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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.

An obsessive, armchair attempt to assemble a comprehensive bibliography, not just for the work of a poet, but for his entire life.

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Henry Reed, ca. 1960


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Reeding:

I Capture the Castle: A girl and her family struggle to make ends meet in an old English castle.
Dusty Answer: Young, privileged, earnest Judith falls in love with the family next door.
The Heat of the Day: In wartime London, a woman finds herself caught between two men.


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But, of course, the Verona of the poem is a person, and not a place.

Reeding Lessons: the Henry Reed research blog

5.12.2019


In the early months of 1958, the BBC Third Programme repeated the entirety of Henry Reed's sequence of Hilda Tablet plays—beginning with a 1953 recording of A Very Great Man Indeed—in anticipation of Reed's latest (and advertised as the last, but ultimately the penultimate) entry, The Primal Scene, As It Were.

Reed wrote a short re-introduction for the Radio Times on February 7, 1958, to give thanks and credit to the actors and musicians who brought the characters to life in his most famous and most listened-to of radio plays. He has special mention for Hugh Burden, Mary O'Farrell, the music of Donald Swann, Carlton Hobbs, and Deryck Guyler.

The Primal Scene takes place in the Mediterranean, and if I remember correctly, is the result of BBC paying for Reed's holiday to Athens and Greece, in order to research an historical play set in ancient Mycenae.

The Primal Scene
Without the Actors . . .

Beginning on Thursday with 'A Very Great Man Indeed,' the Third Programme is to revive all the Henry Reed satires. The author contributes this preface

I HAVE been told that there was once a Derby winner who was heard, in a moment of morbid self-questioning, to observe: 'Without the horse, I doubt if I could have done it.' I am not given to this kind of introspection myself and among the actors who appear in the Herbert Reeve scripts, there is none that resembles, in any respect, a horse. But I am bound to confess that the tormented jockey's remark always comes to my mind whenever people say that they have enjoyed these programmes, since, apart from the first script, A Very Great Man Indeed, they all derive directly from the performances of the actors.

I think all of us concerned with that early piece enjoyed doing it. But for some time after, I was myself so much haunted by the realistic and touching intensity with which Hugh Burden and Mary O'Farrell had enacted the scene at Hilda's piano that I found myself wistfully craving to know exactly what happened afterwards. This, and nothing else, led to The Private Life of Hilda Tablet. (The word 'composeress' has been objected to in connection with Hilda; but it seems an innocent enough counterpart to the word 'paintress.')

Hilda's music had been potently realised by Donald Swann. It was Mr. Swann's devotion to Hilda, his voluminous invention on her behalf, and a certain gleam that always appeared in his eyes whenever she was mentioned, that led to the programme about her opera, Emily Butter. It was by this time felt that more might profitably be said by Carleton Hobbs on the subject of Stephen Shewin. It was said in A Hedge, Backwards, which was billed as the last of the series, We had not however counted on Deryck Guyler's General Gland, who seemed to call for profounder acquaintance. This has led to a new programme The Primal Scene, as it Were . . . , which will be broadcast next month. I think I may safely promise that this will be the end of Herbert Reeve, The title is a quotation from the piece itself, and refers to the Mediterranean.

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1529. Sackville-West, Vita. "Seething Brain." Observer (London), 5 May 1946, 3.
Sackville-West speaks admirably of Reed's poetry, and was personally 'taken with the poem called "Lives," which seemed to express so admirably Mr. Reed's sense of the elusiveness as well as the continuity of life.'


A lovely little article on the current radio offerings for May, 1955, from the Literary Guide's "On the Air" column, by Philip Dalton. Discovered quite unexpectedly, using the extra morning hour afforded me by the ending of Daylight Saving Time (Summer Time, to *you* people). Among other nice things, Dalton laments that Reed's plays are consigned to the Third Programme, and not repeated on the Home Service.

