Documenting the quest to track down everything written by (and written about) the poet, translator, critic, and radio dramatist, Henry Reed.

An obsessive, armchair attempt to assemble a comprehensive bibliography, not just for the work of a poet, but for his entire life.

Read "Naming of Parts."

Henry Reed Henry Reed
Henry Reed Henry Reed
Henry Reed, ca. 1960



I Capture the Castle: A girl and her family struggle to make ends meet in an old English castle.
Dusty Answer: Young, privileged, earnest Judith falls in love with the family next door.
The Heat of the Day: In wartime London, a woman finds herself caught between two men.




Weblogs, etc.

But, of course, the Verona of the poem is a person, and not a place.

Reeding Lessons: the Henry Reed research blog


Hot Fuzz

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1537. Radio Times, "Full Frontal Pioneer," Radio Times People, 20 April 1972, 5.
A brief article before a new production of Reed's translation of Montherlant, mentioning a possible second collection of poems.

Another contemporary review of Henry Reed's A Map of Verona has turned up, this time in the New Review for June, 1946. F.J. Friend-Pereira (1907–1957) reviews "Four Poets" in the Some Recent Books column, including The Sand Castle by C.C. Abbott, A Map of Verona, Poems by Jonathan Wilson, and Theseus and the Minotaur by Patric Dickinson.

Jonathan Wilson died during the Second World War, in Holland 1944. His work seems well-received here, but I can find little else about him. Friend-Pereira is lukewarm about Reed's collection, but has a few nice things to say about the Tintagel sequence. Worth adding to the "blurbs" page for shorter reviews of Reed's work.

A Map of Verona is more pretentious: Mr. Reed, when he wrote his poems 'used to like ambiguity'. There is some of the expected depth and subtlety in several of the pieces; but much of the writing appears needlessly prosaic and splay-footed. Mr. Reed has submitted to various up-to-the-minute influences: Eliot, Auden, Macneice, Day Lewis: and it comes as a surprise to see that in one poem he echoes someone so poetically different from these as William Morris! Felicitous phrases like 'a shining smile of snowfall, late in Spring', are mixed, up with fashionable (so-called Eliot-esque) lack of interest: 'The place not worth describing, but like every empty place'. The best poems are the four included under the general title of 'Tintagel'. Here Mr. Reed shows a keen eye, a ready pen, and a pleasing sense of the dramatic: the Arthurian theme does not, in his hands, seem vieux jeu.

1536. L.E. Sissman, "Late Empire." Halcyon 1, no. 2 (Spring 1948), 54.
Sissman reviews William Jay Smith, Karl Shapiro, Richard Eberhart, Thomas Merton, Henry Reed, and Stephen Spender.

Here is a unique opportunity to see Henry Reed's editing process, over the span of five years' time. Below are shown two scripts for the BBC broadcasts of Reed's The Complete Lessons of the War, the first from February, 1966, and the second from a later broadcast, in December 1970. The 1970 program was in conjunction with the collection Lessons of the War, published by Reed's producer, Douglas Cleverdon and his press, Clover Hill Editions.

On the front page of the script from 1965, you can see that — in addition to the five Lessons of the War poems read on the air on Radio 3 — the poem "Psychological Warfare" was also scheduled, but ultimately crossed out. Reed was obviously unhappy with it, and it was still unfinished before 1970. "Psychological Warfare" was not published until Reed's Collected Poems appeared in 1991 (edited by Jon Stallworthy), and actually made its debut in March of that year, in the London Review of Books.

Complete Lessons of the War, 1965

The scripts for the other Lessons of the War poems, "Naming of Parts," "Judging Distances," "Unarmed Combat," and "Movement of Bodies," are all the same. But Reed continued to revise "Returning of Issue" — which he always kept last as the coda to the Lessons of the War sequence — until the poems were published in collection. The billing for 1970's Complete Lessons of the War states that "The fifth poem, Returning of Issue, has been largely rewritten since the programme was first broadcast in 1966. This new version has been re-recorded."

