800px-Stephen Spender, Miami Book Fair International, 1986

Stephen Spender (1909-1995) in 1986. Photo from Miami Dade Country Archives. Licensed under Creative Commons, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Stephen Spender
Born Stephen Harold Spender
February 28, 1909
Kensington, London, England
Died July 16, 1995 (aged 86)
Westminster, London, England
Occupation Poet, novelist, essayist
Nationality United Kingdom United Kingdom
Alma mater University College, Oxford
Spouse(s) Natasha Litvin

Signature File:Stephen Spender signature.svg

Sir Stephen Harold Spender CBE (28 February 1909 - 16 July 1995) was an English poet, novelist, and essayist, who concentrated on themes of social injustice and the class struggle in his work. He was appointed the seventeenth Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1965.[1]



Spender was born in Kensington, London, to journalist Edward Harold Spender and Violet Hilda (Schuster), a painter and poet.[2][3] He went first to Hall School in Hampstead; then at 13 to Gresham's School, Holt; and later to Charlecote School in Worthing, but was unhappy there. On the death of his mother he was transferred to University College School (Hampstead), which he later described as "that gentlest of Schools."[4] Spender subsequently went up to University College, Oxford where, in 1973, he was made an honorary fellow. He left Oxford without taking a degree and subsequently lived for periods of time in Germany. He said at various times throughout his life that he never passed an exam, ever. Perhaps his closest friend and the man who had the biggest influence on him was W. H. Auden. Around this time he was also friends with Christopher Isherwood (who had also lived in Weimar Germany), and fellow Macspaunday members Louis MacNeice and Cecil Day-Lewis. He was friendly with David Jones and 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.


Stephen Spender2

Stephen Spender, courtesy The Fabulous Birthday Blog.

Spender began work on a novel in 1929, which was not published until 1988, under the title The Temple. The novel is about a young man who travels to Germany and finds a culture at once more open than England - ”particularly about relationships between men" - and showing frightening anticipations of Naziism, which are confusingly related to the very openness the main character admires. Spender says in his 1988 introduction:

In the late Twenties young English writers were more concerned with censorship than with politics... 1929 was the last year of that strange Indian Summer - the Weimar Republic. For many of my friends and for myself, Germany seemed a paradise where there was no censorship and young Germans enjoyed extraordinary freedom in their lives...[5]

When the Spanish civil war began, he went to Spain with the International Brigades (who were fighting against Francisco Franco's forces) to report and observe for the Communist Party of Great Britain. Harry Pollitt, head of the CPGB, told Spender "to go and get killed; we need a Byron in the movement."(Citation needed)

His 1938 translations of works by Berthold Brecht and Miguel Hernandez appeared in John Lehmann's New Writing.[6]

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.[7] 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. Like fellow poets W. H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood, and several other outspoken opponents of fascism in the 1930s, Spender did not see active military service in World War II. He was initially graded 'C' upon examination due to his earlier colitis, poor eyesight, varicose veins and the long term effects of a tapeworm in 1934. However, he contrived by pulling strings to be re-examined and was upgraded to 'B' which meant that he could serve in the London Auxiliary Fire Service. Spender spent the winter of 1940 teaching at Blundell's School, having taken the position left vacant by Manning Clark, who returned to Australia as a consequence of the war to teach at Geelong Grammar.[8]

He felt close to the Jewish people; his mother, Violet Hilda Schuster, was half Jewish (her father's family were German Jews who converted to Christianity, while her mother came from an upper-class family of Catholic German, Lutheran Danish and distantly Italian descent). Spender's second wife, Natasha, whom he married in 1941, was also Jewish.

After the war he was member of the Allied Control Commission, restoring civil authority in Germany.[9]

With Cyril Connolly and Peter Watson Spender co-founded Horizon magazine and served as its editor from 1939 to 1941. He was editor of Encounter magazine from 1953 to 1966, but resigned after it emerged that the Congress for Cultural Freedom, which published the magazine, was being covertly funded by the CIA.[10] Spender always insisted that he was unaware of the ultimate source of Encounter's funds. Spender taught at various American institutions, accepting the Elliston Chair of Poetry at the University of Cincinnati in 1954. In 1961 he became professor of rhetoric at Gresham College, London.

He helped found the magazine Index on Censorship, he was involved in the founding of the Poetry Book Society, and he did work for UNESCO.[11]

Spender was Professor of English at University College, London, 1970-1977, and then became Professor Emeritus.

