Naming of Parts by Henry Reed

Today we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And tomorrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But to-day,
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.

Summary

Naming of Parts is section one of a five section sequence called “Lessons of War”. The style is humorous with a lot of puns and double entendres adding to its ironic humour.

The young recruit is being taught how to handle weapons, in this particular instance the Lee Enfield Rifle, but his mind is elsewhere. His mind is on spring, renewal and also sex. In other words he is thinking of life, whereas the war lesson is teaching him how to destroy this very thing, life.

Each stanza has two distinct parts. The first three lines of each stanza except the final stanza present the instructor’s lesson on how to assemble and fire a gun. The second part is the voice of the recruit and marks a sudden shift to the world of nature represented in this instance by a garden. Each stanza therefore contrasts the world of the military camp with the world of nature. In keeping with this the rhythm of the poem alternates between the hard, practical discourse of the instructor and the sensuous emotional response of the recruit.

The gun whose parts are being named by the instructor is in many ways like the army camp. In the first instance, a gun is a piecemeal thing, composed of many parts and has to be ssembled together. The army camp is also mechanically composed and controlled. The natural world on the other hand is a composite whole, where the life processes are in a continuum. This aspect is emphasized by the manner in which the language of each part is structured. While naming the parts of the gun, short phrases and sentences are used. The words are also dry and mostly technical; but when the recruits voice takes over words flow into long musical sentences evoking sensuous images of colour and elegance. The following lines from the poem illustrate this point.

Instructor

a) ”Today we have naming of parts/yesterday. We had daily cleaning.”
b) ”This is the lower sling swivel and this/ Is the upper sling swivel.”
c) This is the safety-catch, which is always released/with an easy flick of the thumb.”
d) ”And this you can see is the bolt.”

Recruit

a) ”Japonica/glistens like coral in all of the neighboring gardens/ And today we have naming of parts.”
b) ”The branches/hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures/which in our case we have not got.
c) ”The blossoms/Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone sec/Any of them. Using their finger.
d) ”And rapidly backwards and forwards/ The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers/They call it easing the spring.”

In the 2nd stanza there are two parts (upper and lower sling swivels) named but we do not know what function they serve (”Whose use you will see, when you are given your slings”). More over these guns here have not got the slings and piling swivels, which effectively means the recruits would not know how to carry and stack the guns. In the last stanza too, we are told that the soldiers do not have the “point of balance” (Which in our case we have not got”). The irony here is in not having. So what is it that the soldiers do not have? The soldiers are shown to be lacking in all that the garden represents. The garden is a symbol of life and beauty, at once “silent and eloquent” where the Japonica “glistens like coral” and the blossoms are ‘fragile’ and motionless.”

Then there are the bees in the garden. Like the soldiers they are highly structured and regimented but the comparison here is ironic because the bees are intimately related to the flowers and are an integral part of the natural order of things whereas the soldiers are not related to anything, least of all to the guns they are being instructed on.

In the third stanza while naming the parts of a gun, body parts such as thumb and fingers are named in the same mechanical fashion. In the military scheme of things it is only a part without a body attached, and is important only in a functional sense. This emphasizes the point made earlier that the body is fragmented into functional parts and therefore not a whole. The emotional quotient does not figure in this scheme of things. It is not surprising therefore that the wandering senses of the recruit respond to the sensuality of the spring activity in the garden. This emotional response to the fumbling bees assaulting the flowers makes the recruit all the more conscious of that which “he does not have”.

With the “bees are assaulting and fumbling he flowers” the language of sexuality enters the poem. It is developed through the pun on “easing the spring” which is at once a part of the gun and also a sexual reproductive activity. The bolt and cocking piece of the gun and the breech that goes backward and forwards – all actions with reference to the gun – have sexual implications and refer to the sexual activity of the garden. In the case of the gun, all the aforementioned actions lead to death and destruction, whereas in the garden they all lead to the fertility and regeneration of life.

In the first four stanzas the two voices are distinctly different yet connected. The recruit takes one or the other instruction and relocates it in the context of the garden thus giving meaning and life to the otherwise sterile words. This relocation which is only partial in the earlier stanza is made complete in the final stanza with the line, “They call it easing the spring”. The alternating voices fuse into the single voice of the recruit. The voice of the instructor is muted out but his instructions freely intermingle with the lyrical phrases of the recruit. This re-presentation of the instructions in the ambience of the garden alters their meaning and infuses them with the energy and life of the garden.

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