Shorter Reviews of Henry Reed's Works


Wilfrid Gibson, "Recent Verse," Books of the Day, The Guardian (Manchester), 24 November 1943, 3.

A good deal of fumbling, inarticulate, and incoherent stuff is included in More Poems from the Forces (Routledge, pp. 324, 8s. 6d.), but, on the whole, the volume is remarkable for the amount of good work it contains. In reading it I listed some twenty writers whose work called for special appreciation, but the limits of space only allow me even to mention one or two of these. Henry Reed's poems were my most exciting discovery, and they, together with the profoundly moving pieces by Emanuel Litvinoff and Laurence Whistler, poets whose work I was already familiar with, would give distinction to any anthology.

(p. 3)


Stephen Spender, Poetry Since 1939 (London: British Council, 1946), 54-55.

Henry Reed’s first volume, A Map of Verona, contains a mysterious and nostalgic poem of great beauty called Verona, a soldier's poem of memorable bitterness, The Naming of Parts, and contemplative poems on classical and mediaeval themes. When Henry Reed's volume is published he will take his place with F. T. Prince, Vernon Watkins, and Terence Tiller as one of the really significant younger poets. A short poem, The Door and the Window, gives something of his quality:

My love, you are timely come, let me lie by your heart.
For waking in the dark this morning, I woke to that mystery,
Which we can all wake to, at some dark time or another:
Waking to find the room not as I thought it was,
But the window further away, and the door in another direction.

This was not home, and you were far away,
And I woke sick, and held by another passion,
In the icy grip of a dead, tormenting flame,
Consumed by the night, watched by the door and the window,
On a bed of stone, waiting for the day to bring you.

The window is sunlit now, the spring day sparkles beyond it,
The door has opened: and can you, at last beside me,
Drive under the day that frozen and faithless darkness,
With its unseen torments flickering, which neither
The dearest look nor the longest kiss assuages?

(pp. 54-55)

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

A Map of Verona. By Henry Reed. (Jonathan Cape. 2s. 6d.)
Unless I mistake, Mr. Henry Reed, already notable among the younger critics, makes his first appearance as a poet in book form with A Map of Verona. Those who heard his beautiful and imaginative "Tintagel" on the air will be glad to meet it again, more durably presented in print, and will welcome also the two somewhat Tennysonian poems, "Philoctetes" and "Chrysothemis," though personally I was 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.

(p. 3)

Valentin Iremonger, "Check List," The Bell 12, no. 3 (June 1946): 263-267.

A MAP OF VERONA. By Henry Reed. (Cape, 3s. 6d.)
Henry Reed's is one of the most impressive first volumes I have seen for some time. His shorter lyrics (with the exception of 'The Wall') are not very distinguished but there are four long poems in the volume which are really first rate achievements. The poems on two characters from Sophocles, Chrysothemis and Philoctetes show an intuitive understanding of experiences that are among the commonest known.

(p. 264-265)

F.J. Friend-Periera, "Four Poets," Some Recent Books, New Review 23, no. 128 (June 1946), 482-484.

A Map of Verona. By Henry Reed. London: Cape, 1946.

A Map of Verona is more pretentious: Mr. Reed, when he wrote his poems 'used to like ambiguity'. There is some of the expected depth and subtlety in several of the pieces; but much of the writing appears needlessly prosaic and splay-footed. Mr. Reed has submitted to various up-to-the-minute influences: Eliot, Auden, Macneice, Day Lewis: and it comes as a surprise to see that in one poem he echoes someone so poetically different from these as William Morris! Felicitous phrases like 'a shining smile of snowfall, late in Spring', are mixed, up with fashionable (so-called Eliot-esque) lack of interest: 'The place not worth describing, but like every empty place'. The best poems are the four included under the general title of 'Tintagel'. Here Mr. Reed shows a keen eye, a ready pen, and a pleasing sense of the dramatic: the Arthurian theme does not, in his hands, seem vieux jeu.

(p. 482)

"Poets and Pretenders," The Poetry Review 37, no. 3 (June/July 1946): 213-220.