Personal life Edit

In 1933, Spender fell in love with Tony Hyndman, and they lived together 1935-36.[12] In 1934, Spender had an affair with Muriel Gardiner. In a letter to Christopher Isherwood in September 1934 he said: "I find boys much more attractive, in fact I am rather more than usually susceptible, but actually I find the actual sexual act with women more satisfactory, more terrible, more disgusting, and, in fact, more everything".[12] In 1936, shortly after the end of his relationship with Tony Hyndman, Spender fell in love with and married Inez Maria Pearn. This marriage broke down in 1939.[12] In 1941, Spender married Natasha Litvin, a concert pianist. This marriage lasted until his death. Their daughter Lizzie is married to the Australian actor/comedian Barry Humphries, and their son Matthew is married to the daughter of the Armenian artist Arshile Gorky.

Spender's sexuality has been the subject of debate. Spender's seemingly changing attitudes have caused him to be labeled bisexual, repressed, latently homophobic, or simply someone so complex as to resist easy labeling.[13] Many of his friends in his earlier years were gay. Spender himself had many affairs with men in his earlier years, most notably with Tony Hyndman (who is called "Jimmy Younger" in his memoir World Within World). Following his affair with Muriel Gardiner he shifted his focus to heterosexuality,[9] though his relationship with Hyndman complicated both this relationship and his short-lived marriage to Inez Maria Pearn (1936-1939). His marriage to Natasha Litvin in 1941 seems to have marked the end of his romantic relationships with men. Subsequently, he toned down homosexual allusions in later editions of his poetry. The following line was revised in a republished edition: "Whatever happens, I shall never be alone. I shall always have a boy, a railway fare, or a revolution." was later revised to read: "Whatever happens, I shall never be alone. I shall always have an affair, a railway fare, or a revolution." Spender sued 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.

Spender died from congestive heart failure in Westminster, London, at 86.[14]


On his retirement as Professor of English at University College, London, in 1977, Spencer was made Professor Emeritus.

Spender was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) at the 1962 Queen's Birthday Honours,[15] and knighted in the 1983 Queen's Birthday Honours.[16][17]

At a ceremony commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the Normandy Invasion, D-day on 6 June 1984, President Ronald Reagan quoted from Spender's poem "The Truly Great" in his remarks:

Gentlemen, I look at you and I think of the words of Stephen Spender's poem. You are men who in your "lives fought for life... and left the vivid air signed with your honor."

Stephen Spender Memorial TrustEdit

The Stephen Spender Memorial Trust was founded in 1997 to commemorate Spender's life and works and to encourage some of his principal interests: poetry, poetic translation, and freedom of creative expression. The Trust aims to widen knowledge of Spender and his circle, help contemporary writers reach an English language audience, and promote literary translation from modern and ancient languages into English. The Trust runs a programme of grants to support translators, as well as an annual translation competition, The Times Stephen Spender Prize for Poetry Translation.[18]



  • Nine Experiments: Being poems written at the age of eighteen. privately printed, 1928.
  • Twenty Poems. Oxford: [[Basil Blackwell|B.H. Blackwell, 1930.
  • Poems. London: Faber, 1933; New York: Random House, 1934.
  • Perhaps (limited edition). privately printed, 1933.
  • Poem (limited edition). privately printed, 1934.
  • Vienna. London: Faber, 1934.
  • *At Night. privately printed, 1935.
  • The Still Centre. London: Faber, 1939.
  • Selected Poems. New York: Random House, 1940.
  • I Sit by the Window. New York: Linden Press, [c.1940].
  • Ruins and Visions: Poems, 1934-1942. New York: Random House, 1942.
  • Spiritual Exercises: To Cecil Day Lewis. privately printed, 1943.
  • Poems of Dedication. New York: Random House, 1947.
  • Returning to Vienna, 1947: Nine sketches. Chicago: Banyan Press, 1947.
  • The Edge of Being. New York: Random House, 1949.
  • Sirmione Peninsula. London: Faber, 1954.
  • Collected Poems, 1928-1953. New York: Random House, 1955
  • Inscriptions. London: Poetry Book Society, 1958.
  • Selected Poems. New York: Random House, 1965.
  • The Express. 1966.[19]
  • The Generous Days: Ten poems. Boston: David Godine, 1969,
    • enlarged edition published as The Generous Days. London: Faber, 1971.
  • Descartes. London: Steam Press, 1970.
  • Art Student. London: Poem-of-the-Month Club, 1970.
  • Penguin Modern Poets 20 (by John Heath-Stubbs, F.T. Prince, & Stephen Spender). Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1971.
  • Recent Poems. London: Anvil Press Poetry, 1978.

Collected Poems, 1928-1985. London: Faber, 1985.

  • Dolphins. New York: St. Martin's, 1994.
  • New Collected Poems (edited by Michael Brett). 2004.[19]


  • Trial of a Judge: A tragedy in five acts. New York: Random House, 1938.
  • Rasputin's End (opera; with Nicholas Nabokov)). Milan: Ricordi, 1963.


