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«  Unattributed Eliot  »

Reeding Lessons: the Henry Reed research blog

27.10.2021


Unattributed Eliot

The Rt Hon. Kenneth Baker, in his excellent anthology Unauthorized Versions: Poems and Their Parodies (OCLC WorldCat), assiduously includes this explanatory note with Henry Reed's famous send-up of Eliot's Four Quartets:

This parody by a poet celebrated in his own right won a competition in the New Statesman. Eliot himself commented: 'In fact one is apt to think one could parody oneself much better. (As a matter of fact some critics have said that I have done so.) But there is one which deserves the success it has had, Henry Reed's "Chard Whitlow".' There is no single poem to put beside Reed's parody, which cleverly manages to summon echoes from almost all Eliot's work, but a few examples are given here.

Lord Baker places "Chard Whitlow" side-by-side with lines from Eliot's "Little Gidding," "Gerontion," "Ash Wednesday," and "Choruses from 'The Rock'."

It seems unlikely (if not impossible) that Reed was parodying "Little Gidding," since that poem was written in 1942, after the publication of "Chard Whitlow" (.pdf). It's more likely Reed had in mind the earlier verse of Eliot's Four Quartets, such as "Burnt Norton" (1935). The possibility exists, therefore, that Reed's poem actually influenced Eliot's. Stephen Spender, however, in his book T.S. Eliot (New York: Viking, 1975), says that Eliot, in fact, 'relished' the parody, but that he was not seeking to 'emulate' it (p. 177).

Regardless of who influenced whom, the real mystery is the source of Eliot's admiration of "Chard Whitlow," quoted above. Baker's anthology includes acknowledgments for the poems he has compiled, but I'm fairly certain there is no attribution for Eliot's words, and no footnotes accompany the explanatory notes. Does anyone have a copy they can double-check for me?

The quote appears in numerous places on the web (including Robert Pinsky's article for Slate magazine), but always lifted from Baker's anthology, it would seem.

Where did Baker take Eliot's quote from? What is the original source?

Incidentally, for his winning poem in the New Statesman's parody contest, Reed was awarded "the usual prize" of two Guineas (42 shillings).


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What is Henry Reed's first name?

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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