Naming of Parts, by Henry Reed

Henry ReedHere is Naming of Parts, probably Henry Reed’s most well known poem, from his 1947 Lessons of War series. It may be my favorite poem, although that’s a hard thing to choose. I recommend reading the poem before listening to the audio. As often happens, the poet’s own interpretation of his poem is very different than the way I had heard it in my own mind. The same may happen to you.

Reed also wrote many radio plays.


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.


Here is audio of Henry Reed and Frank Duncan reading the poem:

More poetry


~ by lolarusa on March 22, 2007.

3 Responses to “Naming of Parts, by Henry Reed”

  1. This and “Does it matter” by Siegfried Sassoon were always my favourite poems :)

  2. Thanks. I hadn’t heard of Siegried Sassoon. Read a few of his poems online, and like them very much.

  3. I still don’t know what the theme of the poem is other than the fact that war is taking away from what really matters to people. Spring is also coming and things are in bloom, but
    I just don’t understand how war is such a distraction because I would be thinking of my family if I was at war, not who am I going to have to kill off next. ?

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