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  • Kathy Shimpock

"The Truly Great" - a poem by Stephen Spender

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. Whose lovely ambition

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.


What is precious, is never to forget

The essential delight of the blood drawn from ageless springs

Breaking through rocks in worlds before our earth.

Never to deny its pleasure in the morning simple light

Nor its grave evening demand for love.

Never to allow gradually the traffic to smother

With noise and fog, the flowering of the spirit.


Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields,

See how these names are fêted by the waving grass

And by the streamers of white cloud

And whispers of wind in the listening sky.

The names of those who in their lives fought for life,

Who wore at their hearts the fire’s centre.

Born of the sun, they travelled a short while toward the sun

And left the vivid air signed with their honour.

When I share poems with a class, I follow the Benedictine practice of Lectio Divina. Lectio Divina means holy or divine reading. It is thought to be inspired by the Jewish reading of the Haggadah. In Lectio Divina, the reading is of scriptures, but I follow the same practice when reading poetry. Why? Poetry requires reflective thinking that is unfamiliar these days. When we read a poem slowly with contemplation, we discover insights that might be lost otherwise.


The following instructions for reflective reading, comes from the Benedictine practice of Lectio Divina (or holy reading). I find this process equally valuable for uncovering the wisdom of poetry.

  1. Read the poem linked above slowly.

  2. As you do so, look for a word in the poem that stands out to you.

  3. Now, read the poem a second time.

  4. What phrase stands out for you?

  5. What is this poem saying to you today? What message might you take forward?

  6. Can you relate to how the author’s perspective changes his life experience?

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