Archive Nostalgia: Top 10 Powerful Quotes from 1930s Poetry

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Did you know that it’s World Poetry Day on 21st March? To get you in the mood, I thought I would retrieve the words of some talented yet oft-overlooked 1930s poets from the Miscellany Pages archives…

Have you heard of W.H. Auden? How about Stephen Spender, Louis MacNeice or George Barker?

If your first reaction is ‘who?’, you’re not alone. I did not recognise a single name from the collection of 1930s poetry when I began studying it this semester. The unique voices of these poets encapsulate the disillusion and hope of an entire generation, yet, sandwiched between the two World Wars, they are often overlooked.


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I thought about how I could champion the power of these poems, but nobody could do so better than the poets themselves. With that in mind, here are my top 10 quotes from the poetry of the 30s:

“Story on story, on which triumph shall be found”
~ George Barker, ‘Elegy on Spain’

“Rags of children and thunder of stone niagaras tumbling,
You’ll know you slept too long”
~ C. Day Lewis, ‘Newsreel’

“The buying and selling, the eating and drinking,
The disloyal machines and irreverent thinking”
~ W.H. Auden, ‘Song for the New Year’

“The history theirs whose language is the sun”
~ Stephen Spender, ‘An Elementary School Class-Room in a Slum’

“Some of you are still thinking what you might have been … it doesn’t matter at all”
~ Rex Warner, ‘Hymn’

“No man is sure he does not need to climb,
A girl can’t go on laughing all the time.”
~ William Empson, ‘Reflection from Anita Loos’

“Lay your sleeping head, my love,
Human on my faithless arm”
~ W.H. Auden, ‘Lay your Sleeping Head’

“The jaded calendar revolves,
Its nuts need oil, carbon chokes the valves,
The excess sugar of a diabetic culture
Rotting the nerve of life and literature”
~ Louis MacNeice, ‘An Eclogue for Christmas’

“no dreamers, they cannot lose their dream”
~ Louis MacNeice, ‘An Eclogue for Christmas’

And finally my absolute favourite:

“History to the defeated
May say alas but cannot help or pardon”
~ W.H. Auden, ‘Spain’

Spain by W.H. Auden Quote

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Who are your favourite poets? Do you have any treasured collections of poetry, contemporary or older, that you would like to recommend? Let me know in the comments – I would love to hear from you!


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