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
Read "Naming of Parts
The Heat of the Day: In wartime London, a woman finds herself caught between two men.
Cold Comfort Farm: Sensible Flora Poste moves in with her eccentric country relatives.
The Dog Stars: A man, his dog, and an airplane survive an apocalyptic flu.
Posts from July 2010
Here's a customized Google Map providing interactive literary landmarks for Birmingham, England, during the 1930s, which intersects nicely in several places with our own map of Henry Reed's life
. This map appears to have been created in conjunction with a recent screening
of As I Was Walking Down Bristol Street
(1983), a short documentary film on the Birmingham Group of writers and artists.
More detailed information about the places and people described is provided on mike in mono's blog
, with spectacular posts on the authors Walter Allen
and John Hampson
; Gordon Herickx
, the sculptor; the Highfield estate
(Louis MacNeice lived in a flat above the coachhouse while he was a professor at the University of Birmingham); and Professor E.R. Dodds
1508. Birmingham Post, Obituary for Henry Reed. 10 December 1986.
Reed's obituary in the Birmingham Post.
When I was looking up sources for my previous post on the breaking of Japanese naval codes
at Bletchley Park, I stumbled upon an excerpt from a poem by Patrick Wilkinson
(1907-1985), a Vice-Provost of King's College and Horace scholar, who had been part of the Italian Naval Section at Bletchley.
In the book Diplomacy and Intelligence During the Second World War: Essays in Honour of F.H. Hinsley
(Langhorne, ed. Cambridge University Press, 2004), Christopher Andrew quotes a poem by Wilkinson, "The Other Side," which he describes as an "epic wartime poem" in which the denizens of Bletchley Park are "transformed into the heavenly host." The book is a collection of essays in honor of Harry Hinsley
, who studied traffic analysis of German intercepts at Bletchley, was instrumental in the Allied effort to capture Enigma codebooks from enemy weather ships, and later became an historian of British wartime intelligence. Wilkinson wrote:
Wings of all colours from their shoulders grew
From ADCOCK-pink to heavenly LUCAS-blue,
A dazzling sight. On Mrs. EDWARDS' head
There beamed a halo of unearthly red;
STRACHEY'S was black and of stupendous size,
But for extension HINSLEY'S took the prize.
A footnote explains that "[Frank] Adcock
had a very pink face; F.L. Lucas
, another King's classicist, always wore a sky-blue jackets. Oliver Strachey
, brother of Lytton and a founder member of GC & CS, wore a broad-brimmed black hat." (Apologies for the profusion of Wikipedia links in this post. I assure you, they are solely for my benefit, not yours!) "Mrs. Edwards" may be Professor Eve Edwards, in charge of the Japanese courses at the School of Oriental and African Studies during the war.
Aside from this one stanza, the only additional mention of the poem I can find is in a review of Hinsley and Stripp's Codebreakers
(Oxford University Press, 1993), in which Noel Annan
complains, "Why was not Patrick Wilkinson's droll account of the gaiety, the jokes, the scorn for the 'Other Side' ie, the spy-masters published?" Why indeed, when it would seem to be such a unique and colorful perspective of the staff and inner-workings of Bletchley?
I'm still looking for the "Ode to Colossus" mentioned in the General Report on Tunny
1507. Daily Telegraph, Obituary for Henry Reed. 10 December 1986.
Reed's obituary in the Telegraph.
(from the Hindi word for "elephant") is an enormous online repository, a partnership committed to archiving and sharing the collections of nearly 30 university libraries' content, digitized for Google Book Search and the Internet Archive. The collaboration currently includes the University of California system, the University of Chicago, Columbia University, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, and Michigan State, the University of Minnesota, the New York Public Library, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, the University of Virginia, and Wisconsin. Thus far they have scanned an amazing total of 6,268,067 volumes: 3,677,339 book titles, and 147,898 serial titles. It's an armchair researcher's dream.