Notice the text cut between the two, the dispensable adjectives lost, and the line breaks shifted:

Returning of Issue, 1965Returning of Issue, 1970

In the 1965 script for broadcast, the first two stanzas are (and in direct contrast to the season of spring from "Naming of Parts" in 1946):
Tomorrow will be your last day here. Someone is speaking:
A familiar voice, speaking again at all of us,
While beyond the windows (it is inside now, and autumn)
On a wind growing daily harsher, small things are toward the earth
Turning and whirling, small: you cannot see through the windows
          If they are leaves or flowers

Tomorrow will be your last day here: but not, we hope, for always.
I hope that many of you will insist — yes insist — on coming back to us
Professionally. (Silence, and stupefaction.) And outside,
The coarsening wind, and the things whirling upon it,
Scour that rough stamping-ground where we so long a time
          Have spent our substance.
While in the 1970 script, rewritten and re-recorded for the new broadcast, we find the whole poem much improved, and restructured to conform more with the other early Lessons poems. The revised stanzas are as follows:
Tomorrow will be your last day here. Someone is speaking
A familiar voice, speaking again at all or us.
And beyond the windows — it is inside now, and autumn —
On a wind growing daily harsher, small things to the earth
Are turning and whirling, small. Tomorrow will be
          Your last day here,

But not we hope for always. You cannot see through the windows
If they are leaves or flowers. We hope that many or you
Will be coming back for good. Silence, and stupefaction.
The coarsening wind and the things whirling upon it
Scour that rough stamping-ground where we so long
          Have spent our substance,
You can view scans of the full scripts, here: both from 1965, but one without a revised "Returning of Issue," and the other with several revised copies of the poem, circa 1970.

1535. Reed, Henry. "Talks to India," Men and Books. Time & Tide 25, no. 3 (15 January 1944): 54-55.
Reed's review of Talking to India, edited by George Orwell (London: Allen & Unwin, 1943).

Here is a terrific find. I wish I could reproduce the exact combination of keywords which led me to this review in Google Books, but I can't. I was lamenting the apparent loss of the ability in Books' tools to be able to sort by date (instead of keyword relevance), and trying various combinations of "map of verona" and limiting "Any time" to a custom range of years, like 1946-1949.

Up pops this snippet from a post-war volume of the Mercure de France:

Google Books snippet

I was incredulous. It's obviously a contemporary book review of Reed's book of poetry, A Map of Verona (1946). But where was I going to find a library with a run of a French periodical?

Leave it to the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. They've digitized Mercure de France from 1890-1954.

I was a bit confused by the lack of issues from 1941-1946, but I realized if they weren't publishing during World War II, then the review must be in a later issue. I didn't have to search long. Searches in Gallica for "Henry Reed" were coming up empty, but I could see another review on the same page in the Google Books search. A search for "John Pudney" led me straight to the issue for "1er janvier 1947."

Mercure de France, 1947

Here, under the section for "Grand-Bretagne" written by Jacques Vallette, is an entire article devoted to Aldous Huxley, and reviews of English language books. The books reviewed are:
  • Odhams Dictionary of the English Language (A.H. Smith, 1946)
  • Over to France (Pierre Maillaud, 1946)
  • La Mort et Demain (Peter de Polnay, 1946)
  • The True Story of Dick Whittington (Osbert Sitwell, 1945)
  • Thanks before Going (John Masefield, 1946)
  • The Merry Wives of Westminster (Mrs. Belloc Lowndes, 1946)
  • The Life of Oscar Wilde (Hesketh Pearson, 1946)
  • Selected Poems (John Pudney, 1946)
  • Theseus and the Minotaur (Patric Dickinson, 1946)
  • A Map of Verona
  • The Voyage and Other Poems (Edwin Muir, 1946)
Not only does Vallette compare Reed's themes of adventure and exploration to André Gide, but he says (and I need to work on this translation) Reed's poems "resonate in each of us the particular note of our sufferings, our attempts, our questions." Vallette even segues his review of Edwin Muir with a hark back to Reed: "Muir, as a mature man, expresses himself in a concise and more traditional way than Reed."

So, there: I finally have a non-English language book review for The Poetry of Reed site: "Henry Reed in the Mercure de France."

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1534. Reed, Henry. "Radio Drama," Men and Books. Time & Tide 25, no. 17 (22 April 1944): 350-358 (354).
Reed's review of Louis MacNeice's Christopher Columbus: A Radio Play (London: Faber, 1944).

Robert Robinson (1927–2011), famed of television and radio, was an acquaintance and huge fan of Henry Reed. I mostly know of Robinson through Stephen Fry's frequent impressions of him: "Ah, would that it were, would that it were." (Here are Fry and Laurie simultaneously imitating Robinson.)

