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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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Henry Reed, ca. 1960


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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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«  Points from Letters (7 of 9)  »

Reeding Lessons: the Henry Reed research blog

17.4.2021


Points from Letters (7 of 9)

[This is where, in my opinion, the old guard's arguments break down. For here, Mr. William Bliss joins in—and is willing to bet money, no less—that the words of Eliot, Auden, and Pound will fade with time; Mr. Richards replies yet again, to call Dadaism, Futurism, Surrealism, atonality, and functionalism 'freakish and crazy cults' (though Reed may have sided with him). Worst of all, Richards uses in his defense my favorite poet who never existed: Ern Malley. At least Mr. Bliss, Mr. Richards, and Reed can all agree on one thing: Keats got a bum review from The Quarterly.]

The Listener, 15 March, 1945. Vol. XXXIII. No. 844 (p. 299) [.pdf]
Poetry in War Time
I do not see what 'reasons' Mr. Henry Reed can expect anyone to give who finds modern poetry to be uninspired, ungifted, shapeless, etc. If I say a pudding is heavy and has no currants in it I cannot give any 'reasons'. There is the pudding.

But when Mr. Reed gives us his 'one only' reason he simply misstates the facts. The 'perennial absurdity of the contemporary' is a figment of his imagination. Most great poets have enjoyed considerable appreciation in their lifetime. Tennyson certainly did, whatever 'Q's' grandfather may have thought. There is a great deal to show that the 'Lyrical Ballads' were not coldly received. Even Keats, though he died so young, lived to see himself acclaimed. (The Quarterly's rude remark, by the way, was only about 'Endymion';1 Blackwood's2 was much worse; but reviewers were then notoriously conservative.) And Mr. Reed's assumption about Shakespeare and Marlowe is just an assumption. Shakespeare, Milton, Dryden, Pope, Shelley, Swinburne, Tennyson, Browning—even George Meredith, all were popular in their lives. (And Mr. George Bernard Shaw isn't doing so badly!)

No. So far from its being 'only the dead who are harmless and praiseworthy', it is always the immediately dead who are forgotten or belittled and (if they be truly great) have to wait for one or two or even more generations to come finally into their own.

Neither Mr. Reed nor I therefore will know for sure which of us is right, though I would be willing to make a small bet about it and deposit the stake with the Curator of the British Museum for the benefit of my great-grandchildren. If I were Mr. Eliot or Mr. Auden or Mr. Ezra Pound I shouldn't feel very sure of immortality—or, being a modern poet, should I?

Lane End
William Bliss


When Mr. Reed writes 'I believe pattern, form and finish to be only part of poetry; to put them at their highest the are only co-equal with what poetry has to say', I cannot forbear to say I agree. Not quite, however, in the way he means those last six words. Change say to convey and there perhaps is the kernel of the difference. I read Brooke's immortal five sonnets again and I realise afresh as the great lines roll on that it is not tidiness but the movement and swell in words that makes them poetry. But if the pulse and heart-beat is there, there is already that necessary fusion between logical sense and form (in this case metre) which is the miracle of poetry.

The Quarterly3 fell foul of Keats, finding no 'meaning' in 'Endymion'. This merely illustrates the complete destructive critical irresponsibility of those times. Nowadays, the irresponsibility takes the form of literally illimitable gullibility—witness the 'Angry Penguins' and 'Ern Malley' [ernmalley.com], an affair that isn't laughed off yet by any means. Then there was the gentleman who returned Keats' first collected volume to the bookseller's protesting it was 'little better than a take-in'. Where does this form of argument get you? 'They were wrong about Keats, Bizet, Wagner, Ibsen and Manet—therefore they are wrong about us'. Non sequitur. Queen Victoria, Mr. Gladstone, Ellen Terry and even Swinburne were devoted admirers of Marie Corelli [Wikipedia]. Contemporary verdicts have to be revised both upwards and downwards but in the main, surely, are confirmed.

'The Muse has withdrawn'. That, says Mr. Reed, is the perennial cry of the dyspeptic laudator temporis acti [praiser of past times] impatient with the contemporary young. For Mr. Reed there has been no climacteric, no fundamental break, whereas for me self-evidently there has. Does it really count for nothing that in our time we have seen such freakish and crazy cults as dadaism, futurism, surrealism, atonality in music and functionalism in architecture? You cannot connive at functionalism in one art and decry it in another and, functionally speaking, the Ministry of Food's weekly Food Facts [WWII Ex-RAF] are masterpieces of English prose.

Poole
George Richards
1, 3 John Wilson Croker. Review of Endymion: A Poetic Romance, by John Keats. The Quarterly Review 19, no. 37 (April 1818) 204-208.
2 John Gibson Lockhart. Review of Endymion: A Poetic Romance, by John Keats. Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine 3 (August 1818) 519-524.


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What is Henry Reed's first name?

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.



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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