Stephen Spender Poems

Stephen Spender was an English poet and essayist. Much of his work, written prior to his death in 1995, was about class differences and injustice. He served as Poet Laureate Consult in Poetry to the United States Library of Congress beginning in 1965.

The Pylons

by Stephen Spender

‘The Pylons’ is a foreboding poem that explores the collision between two worlds and the devastating consequences for the innocent.

'The Pylons' is undoubtedly one of Spender's finest poems and features some of his most enduring artistic preoccupations. His anxiety over the direction modernity was heading is palpable, as it is in many of his poems. Likewise, his nostalgic attitude to a remembered England, particularly the English countryside ensures it deserves to be regarded as one of his most important works.

A Stopwatch and an Ordnance Map

by Stephen Spender

‘A Stopwatch and an Ordnance Map’ by Stephen Spender explores the Spanish Civil War through the lyrical depiction of one man’s death. It is marked by a stopwatch, the olive trees, and the continued conflict around him. 

'A Stopwatch and an Ordnance Map' is one of Spender's finest poems, brilliantly depicting themes including friendship, loss and the passage of time. Greatly influenced by his time with the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War, Spender's poem alludes to the poet's socialist political beliefs and his apprehension regarding the rise of fascism.

Polar Exploration

by Stephen Spender

‘Polar Exploration’ reflects upon peaceful isolation and urban life, particularly how the latter appears to make the former impossible.

The poem displays much of Spender's typical mistrust of modern life, which he presents as overwhelming and exhausting.

Our single purpose was to walk through snow

With faces swung to their prodigious North

Like compass iron. As clerks in whited Banks

With bird-claw pens column virgin paper


Two Armies

by Stephen Spender

‘Two Armies’ by Stephen Spender describes two armies on a devastating battlefield where every individual is suffering. Their common humanity is highlighted. 

This is a very good Spender poem but is not one of his most important.

Deep in the winter plain, two armies

Dig their machinery, to destroy each other.

Men freeze and hunger. No one is given leave

The Double Shame

by Stephen Spender

‘The Double Shame’ by Stephen Spender conveys a depiction of what the world feels like when one loses a very important person in their life. Everything is transformed in a way that makes a living from day to day difficult. 

This is a very good Stephen Spender poem but it is not one of his best.

You must live though the time when everything hurts

When the space of the ripe, loaded afternoon

Expands to a landscape of white heat frozen

And trees are weighed down with hearts of stone

Missing My Daughter

by Stephen Spender

‘Missing My Daughter’ by Stephen Spender is a poem about a speaker’s desire to see his daughter and how he feel trapped in a prison of loneliness. 

This wall-paper has lines that rise

Upright like bars, and overhead,

The ceiling's patterned with red roses.

On the wall opposite the bed

Explore more poems from Stephen Spender

My Parents

by Stephen Spender

‘My Parents’ by Stephen Spender is a poem based on bullying and the desire to make friends.


by Stephen Spender

‘Seascape’ by Stephen Spender depicts a seascape that is both peaceful and dangerous. The poem reminds readers of how fickle and dangerous the ocean can be. 

There are some days the happy ocean lies  

Like an unfingered harp, below the land.  

Afternoon guilds all the silent wires  

Into a burning music for the eyes

That girl who laughed and had black eyes

by Stephen Spender

‘That girl who laughed and had black eyes’ by Stephen Spender is all about a girl the speaker admires and loves. She still lives in the speaker’s thoughts even after her death.

That girl who laughed and had black eyes

Spoke here ten days ago. She smiles

Still in my thought; the lip still promises

The body lives, and the quick eye beguiles.

The Express

by Stephen Spender

‘The Express’ is an enthralling and uncanny poem which explores the feelings of awe and concern after a new train leaves the station.

The Truly Great

by Stephen Spender

In Stephen Spender’s Poem ‘The Truly Great’, he discusses the traits of heroes who have passed away before us.

Ultima Ratio Regum

by Stephen Spender

‘Ultima Ratio Regum’ translates to English as “the last (ultimate) argument of kings,” which is an insinuation of war. In this poem, Spender portrays the effect of war on innocent, insignificant lives.

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