In Robinson's memoir, Skip All That (1996), he professes his admiration for Reed's 1953 BBC radio comedy, A Very Great Man Indeed: It is, Robinson says, "the one wholly original contribution made by radio to the canon of English humorous letters."

Members of the same club in London, The Savile, Robinson reveals that, after getting to know each other, Reed presented him with a scrap of verse, now (along with some personal correspondence from Ezra Pound) among his prized possessions:

Book cover

A Very Great Man Indeed was a fiction that accumulated round the figure of an innocent middle-aged literary gent who was trying to write the biography of a great writer. It was a Third Programme programme 'the ever-admirable Third Programme' as Michael Flanders, playing the part of a BBC commentator in the series, described it — and was transmitted in fifty-minute episodes. So intense were its comic flavours, so distinct were its characters, so remarkable was the understanding of the actors for the parts they played, that I became addicted. Henry Reed was the author, whose poem 'Today We Have Naming of Parts' and whose lampoon of the Eliot Quartets, 'Chard Whitlow', are imperishable items in the repertoire of post-war anthologies.

The narratives grew out of Reed's chronic failure to get to grips with a long projected life of Thomas Hardy. The hapless biographer in A Very Great Man is called Herbert Reeve, though the people he meets in the course of his researches very often get this wrong and call him Reeves, Treves or even Breve. As in Toytown the characters are amiable, grotesque, recognisable, the two principal figures being General Gland, the foot fetishist and bell fancier, who in moments of stress pronounces 'd' as 'b' (e.g. 'Breadful!') and the composeress Hilda Tablet whose 'musique concrete renforcee' is the talk of the avant-garde. The General's portrait, painted in the nude by R. Bunnington Benningfield ARA hangs in his hall. 'Breadfully realistic, isn't it?' asks the General glumly, as he shows it to Reeve, 'apart from being fourteen feet high, of course.' Hilda's nine-act opera Emily Butter is set in a department store and on the first night at Covent Garden the curtain finally comes down in the small hours of the morning.

Reed made these figures, and many others, sound like your own relatives, a gift he shared with S.G. Hulme Beaman, creator of Toytown, and with the great Beachcomber, and with Lewis Carroll. Reed was a melancholy recluse, and I would meet him from time to time at the Savile Club where he would listen to my enthusiastic prattle about a work which I still feel is the one wholly original contribution made by radio to the canon of English humorous letters. Reed was pleased enough with this succès d'estime and knew how much he owed to the craft of Douglas Cleverdon who was the producer, and to the sensitivity of such actors as Derek Guyler (creator of General Gland, and also of a minor character, Mr Gabriel Hall Pollock, the music critic, whose glottal pronunciation of the word 'beauty' was much prized), Mary O'Farrell (Hilda) and Hugh Burden (Herbert Reeve). But this saturnine figure was never cheerful, and as men left the Club to catch their last train, he would wander off to his bachelor apartment in Montagu Street, expecting (I always thought) the worst. One night before he left he wrote out a verse for me a verse he had dreamt:
Whenever Waterson saw something of interest or note,
He sate down at once about it, and to his grandmother wrote:
'You should have seen this thing, it is the kind of thing I like.
I saw it today, from my bike.'
The two Pound letters, and the verse that Henry Reed dreamt, are true relics to me. And like true relics, cannot be reduced or explained.
Here is an obituary and remembrance of Robinson, from 2011.

1533. Friend-Periera, F.J. "Four Poets," Some Recent Books, New Review 23, no. 128 (June 1946), 482-484 [482].
A short review calls A Map of Verona more pretentious than C.C. Abbott's The Sand Castle; influenced by Eliot, Auden, MacNeice, and Day Lewis.

At long last — and long sought-after — David Lodge's 1983 documentary on Birmingham writers in the 1930s, "As I Was Walking Down Bristol Street," is available online, in its entirety. Lodge, an author and critic, was Professor of English Literature at the University of Birmingham from 1976 until 1987.

The film gives a short history of the authors who made up the Birmingham Group, primarily Walter Allen, Walter Brierley, Leslie Halward, John Hampson, Reggie Smith, and by association, Louis MacNeice and W.H. Auden. Allen and Smith, both old school chums of Henry Reed from Edward VI Grammar School, Aston (and later at university) give interviews for the film.