A Map of Verona, by Henry Reed (Cape, 3s. 6d.) would be difficult to criticise upon the tri-une basis of mystery, ecstasy and sublimity. If it be judged upon its capacity to move the reader, or to inspire any one of these three states, it should delay us not at all; from which it will be gathered that we are presented by it with so little to praise or blame that we are almost debarred from comment. Take the first stanza from a poem called "Envoy":

"Whatever sort of garden
You, I, or we shall build,
Neglected much, or cared for,
And all its great designs
Fulfilled or unfulfilled:
Built over ruined shrines,
Where others have loved and worshipped,
Or built on virgin ground:
Shaped or disorderly,
Let it at least be
Different from this",

or look where you will, and there is the same incapacity to come to grips with anything real or vital such as could shatter the dull crust of the reader's wonted composure or banish for one beautiful moment the boredom of living.

(p. 215)

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

A MAP OF VERONA by Henry Reed (Cape 3/6).
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.

(p. 15)

"Poetry," Literature, British Book News (July 1946), 275-276.

A MAP OF VERONA. Henry Reed. Cape, 3s. 6d. lC8. 60 pages.
The first book of a distinguished poet and critic. Stylistically, Mr. Reed is considerably influenced by the later manner of T.S. Eliot. In the title poem he muses over a map and its literary and historical associations; in 'Tintagel' he evokes memories of Tristram and Iseult in the ruins of the castle; the more Tennysonian 'Philoctetes' and 'Chrysothemis' take the reader back to the ancient Greek world. There is also an ironical section, 'Lessons of the War'.

(p. 275-276)

Randall Swingler, "Books of Poems," Our Time 5, no. 12 (July 1946), 272-273.

A MAP OF VERONA by Henry Reed. Cape, 3s. 6d.

Us too and our days completely the years shall cover,
But what rediscoverer save me shall come curiously
To plot by the stars and the sun the exact positions
Where we built . . .

That is Henry Reed, a sub-Arctic migrant, with a strong, set, and solitary flight, but again in regions where our maps are useless and the compass variation is enormous.

(p. 272)

Hugo Manning, "Recent Verse," Books of the Day, The Guardian (Manchester), 31 July 1946, 3.

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.

(p. 3)

Sheila Shannon, "New Poetry," Books of the Day, The Spectator, 23 August 1946, 197-198.

A Map of Verona. By Henry Reed. (Jonathan Cape. 3s. 6d.)
Henry Reed's first book—A Map of Verona—provides (I can only say for me) a great deal of enjoyment. Here is a young poet. All sensation if you like; but sensation springing from imagination with the true poet's gift of making the real imaginary. It is highly romantic, young poetry, but written by someone with an ear and a self-indulgent appreciation of words and their musical and evocative power. At present the obvious influence is T.S. Eliot, but Mr. Reed has a strong enough talent to assimilate in time even so seductive a master.

(p. 198)

R.W. Thomson, "Recent Poetry," Entre Nous, The Expository Times 58, no. 2 (November 1946): 55-56.

Henry Reed, in A Map of Verona (Cape; 3s. 6d.), tells the story of man's struggles, his delusions, and his questionings—

You . . .
. . . tug at the streaming earth to find some spot
In which you may plant your torn chimerical flowers
With a ruined wall to protect them.

(p. 56)


Louis MacKay, "Reviews," Canadian Poetry Magazine 10, no. 3 (March 1947): 34-36.

Reed, Henry: A Map of Verona; Clarke Irwin, Toronto (Cape, London); 59 pp.; $1.00.
In the section called Preludes, Mr. Reed shows a neat wit and humanity in parodies of army instruction and of T. S. Eliot in his oracularly non-committal vein. The more serious poems, through a variety of vividly realised images and legends, explore for the most part problems of personal responsibility and activity, and the individual's relation to the life of the community. The prevailing images are of sea and shore, under extremes of heat and cold, the mood strenuous and the expression tense and forceful. The last poems, which deal dramatically, through the figures of Electra's sister Chrysothemis, and of Philoctetes, with the problem of those who would derive a conscious innocence from a weak amiability, or whom justified resentment might tempt into isolation, combine admirably a sustained relevance to their dramatic situation with a broader reference to problems that are perhaps more pressing and more universal now than they have ever been. The paper is not the best, but the printing and binding compare favorably with Canadian books at double the price.

(p. 35)

"Reed, Henry," Publishers Weekly 152, no. 15 (11 October 1947), 1945.

Reed, HenryPo
A map of Verona, and other poems. 92p. O 47-31457 [c.'47] N. Y., Reynal & Hitchcock.
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.

(p. 1945)

Louise Bogan, "Verse," Books: Briefly Noted, The New Yorker, 22 November 1947, 140.

