Henry Reed was born in Birmingham on 22 February 1914 and educated at King Edward VI School and the University of Birmingham where he read classics and gained a first class degree. After leaving with an MA in 1936, he tried teaching but disliked it and decided instead to make his way as a freelance writer and critic. In 1941 Reed was conscripted into the Royal Army Ordnance Corps where he served until 1942 when he was transferred to the Government Code and Cipher School at Bletchley. He was first employed as a cryptographer in the Italian section before moving to the Japanese section, where he learned the language (which he disliked) and worked as a translator. His first poems were published in The Listener and New Statesman and he earned himself some minor fame by winning a 1941 New Statesman competition with a parody of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. He was de0mobbed on VJ Day 1945.
After the war Reed joined the BBC and by the 1950s was regarded as an important exponent of verse-drama. In 1964 he took a teaching post at the University of Washington in Seattle, which lasted for three years. In the early 1970s he published a number of translations from French and Italian dramas. The last decades of his life, however, as he turned to alcohol, were something of a downward slide. He died in 1986.
He is known primarily for one poem – The Naming of Parts – which Jon Stallworthy described as ‘the most famous English poem to emerge from World War II.’ This poem was originally published in New Statesman and Nation 24, no. 598 on 8 August 1942.
Henry Reed’s Poems:
Resources for Henry Reed
Jon Stallworthy, Collected Poems by Henry Reed, Oxford University Press, 1991.