Tuesday Poem: The Naming of Parts


To-day we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And to-morrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But to-day,
To-day we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all of the neighbouring gardens,
And to-day 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 to-day we have naming of parts.

This is a poem by the second world war poet Henry Reed and I've always found it incredibly moving. He manages through the accumulation of detail and observation to convey the horror of war.

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  1. Yes, it's a glorious, heartbreaking poem - & so clever in the way he balances and develops his imagery and material. I love it, have never thought of posting it, and now is such an apposite time to do that - with the "No-fly zone" in Libya. Thanks, Kathleen.

  2. The way in which he makes lines serve a double meaning - such as "They call it easing the spring" is masterful. Thanks for sharing this.

  3. i have always liked this poem so much, but i haven't read it for a while

  4. fantastic - I have read it - and forgotten it - I need to read and re-read it - the simple power in its construction and use of language and repetition is incredible... thanks Kathleen

  5. Like most poems this was new to me, it's fascinating the way that it's been built around around two simple and disingenuous phrases. Thanks for posting.

  6. Wonderful contrast between the rigidity of army manuals and the unfettered chaos and grace of gardens. I have read it before but lovely to be reminded of it again. Thanks

  7. Thank you all for your comments - yes, it's the interplay between the sergeant major's blunt instructions and the wild natural world outside that gets me every time - somehow encapsulates the contrast between the chaos and illogicality of war and the structures we create to make it logical.


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