Critical and biographical information on Henry Reed, World War II British poet, critic, translator, and radio dramatist — author of "Naming of Parts"
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Boyd, A.C. "A Poet of Sensibility." Britain To-day 126 (October 1946): 41 (.pdf).


A POET OF SENSIBILITY

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

One first became aware of Henry Reed, who was born in 1914, as the author of extremely percipient and well-informed book reviews; then came the stray, unusual piece of verse to whet one's curiosity; here we have his first collection of poems, and they prove to be outstanding both in their vitality and their assurance.

We know of Mr. Reed's admiration for T. S. Eliot and Edith Sitwell, but he is no slavish imitator of either of them, indeed his talent is unusually original and spontaneous. For sheer invention we can turn to Lessons of the War, in which the poet has reproduced the gabble of the sergeant-instructor on Unarmed Combat and so forth and shot it through with most sensitive observations and a lightning play of wit—a seriocomic fantasia which is a joy to meet.

But these fascinating tours-de-force and an affectionate parody of Eliot must not detain us overlong, for Mr. Reed is essentially a serious writer. His subjects are not overtly "contemporary", yet the spirit of enquiry which animates the sequence of poems, The Desert, the personal twist or extension of import given to the legends of Tristram and Iseult, and Philoctetes, is not of yesterday. Mr. Reed is primarily a poet of sensibility—yet feeling will soon get the impact of an alert mind; this is not to say that the one will destroy the other, but to indicate a quickness of reaction symptomatic, perhaps, of the character his poetic creation will take.

The metaphysicals, with whom Mr. Reed has something in common, have shown how such elements can be crystallized, but here the method is to motivate: Mr. Reed's attack is histrionic. The dramatic monologue, the recounted allegory, here passion, irony, and a critical intelligence and boundless curiosity to explore experience can find full play. But in his use of what one might call the inflected "voice" he is never extravagantly rhetorical, in fact he speaks often enough in a near-prose murmur; he can be deliberately ingenuous or rise to a tragic intensity all in the same poem. He has equal command of the long, modulated sentence as of the more limpid, short line. Everything in this small book is of interest, but the haunting beauty and sweep of imagination of the Tintagel poems is something to be thankful for in these days of austerity.

A. C. Boyd

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