Critical and biographical information on Henry Reed, World War II British poet, critic, translator, and radio dramatist — author of "Naming of Parts"
Henry Reed, poet and radio dramatist
The Poetry of Henry Reed Homepage
Comfort, Alex. "Two Poets: Dylan Thomas and Henry Reed." ADAM International Review 14, no. 158 (May 1946): 19 (.pdf).

Two Poets

Thomas has long ago reached a position which, while it is not out of the reach of literary criticism, is beyond the reach of advertisement. His poetic position has been assured since the first poem he published, and the excellence and independence of his work is very largely due to the fact that he has no need of a specific effort. To a writer it is this effortless fluency, and the surprising economy of material that goes with it, which makes a large part of Thomas's unique appeal—although to readers who are not writers his chief asset is his spellbinding power and his wholehearted return to lyricism uncomplicated by barbarian sentiment. I say "economy" advisedly, because there can hardly ever have been a lyrist, with the single exceptions of Pindar and Lorca, who took so literally the conception of loading every rift with ore. In this blizzard of words it is not always possible at first to detect that every flake has a structure, frequently more elaborate than the total structure of the poem. There is little to say in appraisal of his new book* save that Thomas's development has spread and continued, so that with Eliot, Gascoyne, and a few other writers he remains a living poet. It is to my mind both untrue and bad for Thomas personally for his publishers to equate him with Rimbaud. His artistry is conscious as well as innate—has less in common with Rimbaud than with Donne, and his poetry is radically traditional. A certain number of readers who are confused by the written effect (especially in Sicilian grammata, in which form one poem here is printed) should make a point of hearing this work aloud. The stature of some of these poems, especially Vision and Prayer, and Ceremony after a Fire Raid, is staggering even in the presence of Thomas's past achievement.


Reed's self-conscious and almost shy book is at an entirely different level. Reed is not a poet who is capable of spontaneity—read after Thomas, an unfair test, he exhibits perpetual censorship, an inhibition which springs almost entirely from fear of his readers. Poems of his which have this fault are either imitations of successful seniors like MacNeice, precious in the manner of Hassall, or simply conversational and sagging. But in spite of a great deal of work here which seems to be banal, Reed's original talent is frequently stronger than his desire for success. The Naming of the Parts and the two following poems stand very high indeed among war poetry—they have a dryness and balance which is probably Reed's best achievement. Chrysothemis and Philoctetes are both contemplative poetry of a very high order indeed, where the diction somehow becomes focussed and Reed masters the preciousness which is his worst enemy. There is none of the kitsch-modernism on the level of Hassall and some of the recent "Kulchered" radio plays which defaces his Tristram sequence. Philoctetes has a great deal in common with the work of Randall Janell [sic], but is a personal and underived contemplative poem in its own right, a form which has a traditional origin in work like Tennyson's Ulysses. The whole book is a battle between Reed the poet and the successful quackery of work like "The Dark Tower." McNeice [sic] adopted the technique deliberately for a medium in which an element of satirically conscious charlatanism could succeed in its intention, but on the printed page it is as ruinous as it is financially successful. The book ought to be read if only for the poems I have named, and although the conclusion is that Reed requires to be heavily selected, the quality of Philoctetes leaves no doubt of his originality.

Alex Comfort

* Dylan Thomas: DEATHS AND ENTRANCES, Dent, 3/6.
Henry Reed: A MAP OF VERONA, Cape, 3/6.



Page last modified: 12 November 2016