James Reeves (writer)

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John Morris Reeves (1 July 1909 – 1 May 1978) was a British writer known as James Reeves principally known for his poetry, plays and contributions to children's literature and the literature of collected traditional songs. His published books include poetry, stories and anthologies for both adults and children. He was also well known as a literary critic and broadcaster.[1]


He was the son of Albert Reeves, an accountant, and Ethel Blenche, who was the daughter of a school mistress from Yarm in North East England - they met while on holiday in Switzerland. Subsequently they lived in Nottinghamshire where they had two children, David and John, who later changed his name to James. He was born in Harrow, and educated at Stowe School and at Jesus College, Cambridge,[2] where he read English and co-founded with Jacob Bronowski the literary magazine Experiment.[3]

He began his writing career as a poet in 1936, and in 1945 turned his attention to writing for young readers. His first book of poems for children, The Wandering Moon, appeared in 1950, illustrated by Edward Ardizzone, with whom Reeves sustained a lifelong friendship and collaboration.[1] Reeves worked as a teacher until 1952, when his failing eyesight forced him to retire and he became a full-time writer and editor.[3]

He was close to Laura Riding for a time, being successor to Jacob Bronowski as editor of Epilogue: a critical summary.[4] He was also an editor of some of the works of Robert Graves. His prose work for children commenced in 1956 and included short stories. "His real achievement, however, lies in his poetry, which is generally regarded as the best British 'serious' children's verse since Walter de la Mare - though the poems are usually far from serious in subject-matter."[5]

Selected works[edit]

  • Songs for Sixpence (1929), editor
  • The Natural Need (1936, Seizin Press), poems
  • The Imprisoned Sea (Editions Poetry London, 1949), poems
  • The Wandering Moon (Heinemann, 1950), poems, with illustrations by Edward Ardizzone
  • The Snitterjipe
  • A Golden Land (Constable, 1958) editor
  • The Talking Skull (Heinemann, 1958), poems
  • The Idiom of the People: English traditional verse (1958) folk songs collected by Sabine Baring-Gould, H. E. D. Hammond & George B. Gardiner
  • Collected Poems 1929-1959 (1960)
  • The Everlasting Circle: English traditional verse (Heinemann, 1960) folk songs collected by Cecil Sharp
  • Georgian Verse (1962), editor
  • The Questioning Tiger (1964), poems
  • Selected Poems (Allison & Busby, 1967)
  • The Christmas Book (1968), with Raymond Briggs
  • The Cold Flame (1967), children's novel based on a Grimm fairy tale
  • Understanding Poetry (1967)
  • Commitment to Poetry (1969)
  • Inside Poetry, with Martin Seymour-Smith (1970)
  • Maildun the Voyager (1971), historical novel
  • Poems and Paraphrases (1972)
  • Complete Poems for Children, illustrated by Edward Ardizzone (Faber, 1973)
  • A Vein of Mockery: Twentieth-century Verse (1973)
  • The Forbidden Forest (William Heinemann, 1973)
  • Collected Poems 1929-1974 (1974)
  • More Prefabulous Animiles (1975), poems, with illustrations by Edward Ardizzone
  • The Reputation and Writings of Alexander Pope (1976)
  • The Closed Door (The Gruffyground Press, 1977), poems
  • Arcadian Ballads (Whittington Press, 1978), poems
  • The Sea
  • Explores
  • Underground
  • The Old Wife and The Ghost


  1. ^ a b "James Reeves (Estate)" at Laura Cecil, Literary agent for children's books.
  2. ^ Poems of Today, third series (1938), p. xxix.
  3. ^ a b James Reeves page at Faber.
  4. ^ Deborah Barker, In Extremis: the life of Laura Riding (1993), p. 287.
  5. ^ Humphrey Carpenter and Mari Prichard, The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature, Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 445.

External links[edit]