Sir Herbert Edward Read (4 December 1893 – 12 June 1968) was an English anarchist, poet, and critic of literature and art. He was one of the earliest English writers to take notice of existentialism, and was strongly influenced by proto-existentialist thinker Max Stirner.
What is Poetry
- Poetry, we might say, is concerned with the truth of what is, not with what is truth.
- The poem, even when it has some predetermined pattern, must be wrought to some effect or finish that justifies the exclamation: This is a poem!.
- True poetry was never speech, but always song.
- A poem therefore is to be defined as a structure of words whose sound constitutes a rhythmical unity, complete in itself, irrefragable, unanalyzable, completing its symbolic references within the ambit of its sound effects.
- A poem is not a statement, but a manifestation, a manifestation of being.
- The words in a poem, (or more exactly, syllables) are vocal signs that convey an intangible essence (the pattern of feeling) that vanishes the moment we approach it with an analytical intelligence.
- The rhythm of a poem ceases the moment the feeling loses its intensity.
- The feeling (of intensity) held in a crystal cage, as an image, sealed and immortalized for our contemplation. Beauty in a wild foray, the form we have created, now, remote from the emotion we experienced.
- Essay in Collected Poems, Faber & Faber, London 1966
The Cult of Sincerity (1969)
- Sentir mon Cœur is a privilege only granted to the exceptional man—the one who has the ability to find words that exactly (or, to himself, convincingly) express his feelings. … The value of words help to define the feeling itself. … The common failure is to allow habitual words and phrases, flowing spontaneously from the memory, to determine and deform the feelings.
- p. 16
- Poetry is creative expression; Prose is constructive expression. … by creative I mean original. In Poetry the words are born or reborn in the act of thinking. … There is no time interval between the words and the thought when a real poet writes, both of them happen together, and both the thought and the word are Poetry.
- English Prose Style (1928)
- On ICA London:
- ‘Such is our ideal – not another museum, another bleak exhibition gallery, another classical building in which insulated and classified specimens of a culture are displayed for instruction, but an adult play-centre, a workshop where work is a joy, a source of vitality and daring experiment. We may be mocked for our naive idealism, but at least it will not be possible to say that an expiring civilisation perished without a creative protest.’ – Herbert Read, on the occasion of the opening of Forty Years of Modern Art, Feb. 1948
- I believe that the poet is necessarily an anarchist, and that he must oppose all organized conceptions of the State, not only those which we inherit from the past, but equally those which are imposed on people in the name of the future.
- Poetry and Anarchism (1938)
- The modern poet has no essential alliance with regular schemes of any sorts.He reserves the right to adapt his rhythm to his mood, to modulate his metre as he progresses. Far from seeking freedom and irresponsibility (implied by the unfortunate term free verse) he seeks a stricter discipline of exact concord of thought and feeling.
- Collected Essays in Literary Criticism (1938)
- War, as Rousseau pointed out long before Tolstoy took up the theme, only makes manifest events already determined by moral causes (Emile,Bk. IV). For this reason our main energies must be directed against the moral causes of war. Those moral causes lie within ourselves—and pacifists should not suppose for a moment that they are pure in heart in this respect.
- The Redempton of the Robot, Simon and Shuster, 1969.
- It is not my purpose as a poet to condemn war (or to be exact, modern warfare). I only wish to present the universal aspects of a particular event,
- Note appended to Read's poem The End of War 1933
- The great modern heresy in poetry is to confuse the use we make of words in a poem with modalities of speech...For true poetry is never speech but always a song.
- End Word Collected Poems (1966)
- Why do we forget our childhood? With rare exceptions we have no memory of our first four, five, or six years, and yet we have only to watch the development of our own children during this period to realize that these are precisely the most exciting, the most formative years of life. Schachtel’s theory is that our infantile experiences, so free, so uninhibited, are suppressed because they are incompatible with the conventions of an adult society which we call ‘civilized’. The infant is a savage and must be tamed, domesticated. The process is so gradual and so universal that only exceptionally will an individual child escape it, to become perhaps a genius, perhaps the selfish individual we call a criminal. The significance of this theory for the problem of sincerity in art (and in life) is that occasionally the veil of forgetfulness that hides our infant years is lifted and then we recover all the force and vitality that distinguished our first experiences—the ‘celestial joys’ of which Traherne speaks, when the eyes feast for the first time and insatiably on the beauties of God’s creation. Those childhood experiences, when we ‘enjoy the World aright’, are indeed sincere, and we may therefore say that we too are sincere when in later years we are able to recall these innocent sensations.
- pp. 16-17
- These are the sensations and feelings that are gradually blunted by education, staled by custom, rejected in favor of social conformity.
- [referring to the curiosity and sense of wonder of the child] p. 17
- Once we become conscious of a feeling and attempt to make a corresponding form, we are engaged in an activity which, far from being sincere, is prepared (as any artist if he is sincere will tell you) to moderate feelings to fit the form. The artist’s feeling for form is stronger than a formless feeling.
- p. 18
- The work of art ... is an instrument for tilling the human psyche, that it may continue to yield a harvest of vital beauty.
- p. 20