Includes Henry Reed's official BBC headshot, taken circa 1950, when he was 35 years old (badly scarred in this microfilm scan):

Literary Guide

On the Air
Covering the month's broadcasting and noting programmes to come, this radio commentary will in future be a regular feature

by PHILIP DALTON

Vastly Entertaining
Most of our poets or any reputation have written for the radio, even if few have made their' reputations on it. Louis MacNeice is better known to a wide audience than be might have been, but it is Henry Reed who has become almost completely identified with the microphone. It is almost ten years since he wrote ' Noises ' and since then he has produced about seventy talks and thirty commissioned features. He has been prolific, diverse and, to my mind, almost always vastly entertaining, and he is certainly entitled to what we might call his ' benefit '—a series of revivals of some of his most popular pieces which has been running throughout April. Among these re-broadcasts were ' Return to Naples ' (April 5), ' A By-Election in the Nineties ' (April 11), ' The Streets of Pompeii ' (April 21), and we shall hear 'Moby Dick ' again on April 29. All these are Third programme offerings, although for Reed's sake I would like to have seen some of them broadcast on the Home Service: they could baffle no one.
The Literary Guide has an interesting history, starting out in 1885 as Watt's Literary Guide (sort of propaganda for free-thinkers and the science-minded), and changing to the Humanist in 1956. Still published by the Rationalist Association as the New Humanist.



1528. Manning, Hugo. "Recent Verse." Books of the Day, Guardian (Manchester), 31 July 1946, 3.
Manning feels that 'Mr. Reed has worn thin much of his genuine talent in this direction by too much self-inflicted censorship.'



Straight Outta Erdington

(TeeMonkeys.)

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1527. Rosenthal, M.L. "Experience and Poetry." Herald Tribune Weekly Book Review (New York), 17 October 1948, 28.
Rosenthal says Reed shares with Laurie Lee 'that unhappy vice of young intellectuals—a certain blandness of which the ever-simple irony is a symptom.'


Finally, I have a contemporary review of Henry Reed's debut book of poems from 1946, by a critic who should need no introduction: a World War I poet; the editor of John Clare, Wilfred Owen, and Ivor Gurney; the "true cricketer": Edmund Blunden.

Blunden's review comes from the July, 1946 issue of The Bookman. In scouring the Internet Archive library for references to Reed, we unexpectedly find an entry in A Bibliography of Edmund Blunden, by B.J. Kirkpatrick (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), on page 458, for "Poets and Poetry":

Bibliography

In this two-page, whirlwind summation, Blunden reviews no fewer than ten books of verse, devoting a paragraph to each: Thanks Before Going, by John Masefield; Collected Lyrical Poems, by Vivian Locke Ellis; The Sand Castle, by Claude Colleer Abbott; Beowulf, translated by Gavin Bone; The Voyage and Other Poems, by Edwin Muir; Poems, by Jonathan Wilson; This Way to the Tomb, by Ronald Duncan; Peter Grimes and Other Poems, by Montagu Slater; Old Man of the Mountains, by Norman Nicholson; and, of course, A Map of Verona, by Henry Reed.

Title page

Blunden holds Muir, Wilson, and Slater in high enough esteem to quote a few stanzas. As for Reed, Blunden reproduces no lines, but he does have this to say:
A group of poems entitled 'Lessons of the War' strikes me as being the most expressive part of Mr. Henry Reed's book. He also has his poems on subjects of ancient fame, such as 'Philoctetes,' but they do not announce his originality so boldly as the pieces mentioned, which have captured something of the time-spirit and ambiguity of the recent war in a style of wit and deep feeling united.
This is high praise for the original, three-part sequence of Reed's war poems: "Naming of Parts," "Judging Distances," and "Unarmed Combat." Especially high coming from Blunden, a WWI veteran and survivor of the Somme and Ypres. For certain, these are the poems which cemented Reed's reputation and continue to this day to keep him in the Canon. If Blunden could only spare a a few lines for Reed, this paragraph speaks volumes.



1526. Blunden, Edmund. "Poets and Poetry." Bookman, n.s., 1, no. 4 (July 1946): 14-15.
Blunden says Reed's Lessons of the War poems 'have captured something of the time-spirit and ambiguity of the recent war in a style of wit and deep feeling united.'


Here is the Guardian's Books of the Day column for July 31, 1946, "Recent Verse." Hugo Manning reviews Talking Bronco by Roy Campbell, The Garden by Vita Sackville-West, Peter Grimes and Other Poems by Montagu Slater, Isles of Scilly by Geoffrey Grigson, and finally A Map of Verona, by Henry Reed.

Manning devotes most of his space to Campbell, whose "inspired invective thunders against many things, including Left-wing poets, Jews, Tartuffes, and even the Beveridge Plan." Manning concludes, however, that "Perhaps Mr. Campbell's muse would become even more considerable if he had fewer bees in his bonnet."

