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.

Read "Naming of Parts."

Henry Reed Henry Reed
Henry Reed Henry Reed
Henry Reed, ca. 1960



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.




Weblogs, etc.

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

Reeding Lessons: the Henry Reed research blog


Here is a terrific find. I wish I could reproduce the exact combination of keywords which led me to this review in Google Books, but I can't. I was lamenting the apparent loss of the ability in Books' tools to be able to sort by date (instead of keyword relevance), and trying various combinations of "map of verona" and limiting "Any time" to a custom range of years, like 1946-1949.

Up pops this snippet from a post-war volume of the Mercure de France:

Google Books snippet

I was incredulous. It's obviously a contemporary book review of Reed's book of poetry, A Map of Verona (1946). But where was I going to find a library with a run of a French periodical?

Leave it to the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. They've digitized Mercure de France from 1890-1954.

I was a bit confused by the lack of issues from 1941-1946, but I realized if they weren't publishing during World War II, then the review must be in a later issue. I didn't have to search long. Searches in Gallica for "Henry Reed" were coming up empty, but I could see another review on the same page in the Google Books search. A search for "John Pudney" led me straight to the issue for "1er janvier 1947."

Mercure de France, 1947

Here, under the section for "Grand-Bretagne" written by Jacques Vallette, is an entire article devoted to Aldous Huxley, and reviews of English language books. The books reviewed are:
  • Odhams Dictionary of the English Language (A.H. Smith, 1946)
  • Over to France (Pierre Maillaud, 1946)
  • La Mort et Demain (Peter de Polnay, 1946)
  • The True Story of Dick Whittington (Osbert Sitwell, 1945)
  • Thanks before Going (John Masefield, 1946)
  • The Merry Wives of Westminster (Mrs. Belloc Lowndes, 1946)
  • The Life of Oscar Wilde (Hesketh Pearson, 1946)
  • Selected Poems (John Pudney, 1946)
  • Theseus and the Minotaur (Patric Dickinson, 1946)
  • A Map of Verona
  • The Voyage and Other Poems (Edwin Muir, 1946)
Not only does Vallette compare Reed's themes of adventure and exploration to André Gide, but he says (and I need to work on this translation) Reed's poems "resonate in each of us the particular note of our sufferings, our attempts, our questions." Vallette even segues his review of Edwin Muir with a hark back to Reed: "Muir, as a mature man, expresses himself in a concise and more traditional way than Reed."

So, there: I finally have a non-English language book review for The Poetry of Reed site: "Henry Reed in the Mercure de France."

«  Criticism French  0    

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.

Robert Robinson (1927–2011), famed of television and radio, was an acquaintance and huge fan of Henry Reed. I mostly know of Robinson through Stephen Fry's frequent impressions of him: "Ah, would that it were, would that it were." (Here are Fry and Laurie simultaneously imitating Robinson.)

In Robinson's memoir, Skip All That (1996), he professes his admiration for Reed's 1953 BBC radio comedy, A Very Great Man Indeed: It is, Robinson says, "the one wholly original contribution made by radio to the canon of English humorous letters."

Members of the same club in London, The Savile, Robinson reveals that, after getting to know each other, Reed presented him with a scrap of verse, now (along with some personal correspondence from Ezra Pound) among his prized possessions:

Book cover

A Very Great Man Indeed was a fiction that accumulated round the figure of an innocent middle-aged literary gent who was trying to write the biography of a great writer. It was a Third Programme programme 'the ever-admirable Third Programme' as Michael Flanders, playing the part of a BBC commentator in the series, described it — and was transmitted in fifty-minute episodes. So intense were its comic flavours, so distinct were its characters, so remarkable was the understanding of the actors for the parts they played, that I became addicted. Henry Reed was the author, whose poem 'Today We Have Naming of Parts' and whose lampoon of the Eliot Quartets, 'Chard Whitlow', are imperishable items in the repertoire of post-war anthologies.

The narratives grew out of Reed's chronic failure to get to grips with a long projected life of Thomas Hardy. The hapless biographer in A Very Great Man is called Herbert Reeve, though the people he meets in the course of his researches very often get this wrong and call him Reeves, Treves or even Breve. As in Toytown the characters are amiable, grotesque, recognisable, the two principal figures being General Gland, the foot fetishist and bell fancier, who in moments of stress pronounces 'd' as 'b' (e.g. 'Breadful!') and the composeress Hilda Tablet whose 'musique concrete renforcee' is the talk of the avant-garde. The General's portrait, painted in the nude by R. Bunnington Benningfield ARA hangs in his hall. 'Breadfully realistic, isn't it?' asks the General glumly, as he shows it to Reeve, 'apart from being fourteen feet high, of course.' Hilda's nine-act opera Emily Butter is set in a department store and on the first night at Covent Garden the curtain finally comes down in the small hours of the morning.

Reed made these figures, and many others, sound like your own relatives, a gift he shared with S.G. Hulme Beaman, creator of Toytown, and with the great Beachcomber, and with Lewis Carroll. Reed was a melancholy recluse, and I would meet him from time to time at the Savile Club where he would listen to my enthusiastic prattle about a work which I still feel is the one wholly original contribution made by radio to the canon of English humorous letters. Reed was pleased enough with this succès d'estime and knew how much he owed to the craft of Douglas Cleverdon who was the producer, and to the sensitivity of such actors as Derek Guyler (creator of General Gland, and also of a minor character, Mr Gabriel Hall Pollock, the music critic, whose glottal pronunciation of the word 'beauty' was much prized), Mary O'Farrell (Hilda) and Hugh Burden (Herbert Reeve). But this saturnine figure was never cheerful, and as men left the Club to catch their last train, he would wander off to his bachelor apartment in Montagu Street, expecting (I always thought) the worst. One night before he left he wrote out a verse for me a verse he had dreamt:
Whenever Waterson saw something of interest or note,
He sate down at once about it, and to his grandmother wrote:
'You should have seen this thing, it is the kind of thing I like.
I saw it today, from my bike.'
The two Pound letters, and the verse that Henry Reed dreamt, are true relics to me. And like true relics, cannot be reduced or explained.
Here is an obituary and remembrance of Robinson, from 2011.

