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Henry Reed

(22 February 1914 - 8 December 1986 / Birmingham)

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Naming of Parts


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 likecoral in all 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 easy
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, 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 the naming of parts.

Submitted: Wednesday, January 07, 2004
Edited: Thursday, July 17, 2014

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  • Rookie - 606 Points John Richter (10/17/2014 10:39:00 AM)

    I think perhaps Henry was idle one fine day in military boot camp.... A rather enjoyable trek through a daydream conjured in the mind of a soldier learning/teaching about his rifle.... Perhaps it represents the irony of how to kill while living amongst this beautiful garden of a world... (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Ian Fraser (3/2/2009 9:04:00 PM)

    A handful of poets are remembered mainly because of one single, perfect poem. It's too simple to require much comment, but perfectly contrasts the boredom and meaninglessness of much that is everyday life - in this case basic military training - with the wonders of nature and the imagination. Usually - as here - the former wins. In my Top 50. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Kiana Moradkhani (12/10/2008 12:44:00 AM)

    This is a beautiful war poem in which the cruelty of war in the foreground comes in contrast with the beauty and fragility of nature in the background. It depicts while the nature is reviving and grolifying in spring, humanbeing is thinking of nothing but killing and destructing life which is really shameful. And in my opinion, the bigger tragedy is when you realize that this poem does not just belong to World War II, the time in which the poem is written. Yet you see the same blood thirstiness in man nowadays everywhere in the world. But its form has changed a little bit and no more. By the way, this poem is a perfect example for juxtaposition. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Michael Shepherd (4/29/2006 4:41:00 AM)

    I remember hearing Reed reading this poem, and it was in the same voice throughout; he is recounting the instruction he had learned by heart as part of the day's events. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Paul Lester (4/10/2006 5:16:00 AM)

    I can see why you'd feel that, Francois, but the omission of italics or inverted commas here was very deliberate on Reed's part, and I feel it does highlight the unsettling sense of where the boundaries between 'nature' and 'culture' are to be drawn.Also, I recall hearing Reed say that when the poem is recited he intended that it should be without any change in the speaking voice to signal difference of character. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Francois Francois (6/20/2005 1:03:00 PM)

    This peom is a dialogue between a recruit and an instructor. Utterances of one or the other should be italicised to make this more apparent. (Report) Reply

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