Stephen Spender is still wielding his pen while his fellow Thirties poets – Auden, Macneice and William Empson – have cashed in their laurels and departed. But in terms of poetic durability Auden has already outlived his old pacemaker and friend. Spender’s poetry has not worn well, but he is a man of letters whose contributions to the fostering, promotion and teaching of English literature ensure him a respected place in its annals.
And now he has, quite unexpectedly, given us his journals and these are likely to generate a new readership and reputation far their author. They are chock-full both – of gossip and of insight into life and letters in the twentieth century. They are not, in fact, Spender’s first works in prose. He produced, amongst a variety of non-poetic works (including some fiction) an interesting autobiography World within World as far back as 1951. But in their fluency and variety these journals may come to be seen as Stephen Spender’s major literary achievement.
We met in his house, surrounded by a rather overgrown garden, in a pleasant street in St Johns Wood. This has been the poet’s family home since shortly after the Second World War but he has frequently been absent from it, teaching poetry and creative writing in America, Japan and