A Map of Verona, and Other Poems, by Henry Reed (Reynal & Hitchcock). This first volume by an accomplished young Englishman contains short poems, as well as several more ambitious, longer poems on legendary subjects. His ironic "Naming of Parts," here included, is one of the few memorable pieces of verse produced during the war years.

(p. 140)

Nerber, John, et al., "The Poetry Bulletin." Tiger's Eye 2 (December 1947): 110.

A Map of Verona
     Reynal and Hitchcock
Reed, Henry

A young English poet's first American volume. His poetry is distinguished by poetic vigor and imaginative insight. Mr. Reed writes equally of the catastrophic spiritual conflicts not only of his own time but those of Chrysothemis, of Tristram and Iseult, as well. Of particular interest to American readers are the "lyric interludes" drawn from a radio version of Moby Dick, written by Mr. Reed and presented by B.B.C. early in 1947.

(p. 110)

Gerald MacDonald, "Poetry," Library Journal 72, no. 21 (1 December 1947): 1688.

Reed, Henry. A Map of Verona and Other Poems. Reynal & Hitchcock, 10/8. $2.50.
Henry Reed is a young English poet whose work, until now, has been little known in this country. Many of the poems have legendary themes but their meaning is deeply rooted in our own 'age of anxiety.' The final pages are devoted to lyric interludes written for a BBC radio version of Moby Dick.

(p. 1688)


M.L. Rosenthal, "Experience and Poetry," Herald Tribune Weekly Book Review (New York), 17 October 1948, 28.

A MAP OF VERONA AND OTHER POEMS. By Henry Reed.... 92 pp.... New York: Reynal and Hitchcock.... $2.50.
HENRY REED shares with Laurie Lee, another young English "war poet," a kind of hurt pacifism and the familiar irony that sell so cheaply of late. They share, too, in that unhappy vice of young intellectuals—a certain blandness of which the ever-simple irony is a symptom and which allows them, at a moment's notice, to discuss everything as though it were nothing and vice versa. But Reed has the more inclusive sensibility, and he has been able to protect it by skills of craft, fashioning an armor of rhythmic, stanzaic, and musical structure. Despite their common conviction that the world is flat, Reed has written more verse in the rich "lyric-contemplative" mode and has used mythological themes from Homer to Melville to help him get his bearings. He is further into his art: such places as "Judging Distances," "Sailor's Harbor," and the title-poem achieve something fine and honest, with a dramatic tension that resolves itself by a narrowing of focus from general to intimate personal awareness: "reversal" with the true tragic shock of painful realization.

(p. 28)


Philip Henderson, "English Poetry Since 1946." British Book News 117 (May 1950), 294-298.

Two new poets of outstanding ability appeared in the persons of Henry Reed and Patric Dickinson. Reed's A Map of Verona (Cape, 3s.6d.) made accomplished use of Eliot's later manner (exemplified in Four Quartets) in a return to both romantic (Tristram and Iseult) and classical ('Philoctetes' and 'Chrysothemis') themes, also in some bitter poems about army training.

(p. 295)


Untermeyer, Louis, "The Muse Still Lures a Lively and Diverse Band." Saturday Review, 7 May 1955, 25.

Somewhat better known but not yet fully recognized, Henry Reed fashions an idiom, alternately playful and poignant, out of incongruities. He makes the routine event seem remarkable and gives old legends contemporary significance. In "Lessons of the War," Reed's most widely quoted poem, he alternates the matter-of-fact instructions of the Manual of Arms with the indestructible beauty of spring.

(p. 25)


Bookseller, 11 February 1956, 304.

Also coming from Jonathan Cape is the re-issue of A Map of Verona, by Henry Reed (7s. 6d. net). Most of these poems were written during the war; only a few of them, however, are directly concerned with it. Half of the book consists of a group of short poems, some of which are comic.

(p. 304)


David Cecil and Allen Tate, eds., Modern Verse in English, "Notes on British Poets" (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1958), 638-639.

Henry Reed (b. 1914). Born and educated in Birmingham; graduated M.A. at Birmingham University. Journalist and broadcaster. Poetic publication: A Map of Verona (1946).

Mr. Reed is a modern poet of the educated, careful, aesthetic type and shows the influence of Yeats and Mr. Eliot. His poems are made personal and delightful by his sense of decorative elegance and the play of his neat and graceful wit.

