Analysis of the poem "The truly great" by Stephen Spender

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Written By Shaun Kearney 6E 2003

"The Truly Great", a treatise on greatness.

(Poem written by Stephen Spender)

This poem, broadly, is an attempt to describe what makes a person "truly" great. The poem was written in the 1930's during wartime, this no doubt influenced the poet. However, soldiers are not the only people he is referring to. He is essentially referring to anyone who selflessly fights for what they believe in.

"I think continually of those who were truly great

Who, from the womb, remembered the soul's history

Through corridors of light where the hours are suns,

Endless and singing."

Here the poet makes an important defining point in the word "truly", it sets the theme for the rest of the poem which expands upon this idea of truth showing what it is and how it effects the air it touches. Another important word here is "continually", in my mind something cannot be thought of continually without some form of prompting: this prompting is his musing or concern over the men in the war.

In the next few lines he defines artistically a characteristic he believes to be endowed in men of true greatness, that of passion. He says that even before birth these men are filled with passion and love ("soul's history"), where they enjoy every moment in and "endless" indulgence in passion and enjoyment ("singing"). In comparing them to a child in the "womb", he endows these men or woman with a child's willingness to participate or enjoy things: old and new.

Was that their lips, still touched with fire,

Should tell of the spirit clothed from head to foot in song.

And who hoarded from the spring branches

The desires falling across their bodies like blossoms.

The poet continues to talk about the idea of passion in this passage. He refers to the "endless singing", emphasizing the idea of childlike exuberance from the womb with the word "still". He says that their actions ("lips" with reference to "singing") still filled with passion...
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