Sir Stephen Spender, 86, poet, critic, essayist...


Sir Stephen Spender, 86, poet, critic, essayist and one of the pre-eminent British writers of the 1930s, died yesterday in London.

His wife since 1949, the concert pianist Natasha Litvin, was with him when he died.

He gained a reputation during the 1930s as a left-wing thinker, wrote poetry for the republican side in the Spanish Civil War, and briefly was a member of the Communist Party.

He described his disillusionment with the party in his celebrated 1949 book, "The God That Failed." After World War II, he joined a liberal anti-Communist movement.

His poetry was deeply personal as well as politically and socially conscious. He believed writers had a duty to society, and he maintained that duty in his poetry, in his editing and later in his work for a magazine defending freedom of expression called Index on Censorship.

He was born Feb. 28, 1909, into a distinguished family of political liberals in Hampstead, London. In 1927, he entered Oxford University, where fellow student W. H. Auden -- already an admired poet -- noticed him, encouraged his work and drew him into his circle of young writers.

He published his first book of poems in 1934, two more by 1937, and wrote plays and essays.

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