(pp. 638-639)


"English Drama," Literature, British Book News (February 1972), 150-153.

HILDA TABLET AND OTHERS: Four Pieces for Radio. SBN 563 10163 6. THE STREETS OF POMPEII and Other Plays for Radio. SBN 563 10164 4. Henry Reed. B.B.C. Publications, £2·10: £3·15. 1971. 25 cm. 208: 336 pages.
The ten plays in these volumes, dated between 1950 and 1958—though a new version of The Streets of Pompeii was broadcast as late as 1970—are the work of one of the most excitingly adaptable dramatists British radio has known. Mr Reed is a poet, as the second volume proves; he has been always able to write for the ears (in the words of Housman, from another context, 'to sign with conflagration the viewless fields of air'). These Italian plays, whether in verse or prose, have a steadily summoning quality, particularly the pair on Leopardi and, from the dying fall of the Renaissance, Vincenzo. But Mr Reed has another gift: he is a social comedian and a witty satirist; and listeners to the B.B.C. during the 1950s were cheered regularly by his Third Programme pieces about an inquiry into the life of a 'poet's novelist' by a conscientious, burrowing biographer called Reeve. Now, in four of the plays, we meet a remarkable bevy of personages on and round the artistic fringe, especially a hearty 'composeress', Hilda Tablet. Mr Reed was able to bring them up on radio in a few sentences and to keep them, more or less affectionately, before us; they come from the page with the same swift ease. The volumes are from the meridian of radio-playwriting, and it is pleasant to recognize the author's long partnership with his director, Douglas Cleverdon.



Anthony Curtis, "My Book of the Year," Weekend Financial Times (London), 7/8 December 1991, 16.

One of the saddest experiences I have had was to observe the decline of the poet Henry Reed in the latter part of his life. He became a recluse in his London flat, reluctant to accept any invitation, producing nothing. Apart from the frequently anthologised 'Naming of Parts' and the occasional reference to one of his radio classics such as Hilda Tablet, the so gifted Henry was, it seemed, by the world forgot. I was therefore delighted when Collected Poems of Henry Reed, edited and introduced by Jon Stallworthy (Oxford), appeared this year. Here at last are the Arthurian and classical poems, the Leopardi translations, and poems from the radio plays, all of them where they belong—with The Lessons of War. Now we need the same excellent job done for Reed's prose.

(p. XVI)

Peter Porter, jacket endorsement for Collected Poems by Henry Reed, ed. Jon Stallworthy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), front flap. is distilled a uniquely gifted and individual poetic talent insufficiently appreciated in its lifetime. Henry Reed takes his place alongside Auden, MacNeice, and Durrell: poets whose ease and familiarity with Europe is allied to a sure sense of English style.

(Front flap)


Rodney Pybus, "Poetry Chronicle II," Stand Magazine 34, no. 3 (Summer 1993): 55-59.

The Collected Poems (ed. J. Stallworthy; OUP, £20) of the late Henry Reed puts the lie to the notion that he was a one-poem poet ('Naming of Parts') who also wrote a brilliant parody of T.S. Eliot, 'Chard Whitlow' ('As we get older we do not get any younger...'). He wrote some first-rate drama for BBC radio in the great days of the Third Programme (e.g. The Streets of Pompeii, and the famous Hilda Tablet plays). While it is true that he published only one collection during his lifetime, A Map of Verona in 1946, it was still being reprinted twenty-five years later.

Reed is part of post-war English poetry for what he wrote in the Forties and Fifties; it's good to have him in print, and to see 'The Changeling', 'The Auction Sale', and all five of the 'Lessons of War'. He wrote less than he should have done, but he is worth saving for his distinctive note of exclusion from and loss of love, paradise, fulfilment. He turned, as so many of his contemporaries did, to the Mediterranean for all it could offer that England couldn't — 'the Italian landscape of mythologised desire'. It is not only the soldier returning home at the end of 'The Changeling' to a lovely garden at dusk and a young wife in bed, but clearly Reed himself, who feels the force of rejection and disillusion at the close: '"All this is false. And I / Am an interloper here."' (Reed's homosexuality does not entirely account for the strength of his feeling.) This edition reprints his first book, adds about a dozen 'new' poems along with translations (particularly from Leopardi's Italian).

(p. 57)

The Poetry of Henry Reed: Critical and biographical information for the World War II British poet, critic, translator, and radio dramatist — author of "Naming of Parts."


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