This poem by Henry Reed, published in 1946, is very close to my pacifist heart. Listen.
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 of 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, 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 today we have naming of parts.
The poem has two voices in it. Once you distinguish the two voices, you realize what is going on. The scene is a classroom where an instructor is naming the parts of a rifle. The second voice is that of a day-dreaming student who takes bits and pieces of the lecture and relates them to what he sees out the window. The words that echo most strongly with me appear in the last verse: … and the point of balance, Which in our case we have not got …
We humans seem to be very poor at maintaining balance. We pay too much attention to the artificial and not enough to the natural world which has balance built into it. The point of balance, which in our case we have not got.
I found a very interesting analysis of the poem by Michael Quieto which concludes with
Guns and gardens, soldiers and bees: the poem relates the unrelated in order to draw a clear dichotomy between the forces of life and the forces of death. However, the poem goes further than merely contrasting opposites. The structure and language of the poem combine to demonstrate how one should become the other. The eschatological hope expressed by the harmonious image of this Eden begs and demands a transformation or conversion into communion with the natural order. The poem demonstrates that war is contrary to nature.
This post was previously published on March 18th, 2006. I have made a few minor changes. Also, this is an ask me anything. So what’s on your radar?