Henry Reed Analysis

Other literary forms

(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Most of Henry Reed’s work was in genres other than poetry. His first publication was a critical study, The Novel Since 1939 (1946), and he also translated Paride Rombi’s Perdu and His Father (1954) and Dino Buzzati’s Larger than Life (1962).

Mainly, however, Reed was a prolific creator of drama, especially radio plays. In particular, he enjoyed a fruitful literary relationship with the Italian language and the Italian playwright Ugo Betti, a number of whose works Reed translated and adapted for radio broadcast in London and for stage production in London and New York. His adaptations of Betti include The Queen and the Rebels, The Burnt Flower-Bed, and Summertime, all produced in London in 1955 and published as Three Plays (1956). Other adaptations of Betti were Island of Goats, produced in New York in 1955 and published as Crime on Goat Island (1955), and Corruption in the Palace of Justice, produced in New York in 1958. He also adapted Natalia Ginzburg’s play The Advertisement (1968) for production in London in 1968 and in New York in 1974. Reed’s most fruitful relationship, however, was with the British Broadcasting Corporation, for which he wrote or adapted some forty to fifty radio plays, including the previously mentioned works by Betti. Reed’s writing for radio began with Moby Dick: A Play for Radio from Herman Melville’s Novel (1947), brief lyric sections of which form the last part of Reed’s collection A Map of Verona.


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

In Britain, Henry Reed was perhaps better known for his radio plays and his adaptations of Ugo Betti than for his poetry, whereas in the United States, he was known almost exclusively for his poetry—or, more specifically, for “Naming of Parts” and “Judging Distances,” which originally appeared with a third poem (“Unarmed Combat”) under the general title “Lessons of the War.” Much anthologized for introductory literature courses, these two humorous lyrics emphasizing the futility of war have been read by possibly half the undergraduate population of the United States during the 1970’s and 1980’s. During the period of the Vietnam War especially, the two poems struck a responsive chord in the hearts of American college students. These two fine poems deserve the circulation they have achieved, but unfortunately the rest of Reed’s poetry is little known in the United States. His other work is even less known, except possibly among scholars of drama and Italian.

For a first collection of poetry, A Map of Verona maintains a remarkably high quality throughout, though it does not entirely escape the unevenness typical of first collections. For the sake of completeness and perhaps for its greater explicitness, the less-inspired third poem of the “Lessons of the War” group should be read. Among other poems that stand out and illustrate other aspects of Reed’s poetic talent are “A Map of Verona,” “The Door and the...

(The entire section is 414 words.)


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Beggs, James S. The Poetic Character of Henry Reed. Hull, Yorkshire, England: University of Hull Press, 1999. The only full-length study devoted to Reed’s life and works, this volume is enriched by information and insights Beggs obtained by interviewing two of Reed’s colleagues. While emphasizing analysis of the poetry, the volume also offers discussion of the major radio plays and translations.

Cleverdon, Douglas. “Henry Reed.” In Poets of Great Britain and Ireland, 1945-1960, edited by Vincent B. Sherry, Jr. Vol. 77 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale, 1984. A biographical and critical overview, emphasizing the technical qualities of the poetry and the verse dramas.

Drakakis, John, ed. British Radio Drama. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981. Contains an excellent chapter by Roger Savage that, although ultimately concerned with Reed’s radio plays, gives exceptional biographical information and makes numerous references to the poetry. It embraces Reed’s career and acknowledges his work as a poet, critic, translator, and dramatist. This introductory essay includes notes with references that are reviews of Reed’s work and some articles not necessarily concerning him directly.

Gunter, Liz, and Jim Linebarger. “Tone and Voice in Henry Reed’s ’Judging...

(The entire section is 414 words.)