“I think constantly of those who were truly great,” Stephen Spender wrote in the first line of his poem The Truly Great. You can probably guess what The Truly Great is about. It’s about someone thinking about the truly great. Not the partly-great or the semi-great. And not just now and then, or in his spare moments. Stephen Spender isn’t, for example, thinking about the truly great only intermittently, or occasionally considering those who used to be great. Frankly, and I don’t know how much clearer he can be on this, he’s thinking about the nailed-on Goats. And he’s thinking about them all the time.
Perhaps Spender would have been better off waiting a few years and taking an interest in cricket or football. It is one of sport’s innate obsessions to rank and rate and make lists, to think constantly about the ultimate, the No 1, to put a flag in the ground and claim the summit.
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