Member libraries have full access to the scanned books, but visitors can still search the catalog and receive page references for the appearance of keywords in the full-text, and even some full view titles (see, for example, John Lehmann's 1960 autobiography, I Am My Brother
). I've been poking around, looking for references to Henry Reed
. To my surprise, I actually turned up a book with a whole 6-page section devoted to Reed, in Bruce K. Martin's British Poetry Since 1939
(Boston: Twayne, 1985), necessitating a trip to town to track down a copy at VCU's James Branch Cabell Library
In the chapter "Poetry in Wartime: Douglas, Lewis, and Reed
," Martin surveys Reed's only volume of poetry, and finds "it is difficult to discern in the mere twenty-four poems making up A Map of Verona
any pervasive ideology," though "even the least interesting of Reed's pieces combines a delicacy of tone and prosodic caution generally absent from the work of his contemporaries in uniform writing more realistically" (p. 41).
Furthermore, he sees Reed's tendency toward extended monologue as a natural prelude to his freelance career writing for the BBC: "Reed's less distinguished poems further suggest his gravitation toward dramatic characterization, a trend wholly realized in his later career as a distinguished writer of dramas and radio plays."
While we may regret that Reed has written few poems since the publication of A Map of Verona
, his decision to shift his attention as a writer appears in retrospect a most logical and plausible outcome of developments evident in his poetry. Clearly he was moving toward something like drama, as his poetry increasingly came to resemble spoken words determined by the specifics of personality, time, and place. In this Reed resembles Keith Douglas and Alun Lewis, as well as many other wartime poets, for he ultimately shows a distrust of the large-scale statement, empty rhetoric, and vague romanticism that had infected English poetry during the thirties and early forties. That Reed's own solution to such a dilemma was unique makes him no less a representative figure.
One minor point: Martin describes the instructor's exhortation in "Unarmed Combat
" that "The readiness is all" as an "unwitting allusion to Lear
" (p. 43), referring to Edgar's pronouncement: "Men must endure / Their going hence, even as their coming hither; / Ripeness is all: come on" (Act V, scene ii
). Looking to Hamlet
, however, we find the Prince of Denmark telling Horatio, directly:
Not a whit, we defy augury: there's a special
providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now,
'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be
now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the
readiness is all: since no man has aught of what he
leaves, what is't to leave betimes?
1506. MacGregor-Hastie, Roy. "The Poet in His Workshop: No 4—The Great Unclassified." Arena 48 (March 1958): 10-13 [12-13].
MacGregor-Hastie shows great respect for Reed in this series on the state of poetry (but little regard for the poets of the 'Thirties).
Henry Reed spoke Japanese. Yet, as far as I know, he never hints at this particular skill in any of his poems, prose writing, or the scripts for his radio plays. The fact, however contradictory, remains. Henry Reed was a Japanese linguist for the latter part of World War II.
This is repeated in several places, the genesis of which appears to be Reed's obituary in the Times
of December 9, 1986:
Called up in 1941, he served'or rather,' he himself wrote, 'studied'in the Army, until 1942 when he was seconded to Naval Intelligence at Bletchley. The 'studied' is perhaps explained by the crash-course he underwent in Japanese, and he served out the rest of the war teaching that language to Wrens.
The quotations are from Reed's self-scribed entry for Who's Who
. There seemed to be few sources which could illuminate this period in Reed's life, considering the secrecy surrounding the codebreaking efforts at Bletchley Park during the war. Then suddenly, quite recently, there materialized an article in the most unlikely place, Significance
, the journal of the Royal Statistical Society: "Edward Simpson: Bayes at Bletchley Park
" (June 2010, pp. 76-80), a memoir concerning the implementation of Bayes' Theorem in cracking the Japanese JN-25 and German Enigma codes, by the statistician Edward H. Simpson
. "[H]ere, because I know it at first hand," Simpson says, "I describe the use made of Bayes in the cryptanalytic attack on the main Japanese Naval cipher JN 25 in 1943-1945, by the team in Block B which I led." This definitely raised my interest, for we know from the Bletchley Personnel Master List
that Reed was assigned to Block B, Naval, for at least part of the war.
Unlike the German Enigma code, famously enciphered on the eponymous machine, the JN-25 code used by the Japanese Navy utilized a pre-selected vocabulary in printed codebooks, with corresponding values of five-digit numbers to be substituted for the words being transmitted. A bit of tricky addition then took place, resulting in a very secure coded message (albeit with a fatally exploitable flaw).
