Biography of Henry Reed
Henry Reed was a British poet, translator, radio dramatist and journalist.
He was born in Birmingham and educated at King Edward VI School, Aston, followed by the University of Birmingham. At university he associated with W. H. Auden, Louis MacNeice and Walter Allen. He went on to study for an MA and then worked as a teacher and journalist. He was called up to the Army in 1941, spending most of the war as a Japanese translator.
After the war he worked for the BBC as a radio broadcaster and playwright, where his most memorable set of productions was the Hilda Tablet series in the 1950s. The series started with A Very Great Man Indeed, which purported to be a documentary about the research for a biography of a dead poet and novelist called Richard Shewin. This drew in part on Reed's own experience of researching a biography of the novelist Thomas Hardy. However, the 'twelve-tone composeress' Hilda Tablet, a friend of the late Richard Shewin, became the most interesting character in the play; and in the next play, she persuades the biographer to change the subject of the biography to her - telling him "not more than twelve volumes". Dame Hilda, as she later became, was based partly on Ethel Smyth and partly on Elisabeth Lutyens (who was not pleased, and considered legal action).
Reed's most famous poem is Lessons of the War, a witty parody of British army basic training during World War II, which suffered from a lack of equipment at that time. Originally published in New Statesman and Nation (August 1942), the series was later published in A Map of Verona in 1946, and was his only collection to be published within his lifetime. Another anthologised poem is Chard Whitlow, a clever satire of T. S. Eliot's Burnt Norton. Eliot himself was amused by Chard Whitlow's mournful imitations of himself ("As we get older we do not get any younger ...").
Unfortunately for Reed he was forever being confused with the much better known Sir Herbert Read; the two men were unrelated. Reed responded to this confusion by naming his alter ego biographer in the Hilda Tablet plays "Herbert Reeve" and then by having everyone else get the name slightly wrong.
The Papers of Henry Reed are kept safe at the University of Birmingham Special Collections
Henry Reed's Works:
The Auction Sale
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Henry Reed Poems
Naming of Parts
Today we have naming of parts. Yesterday, We had daily cleaning. And tomorrow morning, We shall have what to do after firing. But today, Today we have naming of parts. Japonica
Lessons of the War
To Alan Michell Vixi duellis nuper idoneus Et militavi non sine gloria
Not only how far away, but the way that you say it Is very important. Perhaps You may never get The knack of judging a distance, but at least you know How to report on a landscape: the central sector,
The Door and the Window
My love, you are timely come, let me lie by your heart. For waking in the dark this morning, I woke to that mystery, Which we can all wake to, at some dark time or another: Waking to find the room not as I thought it was,
The Auction Sale
Within the great grey flapping tent The damp crowd stood or stamped about; And some came in, and some went out To drink the moist November air;
In due course of course you will all be issued with Your proper issue; but until tomorrow, You can hardly be said to need it; and until that time, We shall have unarmed combat. I shall teach you.
(Mr. Eliot's Sunday Evening Postscript) As we get older we do not get any younger. Seasons return, and to-day I am fifty-five,
This above all remember: they will be very brave men, And you will be facing them. You must not despise them. I am, as you know, like all true professional soldiers,
A Map of Verona
Quelle belle heure, quels bons bras me rendront ces régions d'où mes sommeils et mes moindres mouvements?
My thoughts, like sailors becalmed in Cape Town harbor, Await your return, like a favorable wind, or like New tackle for the voyage, without which it is useless starting. We watch the sea daily, finish our daily tasks
Look, my love, on the wall, and here, at this Eastern picture. How still its scene, and neither of sleep nor waking: No shadow falls from the tree or the golden mountain, The boats on the glassy lake have no reflection,
Returning of Issue
Tomorrow will be your last day here. Someone is speaking: A familiar voice, speaking again at all of us. And beyond the windows— it is inside now, and autumn— On a wind growing daily harsher, small things to the earth
Movement of Bodies
Those of you that have got through the rest, I am going to rapidly Devote a little time to showing you, those that can master it, A few ideas about tactics, which must not be confused With what we call strategy. Tactics is merely
My thoughts, like sailors becalmed in Cape Town harbor,
Await your return, like a favorable wind, or like
New tackle for the voyage, without which it is useless starting.
We watch the sea daily, finish our daily tasks
By ten in the morning, and with the day to waste,
Wander through the suburbs, with quiet thoughts of the brothels,
And sometimes thoughts of the churches.
In the eating-houses we always contrive to get near to