Henry Reed was a British wartime poet who wrote this poem, ‘Lessons of the War: I: Naming of Parts’ commonly known as ‘Naming of Parts’ while he was in service. This poem deals with a military instructor lesson regarding the nomenclature of different parts of an Enfield rifle. There are two voices in this poem. One is that of the instructor. Another is a trainee’s voice who has recently joined the military. His voice reflects romanticism while the instructor sounds like an instrument, interestingly teaching his pupils about another instrument. The most ironic part is that both of them are against the beauty and stability of nature. One creates it and another is the effect of humanity’s raging dark desires, known as war!
This poem begins with the instructor telling others about their modus operandi. Yesterday, they had daily cleaning. Today is the naming of parts day and tomorrow he will teach the trainees what they should do after firing. Thereafter he goes on naming several parts of a rifle such as the swivels, safety-catch, bolt, and breech. Lastly, he specifically touches on the “easing of spring” that forms a parallel to the movement of bees in the garden nearby. While the instructor imparts his lessons one of his pupils (or the poetic persona in the poem) meditates upon the scene outside.
You can read the full poem here.
This poem consists of five stanzas. Each stanza contains six lines. This six-line stanza, also known as the sestain, does not have a specific rhyme scheme. Reed uses free verse throughout the poem. However, the poet also uses internal rhymes to maintain the flow of the poem. Several repetitions are also there for this purpose. Apart from that, the overall poem does not have a recurring syllable-count or metrical pattern. Along with that, for the uneven line-length, this poem does not follow a specific metrical structure. However, the poem is mostly composed using the iambic meter, additionally with some metrical variations.
Reed’s poem, ‘Naming of Parts’ presents the use of enjambment. Using this device, the poet connects the lines of this piece internally. Besides, the poet’s use of piercing irony is another important figurative device of this work. Thereafter, the poet uses several repetitions along with palilogy. For an instance, the poet repeats the word “to-day” for the sake of emphasis. There is also a simile in the line, “Glistens like coral in all of the neighboring gardens.” In the second stanza, the poet uses personification. Here, he likens the movement of the branches to someone’s “silent, eloquent gestures.” Along with that, Rees uses sarcasm in this stanza, and the following stanzas too. Thereafter, one can find the metaphor, “easing the Spring” that is used for hinting at the bees’ movement.
In this poem, Reed uses several themes such as war, romanticism, war vs peace, innocence vs experience, instrumentalism, and compassion vs hatred. However, the most important theme of this piece is war. The theme of war lies under the guise of the instructions of the speaker. The naming of parts presents implicit imagery of the weapons used on the battlefield. The theme of romanticism or love for nature goes in parallel with the instrumental monologue of the speaker. When his instruction halts in each stanza, then the poet beautifully includes the theme by presenting the thinking pattern of a trainee. Thereafter, the theme of innocence vs experience, one of the popular themes, is present in this poem too. Lastly, the contrast between compassion and hatred also forms an important part of this work.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
Today we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
And today we have naming of parts.
The poem, ‘Naming of Parts’ begins directly with a reiteration of the subject matter of the poem that is the “naming of parts.” Here, the first speaker of the poem, the instructor reminds the trainees what is the topic that he is going to discuss in today’s class. Yesterday they had their daily cleaning of rifles. The next morning is going to be more interesting as he is going to teach what one should do after firing. It seems that this “firing” part is what depicts the reality behind the scene. However, the speaker again shifts to their main concern that is the nomenclature of different parts of an Enfield rifle.
At the end of the speaker’s statement, there comes the echo of another lyrical voice. It seems he is also present there among the trainees. He watches a Japonica, a type of flower, glistening “like coral in all of the neighboring gardens.” Then he creates contrast by saying, “And today we have naming of parts.” This line brings the first ironic taste inside the poem.
This is the lower sling swivel. And this
Which in our case we have not got.
In the second stanza, the instructor points at the “lower sling swivel” of the Enfield rifle and then shows his pupils the “upper sling swivel.” They can see the use of those parts when they receive their “slings”. Here, “slings” stands for the rifle itself. Hence, it is a use of synecdoche. This statement also hints at the fact that at that time British army was under-equipped or in a shortage of weapons. However, soldiers had to fight with what was available to them. It depicts how vulnerable they were during World War II. Besides, it also foretells how passionate they were about winning the war ironically.
