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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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Henry Reed, ca. 1960


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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.


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«  A Call to Arms  »

Reeding Lessons: the Henry Reed research blog

17.12.2017


A Call to Arms

I was intrigued by mention, in the Wikipedia entry for "War poet," of an editorial which appeared in England before the outbreak of major hostilities during World War II. I looked it up this evening, and found the words still ring soundly true: a rallying cry for poets to champion human experience during troubling times. I reproduce it here, in full, knowing that Reed must have read these very words. From the Times Literary Supplement, 30 December 1939, 755:

TO THE POETS OF 1940
We review in this issue some collected poetry of 1939. What can the poets do with the year 1940, when the world seems to be threatened with a new Dark Age? Of one thing we can be certain: if, shocked by the suffering inflicted by nations in tumult, they fall into resignation or despair, and yearn only for the nothingness where lost man may find "what changeless vague of peace he can," then the Dark Age is assured. And that is true too if they try to make harmonies from hatreds or seek the salvation of man in political formulas labelled Left or Right.

This war has followed so close on the heels of the other that it conveys no sense of novelty to awaken the creative spirit. It has the forbidding aspect of an old foe. Consciousness has been struggling vainly to free itself from the mark of the last calamity, but our poetry continued to be permeated, in varying forms and degrees, with the memory and often with the mood of 1914-18. A quarter of a century of moral disquietude and revolt has not been accompanied by any clear conception of what new order should replace the old. Deliberately heedless, even defiant of ancient values, poetry receded and, but for some faithful hands, might have lost itself. It can no longer be argued that these were symptoms of an age of transition; there never was any other kind of age. Here we are faced with an undeniable repetition of history, with nothing original, nothing unique about it. What can the poets make of it in their explorations of reality? Is it possible to find in this convulsion not the cloud of a Dark Age but the dawn of another Renaissance?

The prospects are precarious, but not hopeless. The first shock of the war produced a paralysis of the poetical intelligence. Verses turned into tears. But already those who are concerned to keep poetry alive are adding their comment on where the world stands. England was long agonized by the ambitions of a conqueror at the beginning of the last century, which was prematurely outraged like our own. Yet it saw the quickening of a new spirit in English poetry comparable with the splendor of Elizabethan days. It is significant that the seventeenth century, plagued by civil war and religious and intellectual conflicts, also saw an abundant and distinguished poetic achievement in intimate response to the pace of life in days of stress and change. he last Was presented the spectacle of hundreds of young poets, in tune with the national will, first finding voice in the brutal fact that evil things were menacing their heritage. The resultant poetry was in the irony and pity of it, such as Wilfrid Owen's, or in the noble exultation of those who endured hardship and danger for an idea, such as Alan Seegar's [sic]. The same idea is at stakeóbecause the War was not finished. Civilization was granted an uneasy reprieve while the Philistine took breath. He is now reinvigorated and more desperate, and we are feeling the pulse of the same crisis.

Clearly wars and revolutions are destroying the old social order of the world. But we need not despair of the birth of a new and finer order. It is for the poets to sound the trumpet call. We see the warning in Germany and Russia of the way the arts decline when the paths of humanity are polluted by the predominance in every department of life of a cheap political idea. In those unhappy lands the creative faculty is extinguished. Here it is still watchful and alert, and it knows that this is its battle, its test. It will draw its spiritual ecstasy from this renewed assault on human dignity. Patriotism alone is not enough; but the promise of a renovated world, saved at last from the jackboots of violence, should be sufficient inspiration. The beauty of the new poetry will be in its integrity; it will be grave, positive and stark, because it is forced to look intently at the worst, but it will relate to the immediate, agonizing facts in universal terms. It may even find a programme for this immediacy. Poetry and religion have an eternal alliance, though for too long it has been unacknowledged. Religion is an organizing force with an intensity of purpose more clarifying and constructive than human reason, which in these sad days is suspect. Poetry, "the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge," hand in hand with religion can exercise a magnetism to keep hope alive and in movement. The monstrous threat to belief and freedom which we are fighting should urge new psalmists to fresh songs of deliverance.

Update: More on the Times Literary Supplement's role in wartime England is available at the TLS Centenary Archive. (Thanks, Bruce!)

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What is Henry Reed's first name?

1513. Hodge, Alan. "Thunder on the Right." Tribune (London), 14 June 1946, 15.
Hodge finds 'dry charm as well as quiet wit' in "Judging Distances," but overall feels Reed is 'diffuse and not sufficiently accomplished.'



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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