For an overview of the mathematics Simpson describes being utilized in breaking the Japanese code, you can read John Graham-Cumming's (author of O'Reilly's Geek Atlas
) blog post, "Bayes, Bletchley, JN-25 and a 'Modern' Optimization
." What grabbed my attention, however, wasn't the inscrutable math, but Simpson's colorful anecdotes of wartime life at Bletchley Park, and the great "diversity of minds" working (and playing) together:
Off-duty we mixed freely. With almost no contact with the people of Bletchley and the surrounding villages, and most of us far from our families, we were a very inward-looking society. All the civilian men (except for some of the most senior) had to serve in the Bletchley Park Company of the Home Guard: this was a great mixer and leveller. On the intellectual side, chess was probably the most glittering circle, with Hugh Alexander, Harry Golombek and Stuart Milner-Barry at its centre...[.] There was music of high quality. Myra Hess visited to give a recital. Performances mounted from within the staff included 'Dido and Aeneas', Brian Augardeís jazz quintet and several satirical revues. A group of us went often by train and bicycle to the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon. Scottish country dancing flourished. The Hall, which was built outside the perimeter security fence so that Bletchley people could use it too, provided for dances as well as the performances and a cinema. One memorable occasion was the showing of Munchhausen
, in colour (probably the first colour film that most of us had seen) and in German without subtitles. I heard no explanation of how it came to be at Bletchley Park. I doubt that it was through the normal distribution channels.
Simpson concludes (after much elaboration on letter frequency, probability, alignments, and Bayes factors) with a few reminiscences on where staff went after the war, including:
Henry Reed, a Japanese linguist while in our JN 25 team, went back to poetry, radio plays and the BBC. His 'The Naming of Parts', which has been called 'the best-loved and most anthologised poem of the Second World War', voices his reflections while serving in the Bletchley Park Home Guard.
How, exactly, did Henry Reeda Classics scholar fluent in Italian and French, who had taught himself Greek in grammar schoolbecome a linguist on Edward Simpson's Japanese Naval team? Reed had been sent up from the Royal Army Ordnance Corps in 1942, to translate Italian intercepts at Bletchley Park. Following Italy's surrender in September 1943, the bulk of Bletchley's Italian section was absorbed into the Japanese teams. This required that Reed take (or be forcibly given
) an intensive, six-month "crash-course" in Japanese. The Japanese course was the brainchild of Col. John Tiltman
, who had challenged a retired Naval officer, Capt. Oswald Tuck
, to create and head the Bedford Japanese School
. Eleven such courses were given in Bedford between 1942 and 1945, beginning in rooms above the Gas Company showroom in Ardor House (under the watchful eye of Mr. Therm
), on the corner of The Broadway and Dame Alice Street (opposite the statue of John Bunyan), moved to a house at 7 St. Andrews Road, before finally settling in at 52 De Parys Avenue
. Of the 255 students rushed through the school, only nine failed to pass.
Bernard Keefe recollects, in The Emperor's Codes: The Breaking of Japan's Secret Ciphers
(Smith, ed., 2001):
The Japanese course was held in a large house in De Parys Avenue, Bedford. We lived in digs. As you entered the house the Japanese course was on the left and a codebreaking course on the right. We knew each other, of course; one of the code-boys was Robert Pitman, a passionate lefty who turned into a right-wing columnist for the Daily Express.
But even at that stage it was remarkable that we didn't discuss each other's activities. I was interested in music and had started singing as a baritone at school. Bedford was like musical heaven, because the BBC Symphony Orchestra had been evacuated there, giving broadcasts from Bedford School Hall, or from the Corn Exchange, and added to that were shows by Glenn Miller and his US Army Air Force Band.
similarly describes attending the fifth Japanese coursebetween August, 1943 and February, 1944in his book, Codebreaker in the Far East
The course was held in a large room in a detached house in De Parys Avenue, a tree-lined road not far from the town centre. There were about 35 on the course, including two girls, all of us aged about 18 or 19, and most from university Classics courses. We eyed each other sheepishly. We realised later how sensible the intelligence service had been in choosing classicists and a few other dead-language studentsfor example embryonic theologians working in Aramaicfor these courses in written Japanese, and modem linguists, more accustomed to spoken languages, for spoken Japanese. If the legends are true of chefs being retrained as electricians for the Army, while electricians were turned into chefs, this was no mean achievement.