Short fictionEdit

  • The Burning Cactus (short stories), Random House, 1936; Books for Libraries Press, 1971.
  • Engaged in Writing / The Fool and the Princess (short stories). New York: Farrar, Straus, 1958.


  • The Destructive Element: A Study of Modern writers and beliefs. London: Cape, 1935; Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1936; Folcroft, PA: Folcroft, 1970.
  • Forward from Liberalism. New York: Random House, 1937.
  • The New Realism: A discussion. London: Hogarth, 1939; Folcroft, 1977.
  • Life and the Poet. London: Secker & Warburg, 1942; Folcroft, 1974.
  • European Witness. Reynal, 1946.
  • Jim Braidy: The story of Britain's firemen (with William Sansom & James Gordon). Lindsay Drummond, 1943.
  • The God That Failed: Six studies in communism (contributor; edited by Richard H. Crossman). New York: Harper, 1950.
  • World within World: The autobiography of Stephen Spender. Harcourt, 1951
  • Learning Laughter. London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1952; Harcourt, 1953.
  • The Creative Element: A study of vision, despair, and orthodoxy among some modern writers. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1953; Folcroft, PA: Folcroft, 1973.
  • The Making of a Poem. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1955; New York: Norton, 1962.
  • The Imagination in the Modern World: Three lectures. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1962.
  • The Struggle of the Modern. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1963.
  • Chaos and Control in Poetry. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1966.
  • The Year of the Young Rebels. New York: Random House, 1969.
  • Love-Hate Relations: A study of anglo-American sensibilities. New York: Random House, 1974.
  • Eliot. London: Fontana, 1975
    • published in U.S. as T.S. Eliot. New York: Viking, 1976.
  • Henry Moore: Sculptures in landscape. London: Studio Vista, 1978; C.N. Potter, 1979.
  • The Thirties and After: Poetry, politics, people, 1933-1970. New York: Random House, 1978.
  • America Observed (contributor). C.N. Potter, 1979.
  • China Diary (travel guide, (with David Hockney; illustrate by Hockney). London: Thames & Hudson, 1982.
  • In Irina's Garden with Henry Moore's Sculpture. London: Thames & Hudson, 1986.


  • The Magic Flute: Retold (juvenile; based on the opera by Mozart). New York: Putnam, 1966.


  • Danton's Death (translated & adapted with Goronwy Rees). London: Faber, 1939.
  • Rainer Maria Rilke, Duino Elegies (bilingual edition). New York: Norton, 1939
    • 4th edition, revised. London: Hogarth Press, 1963.
  • Ernst Toller, Pastor Hall (three-act play; translated with Hugh Hunt). London: [[John Lane (publisher)|John Lane, 1939;
  • Federico Garcia Lorca, Poems (translated with J.L. Gili). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1939.
  • Federico Garcia Lorca, Selected Poems (translted with J.L. Gill). London: Hogarth Press, 1943.
  • Paul Eluard, Le Dur desir de Durer (translated with Frances Cornford). Grey Falcon Press, 1950.
  • Riner Maria Rilke, The Life of the Virgin Mary = Das Marien-Leben). Philosophical Library, 1951.
  • Wedekind, Five Tragedies of Sex (translated with Frances Fawcett). Theatre Arts, 1952.
  • Mary Stuart. London: Faber, 1959; Ticknor Fields, 1980.
  • C.P. Cavafy, Fourteen Poems (translated with Nikos Stangos). Editions Electo, 1977.
  • Wedekind, Lulu Plays, and other sex tragedies. Riverrun, 1979.
  • The Oedipus Trilogy: King Oedipus, Oedipus at Colonos, Antigone: A version by Stephen Spender. London: Faber, 1985.
  • Rainer Maria Rilke Selected Poems (translated with others). New York: Knopf, 1996.


