Sunday, May 14, 2006

Naming of Parts

The weather today was glorious: it was warm, and the sun poked through the marine layer earlier than I expected. It was enough to drive me outside to putter around the yard, cutting back a few bushes that threaten tree-dom, raking up some of the winter storm detritus that my gardner just never seems to get around to.

And then I came indoors and watched a little news, none of it particularly hopeful. It seems that war, the literal kind in Afghanistan and Iraq, soon perhaps Iran, as well as the metaphorical type in the GWOT and Patriot Act and the over-all dismantling of our Constitution, has come to define just about every waking moment, even on beautiful days such as today.

I was able to shrug off the sense of doom of by recalling a poem I first heard when I was in college more than forty years ago. It was written during World War II by Henry Reed.


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.


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