Week 279: Naming of Parts, by Henry Reed

This is part of a sequence called ‘Lessons of the War’, written in 1942 by the Second World War poet Henry Reed (1914-1986). It seems to be the only poem he is remembered by, but at least it is remembered: indeed, it was quoted, albeit somewhat inappositely, in last Sunday’s episode of the police drama ‘Endeavour’, by an army colonel who seemed to think it was a poem in praise of military routine and pride in regimental tradition, similar to Sir Henry Newbolt’s ‘Vitaī Lampada’ which had been quoted a little earlier. Polite cough from me: ‘Er, excuse me, script-writers, but I don’t think that was quite what Henry Reed had in mind.’

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 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, 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.

Henry Reed

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