1531. Henderson, Philip. "English Poetry Since 1946." British Book News 117 (May 1950), 295.
Reed's A Map of Verona is mentioned in a survey of the previous five years of English poetry.

At long last — and long sought-after — David Lodge's 1983 documentary on Birmingham writers in the 1930s, "As I Was Walking Down Bristol Street," is available online, in its entirety. Lodge, an author and critic, was Professor of English Literature at the University of Birmingham from 1976 until 1987.

The film gives a short history of the authors who made up the Birmingham Group, primarily Walter Allen, Walter Brierley, Leslie Halward, John Hampson, Reggie Smith, and by association, Louis MacNeice and W.H. Auden. Allen and Smith, both old school chums of Henry Reed from Edward VI Grammar School, Aston (and later at university) give interviews for the film.

A highlight is the story how of Auden would introduce his heterosexual friend: "This is Reggie Smith. He's not one of us, my dear, but we have hopes for him."

Henry Reed is mentioned by Smith at around the 23-minute mark, in a famous anecdote regarding Louis MacNeice's farewell party, when he was leaving Birmingham University for Bedford College, in 1936. Smith recalls:

"That was where Henry Reed nearly had his arse burnt off because somebody — well it wasn't somebody, it was the director from the Group Theater [Rupert Doone] — who got himself into a great state of anguish because he'd just done — he was talking to professor Dodds, this big man was explaining to him that he always saw it as a "fountain of blood, you see an idea: I see it as a fountain of blood" [for a production of MacNeice's Agamemnon] and Dodds said 'you'd find that a bit difficult perhaps to put on the stage' and he got very hurt at that suggestion and said 'I don't care' and threw his vodka into the fire which leapt out, like a flame, and burnt the backside of Henry Reed, who was minding his own business at the fireside. But it's a party that went on for days and days."

The film has Lodge in MacNeice's former flat above the coach house at Highfield, Selly Park, where the legendary party took place.

«  Birmingham Film  0  »

1530. Radio Times. Billing for "The Book of My Childhood." 19 January 1951, 32.
Scheduled on BBC Midland from 8:15-8:30, an autobiographical(?) programme from Henry Reed.

Re-entering the time machine that is the British Newspaper Archive, I have turned up another couple of early book reviews by Henry Reed, in his hometown Birmingham Post during 1944 and 1945. Here, Reed reviews the posthumously published "last" poems by Laurence Binyon (December 27, 1944, p. 2), including the titular "The Burning of the Leaves," written during the London Blitz:
"They will come again, the leaf and the flower, to arise
From squalor of rottenness into the old splendour.
And magical scents to a wondering memory bring;
The same glory, to shine upon different eyes.
Earth cares for her own ruins, naught for ours.
Nothing is certain, only the certain spring."
Interestingly here, Reed refers to the ongoing war as "a second Great War": a war he was still enduring in 1944, working in the Japanese section of Bletchley Park.

Book review


Binyon's Last Poems

The Burning of the Leaves. By
Laurence Binyon. (Macmillan. 2s.)
By Henry Reed

Some enterprising readers will already know the five poems which give this superb little book its title; they appeared in "Horizon" in October, 1942, under the title of "The Ruins." Some will also know the exquisite "Winter Sunrise," which appeared in the "Observer" shortly after Binyon's death. This book includes variant readings for "The Burning of the the Leaves," and a draft, including some fragmentary passages, of the unfinished next section of "Winter Sunrise." Binyon's habit in composing, we are told in a foreword, "was to start by jotting down isolated lines or parts of a line and to cover pages with these, repeating, correcting, expanding and revising, and so gradually shaping the whole poem." It is always interesting to see how different poets work; when the poet has Binyon's sincerity and feeling and power over words, this becomes a most moving experience.

"The Burning of the Leaves" is among the most beautiful of modern poems. It is a tragic poem, for the war—a second Great War—provides its background; but it has classical control and mastery, a magical use of its imagery, and a calm finality which, among contemporary poets, are to be found elsewhere only in Mr. T. S. Eliot's latest poems. There are other poems in the book which few readers can fail to love: "The Cherry Trees" and "The Orchard" have a perfect clarity, delicacy and lightness which show something of what Binyon learned from the Orient.

«  Binyon Reviews Poetry  0  »

1529. Sackville-West, Vita. "Seething Brain." Observer (London), 5 May 1946, 3.
Vita 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.'

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


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

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.'

On Wednesday, February 12th, Mark Eccleston, archivist at the University of Birmingham's Cadbury Research Library, will again deliver a talk on everyone's favorite Birmingham-born poet, translator and radio dramatist: "The Hidden Life of Henry Reed." Part of a celebration of LGBT History Month, 2020.

Henry Reed Talk

«  Lectures Birmingham  0  »

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.'

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, Carleton 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.

«  Radio Plays RadioTimes  0  »

1526. Blunden, Edmund. "Poets and Poetry." Bookman, n.s., 1, no. 4 (July 1946): 14-15.
Edmund 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.'

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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