  • W.H. Auden, Poems. privately printed, 1928.
  • Oxford Poetry, 1929 (edited with Louis MacNeice). Oxford, UK: B.H. Blackwell, 1929.
  • Oxford Poetry, 1930 (edited with Bernard Spencer). Oxford, UK: B.H. Blackwell, 1930.
  • New Writing: New series I London: Hogarth Press, 1938.
  • New Writing, New Series II (edited with John Lehmann & Christopher Isherwood). London: Hogarth Press, 1939.
  • Poems for Spain (edited with John Lehman, & author of introduction). London: Hogarth Press, 1939.
  • A Choice of English Romantic Poetry. Dial, 1947.
  • Walt Whitman, Selected Poems. London: Grey Walls Press, 1950.
  • Martin Huerlimann, Europe in Photographs. Thames Hudson, 1951.
  • New Poems 1956: An anthology (edited with Elizabeth Jennings & Dannie Abse). London: M. Joseph, 1956.
  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Great Writings of Goethe. New York: New American Library, 1958.
  • Great German Short Stories. Dell, 1960.
  • The Writer's Dilemma. Oxford University Press, 1961.
  • Encounters: An anthology from the first ten years of "Encounter" magazine (edited with Irving Kristol & Melvin J. Lasky). Basic Books, 1963.
  • The Concise Encyclopedia of English and American Poets and Poetry (edited with Donald Hall). Hawthorn, 1963
    • revised edition, Hutchinson, 1970.
  • A Choice of Shelley's Verse. London: Faber, 1971.
  • Selected Poems of Abba Kovne / Selected Poems of Nelly Sachs. Penguin, 1971.
  • Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Cambridge, UK: Limited Editions Club, 1971.
  • D.H. Lawrence: Novelist, Poet, Prophet. New York: Harper, 1973.
  • W.H. Auden: A Tribute. Macmillan, 1975.
  • Herbert List, Junge Maenner. Twin Palms, 1988.
  • Hockney's Alphabet. Random House/American Friends of AIDS Crisis Trust, 1991.

Letters and journalsEdit

  • Letters to Christopher: Stephen Spender's letters to Christopher Isherwood, 1929-1939, with "The Line of the Branch"—Two Thirties Journals. Santa Barbara, CA: Black Sparrow, 1980.
  • The Journals of Stephen Spender, 1939-1983. New York: Random House, 1986.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy the Poetry Foundation.[20]

Play productionsEdit

  • Trial of a Judge: A Tragedy in Five Acts (first produced in London at Rupert Doone's Group Theatre on March 18, 1938). New York: Random House, 1938.
  • (Translator and adapter with Goronwy Rees) Danton's Death (first produced in London, 1939; adaptation of a play by Georg Buechner). London: Faber, 1939.
  • To the Island (first produced at Oxford University, 1951).
  • (Adapter) Lulu (adaptation from plays by Frank Wedekind; produced in New York, 1958).
  • (Translator and adapter) Mary Stuart (adaptation of a play by Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller; produced on the West End at Old Vic, 1961; produced on Broadway at Vivian Beaumont Theatre, November 11, 1971). Londong; Faber, 1959; Ticknor Fields, 1980.
  • (Translator and adapter) The Oedipus Trilogy: King Oedipus, Oedipus at Colonos, Antigone: A Version by Stephen Spender (three-act play; revision of play produced at Oxford Playhouse, 1983). Faber, 1985.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy the Poetry Foundation.[20]

See alsoEdit


  • Hynes, Samuel, The Auden Generation (1976)
  • Sutherland, John, Stephen Spender: The Authorized Biography (2004); US edition: Stephen Spender: A Literary Life (2005)
  • New Collected Poems of Stephen Spender (Author), Michael Brett (Editor) 2004


  1. "Poet Laureate Timeline: 1961-1970". Library of Congress. 2008. Retrieved 19 December 2008. 
  2. Births England and Wales 1837-1915
  3. Sutherland, John, Stephen Spender: The Authorized Biography (2004); US edition: Stephen Spender: A Literary Life (2005)
  4. Sutherland, John (2005). Stephen Spender: A Literary Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195178165. 
  5. Bozorth, Richard R. (1995). "But Who Would Get It? Auden and the Codes of Poetry and Desire". ELH 62 (3): 709-727. doi:10.1353/elh.1995.0023. 
  6. New Writing at Google Books Accessed 21 March 2009
  8. Stephen Holt, Manning Clark and Australian History, 1915-1963, St Lucia: UQP, 1982, p 60.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Sutherland, John (September 2004). "Spender, Sir Stephen Harold (1909-1995)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/57986. Retrieved 21 December 2008. 
  10. Frances Stonor Saunders (12 July 1999). "How the CIA plotted against us". New Statesman. Retrieved 21 December 2008. 
  11. Warwick McFadyen, review of John Sutherland's biography "Stephen Spender", The Age, Review, p.3
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Sutherland, John (2004). "Sir Stephen Harold Spender". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. 
  13. G. Patton Wright (20 December 2004). "Spender, Sir Stephen". Retrieved 21 December 2008. 
  14. Deaths England and Wales 1984-2006
  15. London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 42683. pp. 4316–4317. 25 May 1962. Retrieved 15 July 2008.
  16. London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 49375. pp. 1–2. 10 June 1983. Retrieved 15 July 2008.
  17. London Gazette: no. 49575. p. 16802. 20 December 1983. Retrieved 15 July 2008.
  18. Stephen Spender Memorial Trust
  19. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named sspenderwp
  20. 20.0 20.1 Stephen Spender 1909-1995), Poetry Foundation. Web, June 25, 2012.

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