Thereafter, he shows the “piling swivel”. Interestingly, they also have not got that too. Thereafter, the second lyrical voice points at the silent branches. It occurs to him that the branches of the trees have some eloquent gestures. Interestingly, the soldiers in the camp, including him, lack this graceful bodily articulation of the spirit of compassion and humanity.
This is the safety-catch, which is always released
Any of them using their finger.
Thereafter, in ‘Naming of Parts’, the military instructor introduces others to the “safety-catch”. It is always released “With an easy flick of the thumb.” However, he does not wish to see anyone among his pupils doing that out of curiosity. It seems the instructor does not have time for such practicing stuff. All that matters to him is the on-field action, nothing else. Thereafter, he jokingly says anybody can unplug the “safety-catch” if they have any strength in their thumbs.
However, this time, the second voice, connects the instructor’s lesson with nature. He visualizes the blossoms that are “fragile and motionless.” Those blossoms never let any person see where they hide. If one uses his finger to find a bud, he cannot find it either. The power of the thumb only works for activating the weapon of ruthlessness. One has to be compassionate in matters of nature.
And this you can see is the bolt. The purpose of this
They call it easing the Spring.
In the fourth stanza of the poem, Reed comes to the main part of the poem. Here, the instructor refers to the “bolt”. A bolt is used to open the breech of a rifle. When one slides it backward and forwards rapidly, it clears the path for another round of fire. In military terminology, it is referred to as “Easing the spring.” In the following lines, readers are going to observe an interesting pun.
The pupil refers to the bees that are moving backward and forwards. He imagines the bees to be the embodiments of the soldiers, or them. They assault others on the battlefield. While the bees assault and fumble the flowers. Here, Reed uses a metaphor for humanity. Thereafter, the speaker ironically remarks that for the bees such kind of movement around the flowers can also be called “easing the Spring.” One can note the use of the word “Spring” here. It’s a reference to the season. While the previous “spring” is associated with a part of the rifle.
They call it easing the Spring: it is perfectly easy
For today we have naming of parts.
The last stanza of ‘Naming of Parts’ begins with a repetition of the phrase, “easing the Spring.” Here, the instructor remarks that this easing of the bolt is an easy task. If anyone has any strength in their thumb, they can do it in no time. Thereafter he refers to some other parts of the gun such as the “cocking-piece” and the “point of balance.” However, they lack such equipment too. They are only left with the basic weaponry. Such a depiction echoes the historical context of the poem.
However, in the following lines, the second speaker refers to the “almond-blossom” that is silent in all of the neighboring gardens. He can visualize the bees advancing and retreating. The last line of the poem acts as a refrain and it emphasizes the subject matter of the poem, “naming of parts.”
Henry Reed was one of the British wartime poets. He was active during the Second World War. His poem, ‘The Naming of Parts’, is the first part of the six poem collection ‘Lessons of the War’. The poem was first published in the New Statesman and Nation magazine in August 1942. Reed’s service in the British Army, during the Second World War, he “would entertain his friends by giving a comic incitation of a sergeant-instructor.” Moreover, Reed was also fascinated by the “utterances of the NCO.” Collectively, his experience in the military was the inspiration behind the composition of those six poems forming the ‘Lessons of the War’.
Here is a list of a few poems that are similar to the theme of Henry Reed’s poem ‘Naming of Parts’.
- To Any Dead Officer by Siegfried Sasson – This poem describes the gratuitous waste of life perpetuated and pushed forward by British authorities during the Second World War.
- Channel Firing by Thomas Hardy – In this poem, Hardy outlines humanity’s endless cycle of war and how it was about to begin again with World War II. It’s one of Hardy’s best-known pieces.
- A Walk After Dark by W.H. Auden – It’s one of the best Auden poems and here the poet discusses the war, its consequences, and the upcoming future.
- Happy Accidents by Owen Sheers – This poem focuses on the horrors of war, the brutality, loss of life, and the corruption of youth as well as innocence.
You can also read about the poems about war.