Critical and biographical information for the poet, radio dramatist, and translator Henry Reed (1914 - 1986), author of "Naming of Parts."
Henry Reed, poet and radio dramatist
The Poetry of Henry Reed Homepage
Scammell, William. "Reed, Henry (1914-86)." In The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Poetry in English, edited by Ian Hamilton. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996. 445.

Reed, Henry (191486), was born in Birmingham and educated at King Edward VI School and Birmingham University, where he studied language and literature and wrote an MA thesis on *Hardy. He worked as a teacher and freelance journalist, 193741. After a short period in the army he was transferred to the Foreign Office to work in Naval Intelligence, 19425. Thereafter Reed made his career in radio as a journalist, broadcaster, and playwright. The BBC's Third Programme was inaugurated in October 1946, and he became a member of the legendary group of writers—including Louis *MacNeice, Dylan *Thomas, Terence *Tiller, P. H. Newby, Patric *Dickinson, W. R. *Rodgers, and Rayner Heppenstall—who were attached to the network during its golden period. Later he was a visiting professor and associate professor of English at the University of Washington, Seattle.

Reed published only one book of poems, A Map of Verona (London, 1946), which in turn is famous chiefly for one poem, 'Lessons of the War'. It is probably the most celebrated English poem, and certainly the most popular, to emerge from the Second World War. Part I in particular, 'Naming of Parts', has entered the collective folk-memory. Reed told the poet Vernon *Scannell that the poem began as a comic monologue recited for the amusement of his fellow recruits. Its good-natured humour, broad sexual innuendo, and lyrical evocations of nature make it instantly memorable. By juxtaposing dry and faintly absurd technical language about the cleaning of guns with the immemorial goings-on of flowers and bees in spring Reed dramatizes both the ridiculousness and boredom of war—time out of time, as it were—and its relationship to the awkward, unbalanced lives of the individuals haplessly caught up in it.

The other two sections, 'Judging Distances' and 'Unarmed Combat', employ the same strategy of juxtaposing military jargon with the ordinary-language meaning of such terms as 'proper issue' and 'dead ground'. Part of the poem's success is bound up in its formal rhythmic brilliance, which cleverly mixes prosaic and lyric modes of speech and versification.

The volume's other success is the famous parody of *Eliot, 'Chard Whitlow' ('As we get older we do not get any younger'), which Eliot himself commended for its accuracy. Elsewhere in the book Eliot proves rather more of a hindrance than a help, for example in the title poem, whose wistful sensitivities ('underground whispers of music', 'shifting crowds in the causeways discerned through the dusk') recall the perplexities of Prufrock and The Waste Land. Lessons of the War (New York, 1970) reprints Reed's most famous poem and adds two new sections to it, 'Movement of Bodies' and 'Returning of Issue'.

Reed worked for many years on a biography of Hardy, which he never finished. Much of this research went into his first 'Hilda Tablet' radio play, A Very Great Man Indeed (see Hilda Tablet and Others: Four Pieces for Radio, London, 1971). Others of his many radio plays include an adaptation of Moby-Dick (London, 1947), several versions of plays by the Italian playwright Ugo Betti, and The Streets of Pompeii and Other Plays for Radio (London, 1971), some of which are based on incidents in the life of Leopardi. The plays belong partly to BBC radio's period of achievement and experimentation, under the producer Douglas Cleverdon, and partly to the general attempt to revive *verse drama of the 1940s and 1950s, led by Eliot and Christopher Fry. Outside literature Reed's main interest was in music, especially opera. A Collected Poems, ed. Jon Stallworthy, was published in 1991 by Oxford University Press.





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