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Documenting the quest to track down everything written by (and written about) the poet, translator, critic, and radio dramatist, Henry Reed.

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I Capture the Castle: A girl and her family struggle to make ends meet in an old English castle.
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«  Posts from 09 March 2020  »

Reeding Lessons: the Henry Reed research blog

27.10.2021


Defying the notion that we have somehow already found everything written by Henry Reed to be found, up pops another book review in the June 3, 1944 issue of Time & Tide. (Reed reviewed Eliot's Four Quartets in December, that year, and I'm beginning to think he may have been something of a regular contributor.)

In this article, Reed critiques new poetry by three of his peers (or soon-to-be peers, since Reed's own volume of poetry, A Map of Verona, would not be published until 1946): John Heath-Stubbs, Julian Symons, and Terence Tiller.

Time and Tide

POETRY

The Inward Animal: Terence Tiller. Hogarth. 3s. 6d.

Beauty and the Beast: John Heath-Stubbs. Routledge. 5s.

The Second Man: Julian Symons. Routledge. 5s.

in one of his poems Mr Symons says of himself:
"My poems are paper games, kicking a football,
Negative, disgraceful."
This, though rather severe, is true. The word, "disgraceful" suggests something more vividly objectionable than anything Mr Symons has yet achieved, but "negative" and "paper games" are fair enough descriptions. "Paper games" is particularly apt; for here we have a characteristic contemporary volume of poems which very quietly, indeed almost unobtrusively, shuffles round and round those great concepts which Mr Auden has, by constant repetition of their names, so curiously reduced in seriousness: life, death, evil, corruption, sin, error, love, time and what not. The disposition of these little objects according to personal or fashionable taste is indeed a paper game, and a game available to anyone who cares to play it. Here is an example:
Our tears drop, the wet pearls are
Transformed into a voice

Crying: "O pity human
Nature condemned, to error,
And all those good who dare not
Descend like furious birds."
Weak as a baby walking
Conscience now moves and tells them
All inappropriate action
Leads on to wrong and death.
Mr Heath-Stubbs and Mr Tiller are to be taken much more seriously. Mr Heath-Stubbs is at his best when he avoids traditional stanza-forms, which make him sometimes seem insincere and artificial, as in the various "songs" in his new volume; and even in the sequence of sonnets called The Heart's Forest, which deal with an important personal experience, the sonnet form is often used too lightly and casually. Nevertheless this sequence has some unusual and successful things in it: among them a sonnet beginning "Three walked through the meadows", and another on the theme of Echo and Narcissus. It is in Mr Heath-Stubbs's longer poems, usually written in a loose blank-verse, that one finds his best work: poems such as "Leporello", "Moscatos in the Galleys" and "Edward the Confessor", and a "Heroic Epistle" supposedly written from Congreve to Anne Bracegirdle. He is particularly good at identifying himself with a figure of the past, as Browning did; indeed he continues the Browning-Ezra Pound tradition. Here, presumably, is Liszt speaking:
'And the flutes ice-blue, and the harps
Like melting frost, and the trumpet marching, marching
Like fire above them, like fire through the frozen pine-trees
And the dancers came, swirling, swirling past me—
Plume and swansdown waving, while plume over the gold hair
Arms held gallantly, and silk talking—and an eye caught
In the candle-shadow, and the curve of a mouth
Going home to my heart (the folly of it!) going home to my heart!:
Mr Tiller has forced on to his new volume of poems an order which appears to be rather false. The body of the book is a collection of lyrics, mainly meditations on emotions woken by a prolonged sojourn in Egypt. These he has written with all the customary fastidiousness, independence and conscientiousness. He is a poet who neither goes in for, nor comes out with, memorable lines or phrases. It is the atmosphere in his poems that one remembers—in a brilliantly composed poem such as Egyptian Dancer, for example, or in the poems called Desert:
Still where the viper swims in sand, the pearly
Scorpion stiffens, and the fast-mouthed surly
Lizards are—here, looking towards the waste,
We know more bare an importance than dust
Or the dry ant-clean specters that are born
Of it, venom of the scale and horn.
He has flanked his collection of lyrics with two long poems, Eclogue for a Dying House, and The Birth of Christ. The former of these is intended to present the death of the old pre-war personality of the poet, the latter to present "slow mutual absorption ending in the birth of Something at once myself and a new self and Egypt". These poems, the most ambitious in the book, are the least successful—perhaps because they recall other poets very strongly, and Mr Tiller is good only when he is original. The Eclogue is a weary and powerless poem; its title and mode inevitably recall Mr MacNeice, but the poem is without Mr MacNeice's accomplished patina. The Birth of Christ employs a symbol too great for what Mr Tiller describes in his comment on the poem; and Rilke has been too unscrupulously impressed into helping in the writing of it.
henry reed


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1532. Vallette, Jacques. "Grand-Bretagne," Mercure de France, no. 1001 (1 January 1947): 157-158.
A contemporary French language review of Reed's A Map of Verona.



1st lesson:

Reed, Henry (1914-1986). Born: Birmingham, England, 22 February 1914; died: London, 8 December 1986.

Education: MA, University of Birmingham, 1936. Served: RAOC, 1941-42; Foreign Office, Bletchley Park, 1942-1945. Freelance writer: BBC Features Department, 1945-1980.

Author of: A Map of Verona: Poems (1946)
The Novel Since 1939 (1946)
Moby Dick: A Play for Radio from Herman Melville's Novel (1947)
Lessons of the War (1970)
Hilda Tablet and Others: Four Pieces for Radio (1971)
The Streets of Pompeii and Other Plays for Radio (1971)
Collected Poems (1991, 2007)
The Auction Sale (2006)


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