Lessons of War: Naming of Parts
Henry Reed is a poet with whom the Birmingham Surrealists associated. He's best known for the series he wrote Lessons of War, but most specifically for Part 1: "Naming of Parts." "Naming of Parts" is an excellent link between surrealism as an art movement and the topic of war that was so prevelant in Europe during the first half of the 20th century. Although "Naming of Parts" is about WWII, I saw a connection between this poem and Rebecca West's Return of the Soldier because of the routine it implied. The women in West's novel live routine lives while they wait for their soldier to return, just as this soldier learns to use his weapon.
Part of what allows this poem to fit into the idea of surrealism is that it sounds like a villanelle, but that format is actually much stricter than the one that Reed's poem follows. Apart from form, this poem also echos some of the key thematic elements of the surrealist movement.
To Alan Michell
Vixi duellis nuper idoneus
Et militavi non sine gloria
I. 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 neighboring 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.