Compared to Talking Bronco, The Garden "seems magnificently serene, and well-disposed to humanity," and acts as "a vehicle for [Sackville-West's] pleasant lyricism, and sustained craftmanship."

Manning has less time and fewer niceties for Slater and Grigson, or for Henry Reed:

Book review

The poetry in Henry Reed's A Map of Verona (Jonathan Cape, pp. 59, 3s. 6d.) reveals a slightly deeper poetic vision than either that of Mr. Slater or of Mr. Grigson, but one has the impressions that Mr. Reed has worn thin much of his genuine talent in this direction by too much self-inflicted censorship. Already his verse shows symptoms of fitting into an aesthetic strait-jacket which some literary arbiters may applaud but which may eventually neutralise his power as a poet.

Hugo Manning's career was as eccentric as his reputation. Born in 1913 to Jewish parents, he studied music, but ended up working as a journalist in London and Vienna, and then removed to Buenos Aires in the lead up to the Second World War. He served in North Africa with the British Intelligence Corps, was wounded, and then back in London spent nineteen years on the South American desk for Reuters. His poetry and prose were published privately and by small presses, before his death in 1977. Manning has been described as "a major poet with a minor reputation."

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1525. "Reed, Henry," Publishers Weekly, 152, no. 15 (11 October 1947), 1945.
On the publication of the American edition of Reed's A Map of Verona: 'Some of these poems by a young English writer are concerned with the war but most of them deal with figures from the legendary past or from literature.'


One of my favorite pieces on Henry Reed is this 1971 retrospective from the Guardian, "The Reeve's Tale," by the music critic Christopher Ford. It was a promotional piece written for the publication of Reed's two collections of radio plays, The Streets of Pompeii and Other Plays for Radio, and Hilda Tablet and Others: Four Pieces for Radio (London: British Broadcasting Corporation). From this article we also get not one (Manchester edition), but two photographs of Reed, (London edition, shown here) taken by Peter Johns (previously).

Henry Reed

In the article's closing paragraph, Reed says, "I saw the Penguin Dictionary of Modern Quotations in a shop. I remember thinking 'I've got 150 sleeping tablets at home, and if I'm not in that I'll take some of them with a large Pepsi-Cola'."

Ford reports that Reed's quotes take up "more than three columns, the entries mostly coming from the Tablet plays."

Book cover

It's difficult to express what an achievement this amount of textblock is, appearing in this small Penguin paperback: Reed gets more than a page and a half of space devoted to his poems and plays. He actually appears on the same page with the poet and critic he is famously often confused with, Herbert Read. Read gets only one quote (and surprise! It's not "To a Conscript of 1940"):

Page 188

Looking to Reed's peers, we find that even W.H. Auden receives only two columns; T.S. Eliot gets two and a half; Louis MacNeice gets one column: half a page. Stephen Spender, barely half a column. Stevie Smith gets five quotes. C. Day Lewis? Four. George Orwell gets three, three and a half columns? A little more. W. Somerset Maugham gets three columns. I mean, Evelyn Waugh rates three columns. This is what I'm saying.

I think the superabundance of Henry Reed in this curious volume is owed to two things: firstly, the entire Hilda Tablet sequence was replayed on the new BBC Radio 3 between December, 1968 and January 1970. ("Altogether, they totalled seven. The number is sometimes given as nine; but people exaggerate.") These repeats were in tribute to the incomparable radio actress Mary O'Farrell, who had died on February 10, 1968. Reed hosted (and Douglas Cleverdon produced) a program of recollections and recordings for O'Farrell in January, 1969. Dame Hilda died with O'Farrell, and a planned eighth installment for the radio was abandoned.

Secondly, this largess must be credited (or blamed) on the editors, J.M. Cohen and his son, M.J. Cohen. I suspect the elder Cohen knew Reed's work not just from the radio, but from earlier anthologies for Penguin: The Penguin Book of Comic and Curious Verse (1952), More Comic and Curious Verse (1956), and Yet More Comic and Curious Verse (1959).

I'll use the Cohens' book to expand my rather meager "Henry Reed quotes" page.

