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
"The Listener's Book Chronicle." Review of A Map of Verona, by Henry Reed. Listener 35, no. 906 (23 May 1946): 690.

A Map of Verona. By Henry Reed. Cape, 3s. 6d.

Though this is a first book of verse, it is mercifully unlike one. It offers none of that uneasy exhibitionism, none of those verbal blushings and eruptions, none of the ham-handedness and tripping over their own feet which mark the first public appearances of young poets. Unlike most of the milling horde of versifiers whom critics nowadays generically and optimistically name 'the younger poets', Mr. Reed is not yet middle-aged but is a poet. He owes a good deal, technically, to the later Eliot: but he has repaid the debt, as real poets must, by absorbing it into the body of his own experience; indeed, he is able to print a delightful parody of the Master, 'Chard Whitlow', without any embarrassment lest it appear to be natural brother of his own legitimate children. His versification is accomplished. Based usually on a five-stress line, it is full of bold and subtle variation, melodious, slipping and sliding easily from mood to mood, following the beat of the poetic thought with the fluency of a well-trained orchestra.

The poems that result are beautifully ungrandiloquent, blessedly ungrandiose. Such praise may seem negative: but it is not unfitting; for Mr. Reed's poems are themselves, in one sense, negative; they get their effect by elimination rather than by positive statement; they cover up, as the boxers say: but in doing so, and in their clever use of the ring, they demonstrate that self-defense may be a noble art. Most of these poems are allegorical. Either explicit allegories like the simple Robert-Frostian 'Lives', or more often implicit ones like 'The Desert', which contains the best work in this book; or sometimes a mixture of the two, as are 'Lessons of the War'—poems in which a theme is constantly being shifted from the comic to the serious key, and back again, with such tact that sentiment and satire never come to blows. It is not easy to say what the implicit allegories are about, for in them object and image are fused, not laid side by side, and there is a perpetual interplay between personal and general considerations. 'The Desert', we might coarsely state, explores the questions 'where do we go from here?' and 'by what values should the truly civilised man live?' But to put it like that would suggest something portentous, laboured, priggish—something very different from the essential poetry of 'The great dried fountains of their sombre eyes', or

From the far horizon, and breaking in triumph towards him,
A ship comes forth, with supernatural haste
Parting the waters; and with grace the waves
Draw from her painted sides. Seductively
She flourishes her dazzling burden of sails

or (of the creative process symbolised for Mr. Reed by Tristram's tower that 'rises and falls and rises')

And few have either the power or the resolution
To unbuild it stone by stone
We cannot learn to forget as sometimes we learn to remember
To compose an oblivion like a memory...

A Map of Verona is one of those rare books to which the reader feels he will return again and again with deepening pleasure, and which give new heart to dispirited poets.




Page last modified: 01 October 2016