A highlight is the story how of Auden would introduce his heterosexual friend: "This is Reggie Smith. He's not one of us, my dear, but we have hopes for him."

Henry Reed is mentioned by Smith at around the 23-minute mark, in a famous anecdote regarding Louis MacNeice's farewell party, when he was leaving Birmingham University for Bedford College, in 1936. Smith recalls:

"That was where Henry Reed nearly had his arse burnt off because somebody — well it wasn't somebody, it was the director from the Group Theater [Rupert Doone] — who got himself into a great state of anguish because he'd just done — he was talking to professor Dodds, this big man was explaining to him that he always saw it as a "fountain of blood, you see an idea: I see it as a fountain of blood" [for a production of MacNeice's Agamemnon] and Dodds said 'you'd find that a bit difficult perhaps to put on the stage' and he got very hurt at that suggestion and said 'I don't care' and threw his vodka into the fire which leapt out, like a flame, and burnt the backside of Henry Reed, who was minding his own business at the fireside. But it's a party that went on for days and days."

The film has Lodge in MacNeice's former flat above the coach house at Highfield, Selly Park, where the legendary party took place.

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1532. Vallette, Jacques. "Grand-Bretagne," Mercure de France, no. 1001 (1 January 1947): 157-158.
A contemporary French language review of Reed's A Map of Verona.

Re-entering the time machine that is the British Newspaper Archive, I have turned up another couple of early book reviews by Henry Reed, in his hometown Birmingham Post during 1944 and 1945. Here, Reed reviews the posthumously published "last" poems by Laurence Binyon (December 27, 1944, p. 2), including the titular "The Burning of the Leaves," written during the London Blitz:
"They will come again, the leaf and the flower, to arise
From squalor of rottenness into the old splendour.
And magical scents to a wondering memory bring;
The same glory, to shine upon different eyes.
Earth cares for her own ruins, naught for ours.
Nothing is certain, only the certain spring."
Interestingly here, Reed refers to the ongoing war as "a second Great War": a war he was still enduring in 1944, working in the Japanese section of Bletchley Park.

Book review


Binyon's Last Poems

The Burning of the Leaves. By
Laurence Binyon. (Macmillan. 2s.)
By Henry Reed

Some enterprising readers will already know the five poems which give this superb little book its title; they appeared in "Horizon" in October, 1942, under the title of "The Ruins." Some will also know the exquisite "Winter Sunrise," which appeared in the "Observer" shortly after Binyon's death. This book includes variant readings for "The Burning of the the Leaves," and a draft, including some fragmentary passages, of the unfinished next section of "Winter Sunrise." Binyon's habit in composing, we are told in a foreword, "was to start by jotting down isolated lines or parts of a line and to cover pages with these, repeating, correcting, expanding and revising, and so gradually shaping the whole poem." It is always interesting to see how different poets work; when the poet has Binyon's sincerity and feeling and power over words, this becomes a most moving experience.

"The Burning of the Leaves" is among the most beautiful of modern poems. It is a tragic poem, for the war—a second Great War—provides its background; but it has classical control and mastery, a magical use of its imagery, and a calm finality which, among contemporary poets, are to be found elsewhere only in Mr. T. S. Eliot's latest poems. There are other poems in the book which few readers can fail to love: "The Cherry Trees" and "The Orchard" have a perfect clarity, delicacy and lightness which show something of what Binyon learned from the Orient.

«  Binyon Reviews Poetry  0  »

1531. Henderson, Philip. "English Poetry Since 1946." British Book News 117 (May 1950), 295.
Reed's A Map of Verona is mentioned in a survey of the previous five years of English poetry.

1st lesson:

Reed, Henry (1914-1986). Born: Birmingham, England, 22 February 1914; died: London, 8 December 1986.

Education: MA, University of Birmingham, 1936. Served: RAOC, 1941-42; Foreign Office, Bletchley Park, 1942-1945. Freelance writer: BBC Features Department, 1945-1980.

Author of: A Map of Verona: Poems (1946)
The Novel Since 1939 (1946)
Moby Dick: A Play for Radio from Herman Melville's Novel (1947)
Lessons of the War (1970)
Hilda Tablet and Others: Four Pieces for Radio (1971)
The Streets of Pompeii and Other Plays for Radio (1971)
Collected Poems (1991, 2007)
The Auction Sale (2006)



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