Sunday Night Journal, July 15, 2018
Sunday Night Journal, July 22, 2018

52 Poems, Week 29: Naming of Parts (Henry Reed)

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 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, 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 could perhaps also be described, like Stevie Smith, as a one-hit wonder as far as his general reputation is concerned. In addition, his name is similar to that of the better-known Sir Herbert Read, who sometimes gets credit for this poem. In fact it was the latter name I had in mind when I went looking for information on the poem and the poet, which caused me a couple of minutes' confusion. 

I probably wouldn't know of the existence of this poem if it wasn't in the Sound and Sense anthology/textbook which I used in freshman English fifty years ago and which is still in print, I hope not too much deformed by recent academic fashion. "Naming of Parts" is one of a set of poems about Reed's experience as a British Army recruit in World War II. I am a little embarrassed and a lot surprised to find that I had completely forgotten about another poem from the set which is also in Sound and Sense and which is just as good: "Judging Distances." 

...the point of balance
Which in our case we have not got.

Indeed.

—Mac is the proprietor of this blog.

Comments

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I just heard someone read this--in the last two weeks at most. It was in a show I was watching--maybe Endeavour.

AMDG

Yes, it was Endeavour. I meant to mention that in the post, but I did well to get it posted at all, with grandchildren in residence. That's what reminded me of the poem and made me pick it for this week. It's at the end of the show, the one where most of the story takes place on a military base. Thursday recites a bit of it, without saying what it is. Would have seemed a bit strange if you'd never heard the poem, I would think.

You certainly have done better than I.

I'm really glad you answered so quickly because it would have been driving me crazy. I knew it was an older man, and he was reciting it rather bitterly. I figured it must have been Endeavour because it wasn't the Great British Baking Show and everything else I watched was in Japanese.

AMDG

:-)

I love the way the trees and the bees interrupt that fourth line.

I think we have a Sound and Sense around here somewhere--an older edition than mine was. I'll have to seek it out.

AMDG

I see that Japonica means having to do with Japan, so that adds a bit more meaning.

AMDG

I didn't know that. I don't even know if we have japonica around here. Sounds sort of familiar.

I saw a description of the poem that calls it a villanelle. I was surprised at that. I can see that it has some elements of it but I thought an actual villanelle involved strict repetition of lines. At least every one I've ever seen that called itself that was built that way. And for that reason not usually seeming very contrived to me. A loose sort of villanelle, maybe.

Sounds like a line for noir detective fiction. She was a loose sort of villanelle.

Since Japonica is basically an adjective, it could mean a variety of trees and flowers that are quite different from one another. For instance one is a Carmella that looks a lot like your Christmas Camellia, but I don't think that is what he is talking about. There is a small tree with little hanging flowers in clusters. I bet that is it.

Japonica can also apply to Furniture, glassware, lots of stuff. I think I must have first heard it on the Antiques Roadshow.

AMDG

NOT Carmella. Ugh.

AMDG

:-) "She was a loose sort of villanelle who caught your eye like japonica blooming in a spring garden. And I was just the bee to fumble with those flowers."

I didn't know japonica was an adjective.

That is great.

It really is a noun but it describes itself. ;-) Sometimes it is used incorrectly as an adjective, as in Japonica antiques, when it out to be Antique Japonica.

AMDG

"ought" not "out"

Now I am going to write a blog post, and heaven only knows what sort of horrid mistakes I will make. Good thing very few people will read it.

AMDG

I will.

Thanks!

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