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
Elton, William. "Eliot-cum-BBC." Poetry 72, no. 3 (June 1948): 165-167.


A Map of Verona and Other Poems, by Henry Reed. Reynal & Hitchcock. $2.50.

Operating under the sign of Rimbaud, who serves as motto, Mr. Reed, a young Englishman, presents in his first vlume poems quite un-Rimbaudian—talented and skillful, but slick, smooth, easy, ready-made and ready-to-understand. In the "Preludes" section, for example, the title poem reveals the characteristically shoddy:

You were an early chapter, a practice in sorrow,
Your shadows fell, but were only a token of pain,
A sketch in tenderness, lust, and sudden parting,
And I shall not need to trouble with you again.

The diffuseness and lack of tension, the trite smear of bathos, are everywhere for sale; compare the maudlin popular-song quality of

It is strange to remember those thoughts and to try to catch
The underground whispers of music beneath the years,
The forgotten conjectures, the clouded, forgotten vision,
Which only in vanishing phrases reappears.

Offering no striking phrase or image, Morning reveals no new strategy or change of heart; The Return closes its hurdy-gurdy of sentiment with

           And again it is Christmas morn,
And again in the snow and the Star's light, once again we are born.

The Forest opens with the pretentious "Winter's white labyrinth, Poseidon's power"; The Wall tries for wit and fails; Outside and In is pleasant magazine verse. What poetry the author found in such typical passages as the following from Lessons of the War, it is difficult to imagine:


In due course of course you will all be issued with
Your proper issue; but until tomorrow,
You can hardly be said to need it; and until that time,
We shall have unarmed combat. I shall teach you.
The various holds and rolls and throws and breakfalls
Which you may sometimes meet.

And the various holds and rolls and throws and breakfalls
Do not depend on any sort of weapon,
But only on what I might coin a phrase and call
The ever-important question of human balance....

But perhaps we misjudge Mr. Reed to treat so seriously what may have been intended for other purposes. When we are told by the Notes that parts of Ishmael were commissioned by the BBC, we may surmise that his work for radio corresponds to that of some serious playwrights for the cinema, popularizations not meant to represent their best efforts; and in such a case, we may conclude that he has succeeded. Nevertheless, the volume is useful for introducing two related considerations. The first is the folly of too obviously donning Mr. Eliot's discarded and discolored spats; the unique Eliot-cum-water-cum-BBC flavor appears throughout, and especially towards the end, as in Chrysothemis:

...remain in a falling, decaying mansion,
A house detested and dark in the setting sun,
The furniture covered with sheets, the gardens empty,
A brother and a sister long departed,
A railing mother gone...
I will protect them in the decaying palace...
The silent arch through which my brother returned,
And again returned.

But Reed's slick superficiality, his genuine instinct for eliciting the stock response, lead us to our second consideration—the confused state of much poetry in our time, as shown


by his respectable British acclaim: "No better first book of poetry has appeared for many years and it would be foolish to expect another comparable for as long," ", borrow, read, read again this remarkable first volume," etc. It would appear, then, that whatever disservice is done to the discriminating enjoyment of poetry, Mr. Reed is slated for the popularity he so justly deserves.¹

William Eaton

¹Since this was written, the prophecy has been fulfilled: American critics have fallen over themselves in praise, except for Randall Jarrell, who, with his usual perception, has pointed out that the British excitement is due to a lack of native material, and that a typical Reed poem resembles a "sober trance."W.E.




Page last modified: 01 October 2016