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1524. Reed, Henry. Letters to Graham Greene, 1947-1948. Graham Greene Papers, 1807-1999. Boston College, John J. Burns Library, Archives and Manuscripts Department, MS.1995.003. Chestnut Hill, MA.
Letters from Reed to Graham Greene, including one from December, 1947 Reed included in an inscribed copy of A Map of Verona (1947).


For the centennial of his birth on April 15, here is a book review of Emyr Humphreys' first novel, The Little Kingdom (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1946). Written by Henry Reed, it appeared in The Listener's "New Novels" column for January 6, 1947. Reed expresses a familiarity with Humphreys' poetry, stating that the author certainly "knows how to write, and you feel as you read him that he knows that apprehension and diction must, in prose and verse alike, be clasped as earnestly as two hands in prayer."

It appears the two corresponded for a while, in 1947-1949 (Emyr Humphreys Papers, National Library of Wales), and Reed discussed Humphreys' next book, The Voice of a Stranger, for a B.B.C. radio talk in 1949.

Reed also reviews here an English translation of C.F. Ramuz' The Triumph of Death, and The Becker Wives, stories by Mary Lavin.

Book Cover

New Novels

The Little Kingdom. By Emyr Humphreys. Eyre and Spottiswoode. 9s.
The Triumph of Death. By C. F. Ramuz. Routledge. 8s. 6d.
The Becker Wives. By Mary Lavin. Michael Joseph. 9s. 6d.

WHAT is the most positive quality we have to recognise in a new novelist in order to feel that his work contains promise as well as immediate success or in spite of immediate failure? It is, I suspect, his style: whether it is already individual or assured, or whether it merely indicates a preoccupation with the act of writing.

A war plays hell with prose. There is always the influx of new technical terms and clichés, there is always the politicians' jargon; these are small in themselves, perhaps, but if they pervade our speech, as they are likely to do when our ideas are confused, they will shortly afterwards pervade our writing also. The most depressing thing that confronts a novel reviewer at the moment is the general beastliness—I have pondered this word before using it—of the various ways in which most novels are written. The mediocre novelists of thirty and forty years ago at least believed that they should try to write well. They believed, if not that a good writer must always appear en grande tenue, that the disorder in his dress must be a sweet one. They believed it mattered how a book was written. Of Mr. Emyr Humphreys, a new novelist not unknown as a poet, one can use many nice and conventional expressions: he is worth watching, he is a novelist of whom we shall hear more, he has something to say and he knows how to say it. I think this last thing is the most interesting thing about him. He knows how to write, and you feel as you read him that he knows that apprehension and diction must, in prose and verse alike, be clasped as earnestly as two hands in prayer. I think that the strength of a young writer's religious, political and psychological perceptions are usually less important than his sense of style. Here is a passage from The Little Kingdom: it is, as may be guessed, a mere 'bridge-passage' in the action; but it is clearly the work of a very able writer:
The little bell over the door giggled as the minister went in, and echoed the giggle as he closed the door carefully behind him. He screwed up his eyes. After the soft twilight outside, the harsh naked electric light in the barber's shop was painful to him. He said 'Good evening, everybody', but all he could make out at first was the white blur of the barber bending over someone indistinct in the chair. Otherwise the shop was empty; this was the last customer for the night. The barber was too tired to talk to the man, who slumped helpless in the chair. He nodded.

'Evening, minister'.

The man in the chair stirred with curiosity, but the barber held him firm, the fingers of his left hand spread over his ruffled hair like a vice.

'Go through'.

The barber pointed to the swing door with his gleaming razor, which flashed as it caught the light.

'You'll be coming up later, Dan?'

The smiling, perfect male, advertising hair cream, swung back and fore, smile out, smile in.
The last sentence will at once indicate that the 'middle' Joyce has contributed something to the formation of Mr. Humphreys' style. There are few better models for a serious young writer, and an ability to learn something from the first half of Ulysses will probably imply a kindred sensitiveness to the coalescence of sight, sound and thought in the human consciousness. The feelings which attend on being alive do not escape Mr. Humphreys, any more than they escaped Joyce.

