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
Arrowsmith, William. "Recent Verse." Hudson Review 1, no. 1 (Spring 1948): 98-105 [98, 101-102].

Excerpt from Recent Verse

A MAP OF VERONA, by Henry Reed. Reynal and Hitchcock. $2.50

These six poets are sufficiently good that no construct, however compulsive, will support them long or all at once; at second best, in intent and often in performance, they compose seriously in the mode of poetic imagination. Thus, of the poets represented, all are serious, all are competent craftsmen, three have the virtue of originality and two of them compose what is unmistakably poetry. Yet four of these books are first publications,; and if they often fall short in execution, they have the right amount of provisional uncertainty to be promising to be better. Henry Reed, in particular among the younger poets, writes poetry which is professional, original and articulate in the best sense. Quite naturally, it is in this area of articulation and/or apprehension that the others stumble most severely, their poems become perverse and fail to realize themselves in language. Or, obversely, language of a rhetorical sort so engineers the poem that the richness and verbal perversity of actual insight get tamed away. In either case, we get poetry as a sub rosa means of discourse, either barbarous or vulgar.


Henry Reed, unless I am badly mistaken, has written in A Map of Verona a first book of poetry which is neither premature nor uneven; it is sustained poetry at a very high level, of a sort which few poets write today, either because they cannot or because they have not felt it worthwhile. If the latter is true, it argues that our contemporary criticism has been misdirected or misread, perhaps both. But it is curious that a criticism which has continually emphasized the poem as poem, as an artistic unit, should witness so many partial poems even by our better poets—poems which lack total composition and depend upon a part at the expense of the full flare. It is thus very much to the credit of Mr. Reed that there is hardly a poem in his book which is not capitalized upon as a poem; if his diction is occasionally slack and his lines lazy, the total should, in time, guarantee the part. Much of Mr. Reed's value, I think, stems from his conversance with the tradition of poetry; his constructs from literary mythology—the Tristram story, Sophocles, Melville—attain almost the maximum actuality possible in this kind of revival. The sections Tintagel


and Desert (in particular South and The Builders) contain some of the best poetry of the last few years, not simply as form plus content but the whole business multiplied into total effect. The poetry is deceptively simple because properly conceived and the imagination seems to have apprehended almost at the moment of articulation:

And do you think I would not reach towards you,
As the screen of stone falls into place between us,
And the dirge begins, do you think I do not know?

                     *           *           *           *           *

O you, who will never be other than children,
Do you think, if I could, I would not reach out my hand,
Through the burning mist and the echoing night of blackness,
To bless you, soothe you, and guide you through your hell?

                     *           *           *           *           *

When brow on brow, or mouth to mouth assembled,
We lie in the calm of the morning. And there, outside us,
The sun moves on, the boat jogs on the lake,
The huntsman calls.
And we lie here, our orient peace awaking
No echo, and no shadow, and no reflection.

There seems to be a debt to Eliot but it is rather a debt controlled and incorporated. The blank-verse line is firmly mastered and so too is the cadence. His originality is of the finest sort, that is, it is educated; and he possesses a talent and style which is as individual as that of Robert Lowell, with whom he shares the promise of achieving major proportions.




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