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Naming of Parts -- Henry Reed

       
(Poem #395) Naming of Parts
"Vixi duellis nuper idoneus
Et militavi non sine glori"

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
Glistens like coral in all of the neighboring gardens,
   And today we have naming of parts.

This is the lower sling swivel. And this
Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see
When you are given your slings. And this is the piling swivel,
Which in your case you have not got. The branches
Hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures,
   Which in our case we have not got.

This is the safety-catch, which is always released
With an easy flick of the thumb. And please do not let me
See anyone using his finger. You can do it quite easily
If you have any strength in your thumb. The blossoms
Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see
   Any of them using their finger.

And this you can see is the bolt. The purpose of this
Is to open the breech, as you see. We can slide it
Rapidly backwards and forwards: we call this
Easing the spring. And rapidly backwards and forwards
The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers:
   They call it easing the Spring.

They call it easing the Spring: it is perfectly easy
If you have any strength in your thumb: like the bolt,
And the breech, and the cocking-piece, and the point of balance,
Which in our case we have not got; and the almond-blossom
Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards,
   For today we have naming of parts.
-- Henry Reed
 From 'Lessons of the War'
 Dedicated to Alan Mitchell.

I remember reading a not terribly distinguished parody of this poem when I was
in school; many years later, when I discovered the original, I was surprised to
see how very good it was. Indeed, it's one of the more celebrated poems of the
last half-century (though the years have not been particularly kind to Henry
Reed: these days we see him more as a failed Modernist than as a revolutionary
Romantic), and it's not hard to see why: the tone of voice, the choice of phrase
and the repetitive patterning are all instantly recognizable.

That said, though, it _is_ a poem that simply cries out for a parody, isn't it?

thomas.

[Links]

Here's a link to an essay on 'The Imagery of Genesis in Henry Reed's 'The Naming
of Parts'': [broken link] http://barney.gonzaga.edu/~mquieto/papers/naming.html . It's an
interesting enough piece, though it suffers somewhat from an overly pretentious
and (imho) juvenile style. An extract should suffice to show what I mean:

"Guns and gardens, soldiers and bees: the poem relates the unrelated in order to
draw a clear dichotomy between the forces of life and the forces of death.
However, the poem goes further than merely contrasting opposites. The  structure
and language of the poem combine to demonstrate how one should become the other.
The eschatological hope expressed by the harmonious image of this Eden begs and
demands a transformation or conversion into communion with the natural order.
The poem demonstrates that war is contrary to nature."

64 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

John Nevill said...

The poem, as anyone who has been a soldier will recognise, is a contrast
between the repetitious boredom of an NCO going through a drill learned by
rote and the simple distraction of what is going on around you on a warm
summers day.

Anne.Gibson said...

For me this poem is about the futility of Naming, which, especially in
our Western culture with its rather narrow view of the scientific, tends
to stand in for a sense of being in control when we clearly are not, and
for Understanding when clearly we do not. The naming of parts in this
poem stands in opposition to what simply IS in nature - the silent
eloquence of the trees, the glistening japonica blossoms, the bees going
about their business - in constrast to our own inept fumblings with the
weapons of war.... Where are we to seek Wisdom......? Put down your gun
and open your eyes and ears to the world.
Anne

andrea skennerton said...

The system of war and nature is expressed here. The expression of routine with an instrument of death together with the unexplainable routine of Nature is a paradoxy that can not go without comment. It is a very sad poem that captures the grief of the New Model Army pre-campaign grief. Beautiful.

Joseph Jerzewski said...

The people who have left comments here have missed the poets purpose and
at least one of his uses of imagery. When Reed writes "Silent in all
of the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards" he is
describing the bullets flying past the soldiers heads as "bees". This
imagery is clear to anyone who has ever been under fire, and has been
used by many poets and soldiers alike to describe the sound.

J.M.Sykes said...

John Nevill's comment says it all. It conveys well the disorientation
felt by any sensitive person on being drafted into the armed forces and
subjected to mind-numbing instruction, however necessary.

I speak as one who went through square-bashing at an impressionable age,
though in 1947, rather than during WWII.

David said...

Um, folks, you are missing a point here, I think.

I remember this poem from many years ago, in college.
I did not need any one to tell me that the "parts"
being named here stand in for other parts that are not
named--in polite society. The private parts.

Um, the bolt sliding back and forth and opening the
"breech" and "easing the spring." We are speaking,
very wonderfully and metaphorically, of sex, that is,
making love, making life. The poet is, among many
other things, implicitly comparing what he and his
fellow soldiers are doing--learning to use metal
"parts" to kill their fellow humans--with what they
could be using other, fleshly "parts" to do: making
humans, not killing them. What is spring the
traditional sense of? Love, of course. What do bees
do? (Yes they are bullets, here, also, I am sure).
Bees fertilize plants. They make sex with plants so
that plants can make fruit.

The poem is about love-making, what young men SHOULD
be doing with their parts, and what in spring they
should be learning to do and enjoying the
learning--instead, alas, they are learning to work
guns (um, what are guns a traditional substitute for?
a man's private part, right??) to kill instead of to
make life.

It's about sex!!!

best,

David

Tom Schweiger said...

Thank you David. I was beginning to worry about the others. I wonder
what they think about when they hear a dull compulsory lecture on a warm
spring day?

Kuyagerald said...

"And rapidly backwards and forwards, the early bees are assaulting and
fumbling the flowers." Obviously, Reed uses nature imagery to create sexual
suppression. This poem is more than a contrast between war and nature; it's a love
poem. One word gives it all away, Japonica, a flower that can only be found in
Japan and some parts of Philippines. The soldier has fallen in love with a
Japanese woman during the war, and he is daydreaming about her. To love this woman
is to love his enemy. The unnatural nature of this love is enforced by his
military beliefs. Henry Reed is merely portraying a man's conflict with the idea
of an interracial relationship during a war.