We had two instructors. The first was Oswald Tuck, a retired naval captain in his sixties, who had been persuaded to teach the first course, starting in February 1942. A bearded, spectacled, quiet and benevolent man, he had taught himself Japanese nearly forty years before, and was now in his element teaching it to others. The other was Eric Ceadel, another classicist and a student on that first course; quick, cool, lucid and methodical. Inevitably he became known as 'Chūi', the Japanese for lieutenant. Later they were helped by David Hawkes.
We worked every weekday, with just enough time at coffee and lunch breaks to prevent our going stale. Most evenings and weekends were needed to learn the language and above all to memorise the characters...[.]
Many of us were music-lovers; I learned much later that chess, crossword puzzles and music had long been considered pointers to a possible proficiency in codebreaking. Several played instruments, and I believe Michael Herzig was the accomplished horn-player whose arpeggios from the Mozart concerto finales often formed fanfares for the start of our classes. We were lucky in having the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the BBC Singers evacuated to Bedford and we could often get passes for the orchestral rehearsals; I remember sitting in while Henry Holst was the soloist in the Walton violin concerto, and realising for the first time that if you can sit behind the orchestra you can learn much more than from in front. One evening we persuaded Sir Adrian Boult to give an informal talk about conducting.
(He may not have enjoyed quite as much musical entertainment as Keefe and Stripp, if Reed was still billeted in or around Milton Keynes during this time, but we may see evidence of his connections to the BBC, with so much broadcasting from Bedford taking place.)
Stripp also provides an interesting observation in a book co-edited with F.H. Hinsley, Codebreakers: The Inside Story of Bletchley Park
(1993), one of the best resources on British codebreaking during World War II:
A colleague has pointed out that we finished the course with a wide inter-service vocabulary (advance, submarine, aircraft-carrier, independent mixed brigade, commander-in-chief, and the like) but never learnt the Japanese words for 'you' and 'me'. Absurd as this could be for orthodox students, it made good sense for us. Personal pronouns rarely appear in army, navy, or air force signals nor in captured documents, all of which normally take the form of reports, requests, or orders.
This may provide at least a partial answer as to why there is no evidence of a working knowledge of Japanese in any of Henry Reed's writing: what use is any language to a lyric poet, lacking the words for "you" or "I"?
There still remains the question of the mention in his obituary of Reed having spent the remainder of the war teaching Japanese to members of the Women's Royal Naval Service
(Wrens). The urtext, and final word, comes from the most reliable of witnesses: Reed's friend and fellow Brummie, the novelist Walter Allen
. In his 1981 autobiography, As I Walked Down New Grub Street
, Allen speaks of visiting Reed in Dorset; of Reed working on his life of Hardy"the
life of Hardy"even as late as 1971; of Reed frequently traveling to London for theatre, opera, and ballet (especially ballet), after the war. Allen begins:
Henry Reed had been demobilised from Intelligence, whither he had been seconded from the Army. Among other things, he had learnt Japanese, which in turn he had taught to Wrens. He intended, he said, to devote every day for the rest of his life to forgetting another word of Japanese.
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.'
I see the Google Street View car has been busy, snapping new pictures of locations across the U.K., from verge and curb. A few of these places are pertinent to our aims, such as Henry Reed's unassuming childhood home, in New Street, Erdington
. Also in Erdington, along the High Street, is the former Church House
(now a Savers
, "Where the Smart Shopper Shops," I'm sorry to say), where Henry Reed first took to the stage, with the Highbury Players
, in the early 1930s. Over in Bedford, we catch a glimpse the house in De Parys Avenue
, where, from September 1943 through February 1944, following Italy's surrender, Reed attended a course at the Japanese Code School
organized by the Inter-Service Special Intelligence School, as part of Bletchley Park's codebreaking efforts.
A whole gaggle of places turn up now in Dorset, including the front gate to Thomas Hardy's home, Max Gate
, in Dorchester, where Reed paid a call on Hardy's widow in the autumn of 1936, while he was still hoping to produce a biography of his hero. Then, we arrive outside Yetminster's stately, 17th-century Gable Court
, where Reed spent a very productive year between 1949 and 1950, until he moved to London. It was while at Gable Court (currently listed as "Milford House" at British Listed Buildings
online, but the sign on the gate clearly still says "Gable Court," today) that Reed wrote his radio dramas based on the life of the Italian poet and philosopher, Giacomo Leopardi
: The Unblest
(first broadcast May 9, 1949), and The Monument
(March 7, 1950).
