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Forster Talks to India

On the evening of December 24, 1944, the BBC Home Service broadcast an anthology of poetry called a "Poet's Christmas," with readings of new work by Laurie Lee, C. Day-Lewis, and Henry Reed. Reed's selection, "The Return," is a an allegory of remembrance and the Second Coming:
Remember on Christmas Eve, as you stand in the doorway there
And regard us as strangers, the forgotten love we bear,

And shall bear it always over the frozen snow
When the door is shut again, and once again we go.

The souls of the forgotten, for whom there is no repose
When the music begins again, and again the doors close,

For whom a thought of yours would come the length
Of a whole dark hemisphere to give us strength.
The "Poet's Christmas" was printed in The Listener on December 28, 1944 (.pdf). "The Return" was not entirely well-received by later critics, including G.D. Klingopulos, who called it 'facile and unfocussed' (Scrutiny, Summer 1946), and William Elton, who described it as a 'hurdy-gurdy of sentiment' (Poetry, June 1948). The Christmas Eve broadcast, however, drew the attention of none other than the novelist E.M. Forster, who composed a letter to Reed that very night in order to commend the poem. Two copies of Forster's letter exist: one in Forster's papers at King's College, Cambridge; the other with Reed's papers at the University of Birmingham. The letter is noted in Birmingham's description of the Papers of Henry Reed (Archives Hub):

Unfortunately, Reed did not keep the correspondence he received; although, interestingly, the collection does contain a photocopy of a letter written to Reed by E. M. Forster and praising Reed's poem The Return which was broadcast on BBC radio on Christmas Eve 1944. To have kept the letter Reed must have highly valued Forster's praise.

In the Collected Poems of Henry Reed, Jon Stallworthy provides the following annotation for "The Return," which quotes from Forster's letter:

E.M. Forster, hearing this Christmas Eve poem on the BBC Home Service on 24 December 1944, wrote to the author the same evening of the poem's connection with 'the idea that the only reality in human civilization is the unbroken sequence of people caring for one another: an idea, Forster said, which 'cannot be prettified into reciprocity or faithfulness, nor is there any such prettification in your poem'. A photocopy of Forster's holograph letter was preserved among HR's papers.
(p. 157)

I had long thought that this was the first (and only) notice Forster had taken of Reed, until the recent publication of a collection Forster's radio scripts, The BBC Talks of E.M. Forster, 1929-1960: A Selected Edition (Mary Lago, Linda K. Hughes, and Elizabeth MacLeod Walls, eds., University of Missouri Press, 2008).

BBC Talks of E.M. Forster

Between 1928 and 1963, E.M. Forster gave 145 talks for BBC radio, on literary topics ranging from Tolstoy's War and Peace, to contemporary Indian novelists writing in English. No fewer than 77 of Forster's talks were broadcast in India on the BBC's Eastern Transmission service. Forster, in fact, preferred the Overseas Services, as his talks were less subject to censorship (though still tightly controlled), and during the Second World War many of his India broadcasts were repeated in Africa, North America, and the Pacific (see B.J. Kirkpatrick's bibliography, "E.M. Forster's Broadcast Talks," Twentieth Century Literature 31, nos. 2-3, [Summer/Autumn 1985]: 329-341).

The BBC Talks reproduces the script of a wireless broadcast Forster gave as part of his monthly series "Some Books," in which he reviewed new books which would be of interest to English-speakers in India. Delivered on April 1, 1942, this particular review deviated from Forster's regular preference for prose, and was devoted to recent poetry. He recommends several new anthologies: The Little Book of Modern Verse (Anne Ridler, ed., Faber and Faber, 1941); Modern Verse, 1900-1940 (Phyllis Jones, ed., Oxford University Press, 1941); The Best Poems of 1941 (Thomas Moult, ed., Johnathan Cape, 1942); and Poems from the Forces (Keidrych Rhys, ed., Routledge, 1941).

Additionally, Forster suggests, '[I]f you take in the BBC periodical "The Listener," be sure you read the poems which appear in its pages: they are usually poems by the youngest generation, and I shall quote from one of them — Henry Reed's "Map of Verona" in a moment' (p. 179). Forster reads from two poems: George Barker's "To Robert Owen" (1939), and then from "A Map of Verona," which first appeared in The Listener on March 12, 1942 (.pdf):

It is a subtle haunting dream which has nothing to do with the war or with any practible peace. It plays with the idea of a map of an unvisited city, which we brood over, and upon which our imagination feeds...[.]

He has visited Naples once, after similar brooding, and knows that a map of a city cannot reveal a city, but his thoughts are of Verona now, and all his talk envisages her, and leads towards her...[.]

The Verona of this poem is not an enemy town, in Mussolini's possession, but a city of the heart, a possession of the imagination. The poem is personal, and since poetry, whether written by the old or the young, should be an individual expression, I am glad to conclude with it.
(pp. 181-182)

There is an unfortunate but all-too-familiar postscript to this story. The notes for the April, 1942, "Some Books" broadcast indicate that the original typescript had the poem's author written as "Henry Green", and while Forster's BBC typist was known for making mistakes based on his handwriting, and Forster frequently improvised from his finished scripts, it seems unlikely the error was noticed before being aired. Forster even makes a point in his introduction that "Henry Green" is not to be confused with the critic, Herbert Read! Despite the misattribution, Forster's selection of Reed's poem is an estimable endorsement.

The BBC Talks of E.M. Forster was reviewed in The New York Review of Books, on August 14, 2008.

Add Notation:


Notation for "Forster Talks to India":
Allowed: <a> <em> <strong>
What is Henry Reed's first name?

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.

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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