A Poet Among the Young

A Poet Among the Young

What was Stephen Spender to the students and what were they to him in 1968, “the year of the young rebels”? They, the engage and the enrages, were seeking to restructure the university and radicalize the society (Columbia, the Sorbonne), to enlarge the breathing space of human freedom inside the Communistcontrolled academy (Prague), to express their alienation from an uncaring establishment preoccupied with prosperity in the Flat Society (West Berlin). He, on the other hand, represented no cause other than “freedom of selfexpression” and carried no ideological luggage other than the wish for a “socially just society” consistent with “the liberty of the individual.” He wandered about on the edge of the student storms, spoke to old faculty friends, mostly listened to the students, and tried to make sense of the demonstrations, the capture of buildings, the exhilarating slogans (Vive la communication! A has la telecommunication!), the explosion of talk, the erratic political strategy.

The famous English poet was not asked to read his poems, nor discuss Auden, nor recount his brief attachment to, and subsequent deep disillusionment with, Stalinism in the thirties, nor compare “his” Spain with “their” Vietnam. Over thirty, in fact exactly twice so and whitehaired, he found himself once mistaken for Herbert Marcuse. He was questioned about the subvention of Encounter by the CIA and he told the students he had resigned as soon as the facts were verified. In the end, when spring passed into summer and the students went home, he, too, went home and wrote up his reflections.

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Lima