Gerald

John Viner said...

This poem came back to remembrance while I was walking through the quiet
English countryside on a glorious spring day, indeed, japonica is blooming
in my garden as I write. I studied this poem at university and brought to it
some intimate knowledge of the Lee Enfield .303 rifle to which Reed is
referring. This weapon remained in UK service - at reserve level - right up
to the early 1970s, and I well remember the order to "Ease Springs".

Some of the comments posted here are sensitive and reflect the poet's
intention, some are pretentious claptrap and, as for the poem being about
sex, well poor Henry Reed would turn in his grave. This is a cleverly
crafted and evocative poem and one which I am delighted to recall with great
delight. That is what Reed would have enjoyed.

Public Internet User said...

Actually, I've just read the other four poems in the set, Lessons of War, and he does bring in a lot of sexual imagery in the later poems.

I'm inclined to think, however, that Naming of Parts is supposed to be read relatively 'innocently' - as a contrast between the dullness (and horror of preparing for war) and the beauty of the trees, bees, and flowers.

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Brian P. Sullivan said...

I'm more than just a little amused at the suggestion that Henry Reed would
"turn in his grave" at the notion that Naming of Parts is about sex. It is
precisely about sex, specifically the contrast between the tension and ennui
of Army life which young men should not be pursuing, and the tension and
ennui of what young men should be pursuing.

Clearly the commenter who said otherwise is unfamiliar with the rest of the
"Complete Lessons of the War" cycle. I strongly suggest he familiarize
himself with "Judging of Distances" to see what Reed was aiming for with
this cycle of poems. If you can't draw a comparison to the female form and
the tray described in "Movement of Bodies" with Reed's lines "Here is a
wooded headland, with a crown of bushy top trees on; and proceeding downward
we take in at a glance a variety of gorges and knolls and plateaus and
basins and saddles, somewhat symmetrically put" perhaps you will never get
the knack of judging a poem. "But the various holds and rolls and throws
and breakfalls / Will always come in useful. And never be frightened / To
tackle from behind: it may not be clean to do so / But this is global war."

Or at least the irony of the human condition.

Larry said...

Reed is incredible! Who would I be to criticize such a memory of endeavors
so close to my own? He reads like a brother in arms who has sewn his heart
in red fields of the shooting arts.
I am so thankful Winning Writers gave him a forum for his "Parts."
larry

tracy oneill said...

It is encouraging the moments in moments moving. The cycling of life is revealed newborn as spring as well as the cold powerlust that comes from it.The innocence of those preparing,cold ignorance in rifles but nature ever cycling so wonderous so delicate. imagery that conjours feeling. I like it. From Fluffy and Feefee loves it to

--
www.tasmail.com

mbloom104 said...

Does anyone know the latin quote? Where it comes from and what it means?

Anonymous said...

"You can do it quite easy if you have any strength in your *thumb*. The *blossoms* are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see any of them using their fingers." I don't think he meant an actual thumb, and flowers are often used to represent women....... but there's no way this is in any way sexual!

Anonymous said...

sire in this case flowers are neither used to represent any women or anything else it is just a guy who is feeling out of the world at this moment or bored by his regular affairs,during his training and admiring and remembering the things which he might have relished during his childhood

Anonymous said...

Nesrine Aldaikh said Naming of Parts is about a monologue between an officer and a trainee , though the officer do not hear what the trainee is saying because he is certainly mocking his officer for his inhumanity , the officer instead of enjoying life and the beautiful environment , he works on ruining this superb nature and teach his soldiers how to kill

NESRINE ALDAIKH said...

Nesrine Aldaikh said Naming of Parts is about a monologue between an officer and a trainee , though the officer do not hear what the trainee is saying because he is certainly mocking his officer for his inhumanity , the officer instead of enjoying life and the beautiful environment , he works on ruining this superb nature and teach his soldiers how to kill

shahid gdc pulwama said...

the poem is about the drastic effects caused by weappons. the mass massacarer of people as well nature in Japan is the best example of the destruction caused by weappons of mass destruction.their is even the clear discription of weappons, nature ,beauty and so on.

Anonymous said...

i believe this poem is about the futility of going to war. instead, perhaps reed's attention was to ask people to embrace nature with all its beauty and what not. and yes, i think he does mean to talk about the beauty of natural processes like making love as well.

Anonymous said...

intention*

Anonymous said...

I did this poem for 'O'level English Literature in 1965 [A grade pass]. The poem is about the futility of war and the willingness of man to kill man; the training is not with Arms at all but broom handles.
The ridiculous training is placed in direct comparison with nature's greatness in all things; the fragility of flowers, the variance and the endless work of the bees to do their task.
In writing this Reed mocks the process of war and its preparations hinting that nature continues unabated despite the attempts of man to harm man.

As for the poem having a sexual bent -- absolute tosh. I can't comment about training with the Lee Enfield .303 since I did mine with the L1A1 SLR 7.62, but its all there.

Anonymous said...

nigger

enterprise said...

The Latin is a parody of Horace's amorous 'Vixi puellis [rather than 'duellis'] nuper idoneus et militavi non sine gloria and means something like 'Until recently I have lived on easy terms with war, and fought not without renown'. The poem is open to interpretation, but when I read it at school I took it at face value.

Unknown said...

i can see how its like sex and war, but watever

Anonymous said...

Anyone knows what blossom implicates here?

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