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Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The Naming of Parts by Henry Reed

Henry Reed

This is one of my all-time favourite poems. It was written in 1942 during the War and it has various ways of being interpreted. I feel that there are two voices speaking. The first one is an army instructor, rather drily and somewhat sarcastically putting some new conscripts through their paces in learning about a particular weapon and the second voice is that of a young recruit (which I have italicised).
The recruit’s mind is wandering as he notices all the signs of spring-time around him. His mind is doing what a young man’s mind will do in spring-time and everything he is thinking has a secondary sexual connotation. The more you read it the more of these hints will be picked up. (‘Cocking bolt’, ‘we can rapidly slide it backwards and forwards’, ‘assaulting and fumbling’ and so on).
Henry Reed has not used punctuation to distinguish the two voices and make our job easier but it is clear what he intends. Rather clever don’t you think?

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 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.


Sir Tom Eagerly said...

Join today's modern army.
See the world.
Meet interesting people.
Shoot them.

Aah! Those were the days. eh, Bazza?

bazza said...

Well, actually Sir Tom I was never in the army and so missed out on the doubtful pleasure of shooting people.
Have another vat of brandy and go back to sleep!

THE SNEE said...

Hi Bazza,
I was not familiar with Henry Reed. After reading his poem a few times(yes, I've read it now more than three times!), I went googling around the web. He is as you say, quite good at juxtaposing two distinct ideas without spelling out exactly what he means.....ahh, a man after my own heart, except I'm not nearly as poetically eloquent. Now if only I could remember the name of that part....

bazza said...

Hi Snee: I think the writers (and artists) who make their readers work a bit harder to extract the meaning from a piece of work provide a deeper staisfaction in the end.
I don't think Henry Reed's other poetry is widely known but he was a BBC radio dramatist for many years.

Kelly said...

That is an interesting poem. Two different voices, perceptions of what's around these people or what is influencing them. It offers a balance. And it shows great symmetry.

bazza said...

Hi Kelly. Thanks for your wise input! I find I enjoy it more as time goes by.

klahanie said...

Hi bazza,
I was trying to recall where I had heard the name of Henry Reed, before.
Then I noted you mentioning he was a dramatist on the BBC, for many a year. I have a vague recollection of knowing that.
I can see how this poem can be subject to various interpretations. What does strike me is the overall balance that Kelly has alluded too.
In peace, Gary.

bazza said...

Gary: I think there is probably a better word than 'balance' for this - but I can't think what it is! Thanks for dropping by, always a pleasure.

Philip Wilkinson said...

This is a wonderful poem, one of my favourites too. Henry Reed was an interesting bloke. He wrote other poems, but nothing, in my opinion that reaches the level of this one. He also wrote a number of hilarious radio plays, including a number featuring a bumbling journalist called Herbert Reeve and an eccentric 'composeress' called Hilda Tablet. They were broadcast in the 1950s but the scripts were collected in 1971 as Hilda Tablet and Others: Four Pieces for Radio.

bazza said...

Hello Philip. Thanks for visiting and being so informative. I will have to look for Hilda Tablet online!
I recommend Philip's English Buildings Blog

Kate said...

I have never seen this one. I like it a lot!

bazza said...

Hello Kate. It makes my efforts worthwhile to have introduced the poem to a new reader who appreciates it! I glad you like it and hope it 'grows' on you even more after a few readings. Thanks for returning.

kerrie said...

thank you for sharing an unusual and for me unheard of poem I had to read it a few times maybe it is that time of the night or I had one too many whiskies...
but here is a toast to your pistols
may your safty catch be easy to release
may your slings be every ready to
and your bolt be upright and ready for action
be ready y be

bazza said...

Hello Kerrie, its worth persevering to get maximum pleasure out of this poem.
I loved your cheekiy comments; I will endeavour to keep my bolt upright!

Sir Tom Eagerly said...

Bazza, I think Kerrie might be my kind of gal except that one can't have one too many whiskies!

joanne fox said...

I've seen this poem before, but you've made me look at it afresh. I didn't know anything about Henry Reed, so thanks also to Philip (above) for providing that extra information.

bazza said...

Joanne: It is one of those poems that many people are aware of but never really took much notice. I hope your fresh look at it was rewarding! If you visit Philp's blog you will find his style very informative.

Lowen said...

Make love; not war. Better yet, have them both.

bazza said...

Lowen: Hi. Not sure that I understand your comment.