Best of all, Google Street View actually helped me resolve a minor detail: the exact location of Lovell's Farm
(click the minus "-" sign to zoom out) in Marnhull, which I simply could not seem to place.
Reed, accompanied by Michael Ramsbotham, rented this ample farmhouse after World War II, from as early as August or September, 1946, until possibly as late as their move to Gable Court, in early 1949. There, according to Jon Stallworthy's introduction to the Collected Poems
, while Ramsbotham worked on a novel (perhaps The Parish of Long Trister
), Henry Reed researched his never-completed Hardy biography, wrote book reviews for The Listener
, and occasionally traveled to London to give literary and literate talks on the BBC's Third Programme. His first full-length play for the BBC, a radio adaptation of Moby Dick
, was most likely completed at Lovell's Farm, being broadcast on January 26, 1947. When the play was published later that year, Reed's Preface
was signed from Marnhull.
I never would have found the farm, but for the detailed description in An Inventory of Historical Monuments in the County of Dorset
(1970), which allowed me to pinpoint it in Google Maps' aerial view. Even in dry, planed-and-sanded language, the house sounds absolutely heavenly:
LOVELL'S FARM (77511938), 1,000 yds. N.W. of the church [St. Gregory's
], is of two storeys with dormer-windowed attics; it has walls of coursed rubble with ashlar dressings, and roofs of tiles and stone-slates. The S. range has a symmetrical S. front and is probably of the 17th century. It was extended to the E. in the 18th century and a wing was built northwards from the E. end of the extension early in the 19th century. The original part of the S. front has a rubble plinth and is of two bays with a central doorway; above the ground-floor window heads is a continuous weathered and hollow-chamfered string-course. The windows of both storeys are of three square-headed lights with recessed and beaded stone architraves and beaded mullions; the doorway surround is similar, with the addition of a fluted keystone. Over the doorway is a segmental wooden hood with a dentilled cornice and shaped brackets. The E. extension has neither plinth nor string and the window surrounds are of wood. The N. wing is of roughly coursed rubble, with tiled roofs with stone-slate verges; the windows are of wood. Projecting N. from the W. part of the original S. range is a gabled N.W. wing. It has wood-framed windows with 18th-century leaded iron casements on the ground and first floors; the attic window has modern casements; all these openings are spanned by long timber lintels. In the E. wall is a small circular first-floor window with a recessed ashlar surround and radial leaded glazing.
Inside, the room at the W. end of the original range has 18th-century fielded panelling, in two heights, with moulded dado rails and cornices. In a cupboard beside the 18th-century fireplace are preserved the chamfered stone jamb and continuous wooden bressummer of an open fireplace. S. of the fireplace is an external doorway, now blocked up and used as a cupboard. The partition between this room and the entrance vestibule is of plank-and-muntin construction with beaded edges. Several ground-floor rooms have deeply chamfered ceiling beams. A window pane has a scratching of 1738.
(v. 3, Pt. 2, "Central Dorset," p. 158)
After all my virtual driving around Marnhull, grinding gears going forwards and reversing, confirming the location was as simple as another search in British Listed Buildings
. I've also gathered some screenshots taken in Street View into a Flickr set
1504. Ludwig, Jennifer. "Lessons of the War: Henry Reed." In vol. 2, Literature of War: Experiences, edited by Thomas Riggs. Detroit, MI: St. James Press, 2012. 359-361.
A relatively lengthy assessment of Reed's influences, position, and the impact resulting from his famous sequence of poems, Lessons of the War.
(1914-1986). Born: Birmingham, England, 22 February 1914; died: London, 8
Education: MA, University of Birmingham, 1936. Served: RAOC
, 1941-42; Foreign Office, Bletchley Park, 1942-1945.
Freelance writer: BBC Features Department, 1945-1980.
A Map of Verona: Poems
The Novel Since 1939
Moby Dick: A Play for Radio from Herman Melville's Novel
Lessons of the War
Hilda Tablet and Others: Four Pieces for Radio
The Streets of Pompeii and Other Plays for Radio
The Auction Sale
Posts of note: