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

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«  Posts from 06 September 2007  »

Reeding Lessons: the Henry Reed research blog

23.10.2014


In early 1945, Henry Reed wrote a set of two articles for The Listener in which he took stock of the poetry produced during the Second World War: "Poetry in War Time." These essays are important for two reasons: first, because they offer a glimpse of Reed as an emerging critic, writing about his friends and influencers; and secondly because the criticism offered is absolutely contemporary, and written by a peer (or at least, a promising hopeful).

Many of Reed's finer poems were first published in journals before 1945, including "Sailor's Harbour," and "Chard Whitlow" (The New Statesman and Nation), "Chrysothemis," and "Philoctetes" (New Writing & Daylight), and "A Map of Verona" (The Listener). Reed, however, had only published a mere handful longer pieces of criticism prior to "Poetry in War Time": "The End of an Impulse" (on Auden, Spender, and Day-Lewis) in the summer of 1943, and critiques of Edith Sitwell and T.S. Eliot in 1944.

Cover of The Listener

The first of these two essays, "Poetry in War Time: I—The Older Poets" (.pdf), appeared in The Listener on January 18th, 1945. In it, Reed traces the influence of the French Symbolists on the great poets of his time, Eliot and Sitwell (whose work we have shown he was already intimate with, and comfortable speaking about), and their sway, in turn, on the older poets he considers most influential during the war: Edwin Muir, Louis MacNeice, and C. Day-Lewis:

The two poets of the 'thirties who have best succeeded in being also poets of the 'forties are Louis MacNeice and Cecil Day Lewis. They have always had great curiosity and initiative in exploring new musical possibilities for the lyric. Some of their earlier experiments do not wear well: the effects of MacNeice's 'The Sunlight on the Garden', for example, or some of the curious early poems of Day Lewis, where one finds the rhymes put at the four corners of a stanza like stones holding down a table-cloth at a breezy picnic. In MacNeice's Plant and Phantom and in his poems published since, flashy wantonness has all but disappeared. The final 'Cradle Song' in the volume is very haunting; and some of his later topical poems (for example 'Brother Fire') have shown an honesty and calmness of approach unusual in war-time verse.

Next, we'll continue with Part II of Reed's essays on poetry in war-time: "The Younger Poets."


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1505. Orwell, George. "Young Writers." Review of New Writing and Daylight (Summer 1943), edited by John Lehmann. Spectator (30 July 1943): 110.
Orwell says of "The End of an Impulse," Reed's criticism of the Auden-Spender school of poetry, 'Henry Reed's essay contains some valuable remarks on the dangers of group literature.'



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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