The action of The Little Kingdom concerns the last months in the life of a dominating and imperious young Welsh nationalist who, to further his ambitions, murders a wealthy uncle, and later sets fire to an English-built aerodrome. He is shot and killed by a night watchman. I take it that one of the main ideas behind the book is the common running aside of an idealistic political movement, first into 'irresponsible' acts, and then into Fuehrerprinzip. This is a respectable theme, though not a very distinctive or profound one; but it has the advantage common to all well-tried themes that it shifts the reader's interest to the writer's talents as a particular interpreter and executant. One is curious to see how he will use his gifts. And to have emphasised Mr. Humphreys' ability to write is not to diminish his other powers. There is a touching reality about his characters—almost all of whom are muddled and pathetic. I believe that the hero-villain Owen, who is neither muddled nor pathetic, is slightly under-emphasised; though the author's avoidance of an opposite effect is doubtless intentional; Owen's first appearance is admirable. The major scenes of the book are ably got through; though for some reason it is the semi-marginal scenes that one remembers best—the opening chapter describing a morning tour made by Owen's uncle Richard, or the waiting scene on the night of the fire. It is a most remarkable intuition that makes the author delay our first and only glimpse of Richard's beloved daughter, Nest, till the moment after her death: a most curious and effective piece of understatement, for Nest is the figure on whom the subsequent action turns.

Mr. Humphreys holds our attention by the way he gets from one point of his story to the next, by certain felicitous interior echoes, by his movements from one contributory stream of activity to another. I think that a greater tragedy is needed for a writer to be able successfully to use a village lunatic—a Mayor of Casterbridge, for example—but Mr. Humphreys obviously conceives of an art serious enough to include such a dangerous piece of machinery.

It is curious that the Swiss novelist C. F. Ramuz should be so little known in this country; he is obviously a very remarkable and original writer, and one is inclined to believe the extensive claims made for him by M. Denis de Rougemont in his admirable introduction to The Triumph of Death. This is a translation, by Allan Ross MacDougall and Alex Comfort, of a book called Présence de la Mort, a better and more accurate title which it is strange to find rejected. It is a fable about the end of life on earth: disaster comes as the earth steadily and rapidly approaches the sun. The scene is set mainly on a lakeside in the Vaud country of Switzerland. It is perhaps with some misgiving that one embarks on reading such a story. It is written fancifully, and at first promises to be little more than im over-long prose-poem. I remembered, and expected to prefer, H. G. Wells's story 'The Star'. But Ramuz' book surprises and excites by its peculiar mounting intensity; one succumbs, and consents to the author's apparently arbitrary ordering of his material. Many of his scenes have great beauty; and he keeps one agog to know the end, which turns out to be both tender and wonderful. His scenes of anarchy, demoralisation and criminality are very moving, and they are never indulged in for the private delight of their author. There are many moments when the book shows signs of having offered to its translators some of the difficulties that works like Rimbaud's Les Illuminations offer; but on the whole the book comes over vividly and well. It is doubtless a point of preciosity in the original that present and past tenses are pointlessly mingled; but English seems particularly odd when such a mannerism is grafted on to it. It is to be hoped that Mr. Macdougall and Mr. Comfort will soon address themselves to the task of translating the sequel, Joie dans le Ciel. These books, incidentally, are not allegories about our recent disasters; the date of Présence de la Mort is 1925.

Miss Mary Lavin is a most prolific and varied writer. She is, so far, at her best in comedy. Her serious writing is often commonplace, and it is noticeable that when the first story in her new book, after an excellent beginning, takes a turn into. the pathological, it is a turn for the worse. But there are few writers now writing in English capable of more sustained comic scenes—scenes where the comedy depends not on conversation so much as on large-scale conception of a theme. The high spot in Miss Lavin's prodigiously long novel, The House in Clewe Street, was the brilliant scene where two funeral corteges attempted to race each other to the cemetery; there is a similar vis comica pervading two stories in the new book: 'Magenta' and 'The Joy-ride', both about surreptitious outings made by servants. Intermittently throughout the book there is to be found Miss Lavin's particular talent for startlingly transfixing a scene: the moment in 'The Becker Wives' where Flora makes the stolidly respectable family involuntarily pose for an imaginary photograph, for example, or the vision of the upstart kitchen-vestal Magenta crossing the park in her borrowed finery. It is with regret that one adds that Miss Lavin's grammar is so bad that from time to time one gazes at it in surprise.

HENRY REED



1523. Reed, Henry. "Simenon's Saga." Review of Pedigree by Georges Simenon, translated by Robert Baldick. Sunday Telegraph (London), 12 August 1962, 7.
Reed calls Pedigree a work for the "very serious Simenon student only," and disagrees with the translator's choice to put the novel into the past tense.



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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