. This gathering of friends to honor and remember Wystan Auden is not an occasion on which I should attempt to discuss either Wystan’s personality or his place …

Can Poetry Be Reviewed?

Poetry is nothing unless it is the breaking up of routine attitudes toward living. There is therefore something sad about reviewing it. For the assumption behind criticism is that routines of technique, vocabulary, tradition, moral attitudes can be extracted from past or from contemporary poetry and applied to the work …