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The dreamy, liquid daybreak of Stephen Spender

Sunday, 28 February, 2016

On this day in 1909, Stephen Spender was born. A member of a generation of British poets who came to prominence in the 1930s, he counted W. H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood, Cecil Day Lewis and Louis MacNeice as contemporaries. Like many daring young intellectuals of the era, Spender became a member of the Communist party and was adventurous in his sexuality. His autobiographical World within World, published in 1951, created a commotion with the disclosure of a homosexual relationship he had had at the time of the Spanish Civil War, but the affair ended when Spender married.

When critic Helen Vendler compared Spender and Auden she concluded that no two poets could have been more different. “Auden’s rigid, brilliant, peremptory, categorizing, allegorical mind demanded forms altogether different from Spender’s dreamy, liquid, guilty, hovering sensibility,” she wrote, adding: “Auden is a poet of firmly historical time, Spender of timeless nostalgic space.” Daybreak is dreamy and timeless.

Daybreak

At dawn she lay with her profile at that angle
Which, when she sleeps, seems the carved face of an angel.
Her hair a harp, the hand of a breeze follows
And plays, against the white cloud of the pillows.
Then, in a flush of rose, she woke and her eyes that opened
Swam in blue through her rose flesh that dawned.
From her dew of lips, the drop of one word
Fell like the first of fountains: murmured
‘Darling’, upon my ears the song of the first bird.
‘My dream becomes my dream,’ she said, ‘come true.
I waken from you to my dream of you.’
Oh, my own wakened dream then dared assume
The audacity of her sleep. Our dreams
Poured into each other’s arms, like streams.

Stephen Spender (1909 – 1995)

Dawn


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