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Lessons Of The War - Poem by Henry Reed

To Alan Mitchell

Vixi duellis nuper idoneus
Et militavi non sine gloria


I. 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 like coral in all of the neighbouring 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, 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.


Comments about Lessons Of The War by Henry Reed

  • Rookie - 0 Points Juliet Languedoc (7/10/2014 8:46:00 AM)

    A writing that calls for attention. Lessons well taught (Report) Reply

    2 person liked.
    0 person did not like.
  • Silver Star - 3,294 Points Sally Plumb Plumb (7/10/2013 2:21:00 AM)

    I have read this many times before... a favourite of mine. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Terence George Craddock (7/11/2012 1:48:00 AM)

    Dear Jacob, the beauty of poetry is all readings are valid, a good poem will launch us into flights of personal interactive engagement and generate our all important independent thought. Poetry should be enjoyed and we all eventually have our favourite poems and poets. These poets speak to our souls. Our reading of them is our source of rich enjoyment.
    Even university lecturers are recognized levels of ignorance, one of my lecturers had never read a novel not written in the Romantic period. These men or women esteemed by most, offer insights into the meaning of poems, novels, short stories by greater or lesser poets and writers. As a poet yourself, you know that a specific poem may have multiple agendas and themes. Not all will be recognized on the first reading. This may provide the beauty and wonder of later readings. Second readings and later readings of inspired poetry offer new insights.
    I remember once a famous lecturer in New Zealand gave a beautiful analysis of a poem by a poet he was an expert on. At the end the lecturer asked the poet’s opinion on his comment. The poet replied, that was very clever, I wish I had thought of that. The point I am making is literary experts know the poetic terms and labels but a layman’s insight can be more accurate and often is. A layman’s passion and moments of poetic genius will always out write a mere scholarly poem lacking imaginations flames.
    My early poems, definitely several are among my best writes, are still among my favourites and were written without a great knowledge of poetic conventions and history of forms. I still reject rules where appropriate. Your voice Jacob and the importance of staying true toyour own poetic voice is most important. Do not change styles to please critics or opinions of readers. Learn and grow with time in your own inspired comfort zone. Only you can write your poems with your own unique individuality.
    At university I disagreed with many theories and some lecturers on bookworm analysis of certain poems. Critics building on critics comments. I applied twice and was not accepted into the elite University creative writing course? Thank God for that. I keep my own voice and when a poem I wrote reads badly, jars senses, sticks needles into nerve endings; it is deliberate; it is meant to create desired responses. I actually wrote a poem partly referencing such thoughts recently. Greg Uhan, a young poet I particularly admire, and I are in agreement about ‘Past Artists Build Build Build’. The creative writing course I was denied entry too, was actually run by an American Literature professor born in England and lecturing in New Zealand. So the question is, are not laymen opinions in American by Americans in touch with their own culture and cultural heritage; sometimes or often as valid, or more accurate than this one opinion? The answer must be yes, many readers provide many differing unique readings and understandings. I like them all, a few strike important reactions within my own understanding.
    If you truly want investigate a poem Jacob, do the investigation for the joy and fun of the journey, and not all poems are intended to be take seriously, some are written to entertain and for enjoyment. Your question Jacob, ‘can a poem speak for itself without a reader - such as myself - having to necessarily know a broad literary perspective coupled with at least some depth into any particular author? ’ would make a wonderful literary question for a final examination essay. I would love to read the answers both for and against. Both are valid. Until we speak again, probably in private conversation Jacob, God speed in all your writings. (Report) Reply

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