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From Poetry to Film: Henry Reed’s “Naming of Parts”

Published November 28, 2012 by Laitie

This is a paper I wrote in college that I am extremely proud of. Enjoy.

Henry Reed’s “Naming of Parts” is a powerful poem that attempts to show readers what Reed feels about war. The speaker helps portray this in many ways: imagery, dramatic situation, sound, etc. I feel another good way to show this would be in snippets of this and that, here and there, as the speaker speaks. Let me elaborate . . .

“Today we have the naming of parts. Yesterday,” in this opening line, I could see the Drill Instructor’s face, yelling at the recruits as D.I.’s do. His face is that of a usual D.I., hard, wrinkled in its sternness, eyes sharp and evaluating. As the D.I. continues, the camera pans out to see the recruits before zooming in slightly to each recruit’s face. “We had daily cleaning. And tomorrow morning/We shall have what to do after firing. But today,” these are the lines spoken clearly as the camera pans and zooms. It returns to the D.I.’s profile as he says, “Today we have the naming of parts.” Before he finishes this single line, his face softens just a little, and he stops walking back and forth in front of the recruits. As he continues, the scene shifts to that of a field of flowers; “Japonica/Glistens like coral in all of the neighbouring gardens.” During this slight pause, the scene slowly returns to the D.I. and the recruits, his voice just a bit softer on the last line of the stanza, “And today we have naming of parts.”

The D.I. pulls out his gun and gestures to the parts of the gun as he speaks about them. “This is the lower sling swivel. And this.” The scene returns to the field of flowers. However, this time, two armies of men are marching to meet each other. The men are standing at attention, their guns resting on their shoulders by the straps. They stare each other down, “Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see.” The men tense, shrug off their guns and aim. “When you are given your slings. And this is the piling swivel.” A single shot. The scene returns to the D.I. and the recruits. “Which in your case you have not got.” Again, his voice softens just barely as he continues; and the scene turns to a single, small tree in a field of flowers, the thin branches and colorful petals of the flowers blowing in the breeze. “The branches/Hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures,/Which in our case we have not got.” The scene abruptly goes black before returning, again, to the D.I. and his recruits.

The D.I. continues, still gesturing to each part as he explains it to the mend. “This is the safety-catch, which is always released/With an easy flick of the thumb.” In the middle of this line, the scene returns to the battlefield, where the single shot is heard again. It is eerily silent as the men remain stone-still. “And please do not let me/See anyone using his finger. You can do it quite easy.” A few more rapid shots are heard before the rest of the battle is muted (so the audience can hear the speaker). The blood and smoke fly everywhere as the speaker is heard, “If you have any strength in your thumb.” In the middle of this line, the scene shifts again, showing a single flower on the aforementioned tree, still blowing in the breeze. “The blossoms/Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see/Any of them using their finger.”

The scene returns, again, to the D.I. and his recruits, the D.I. still gesturing to each part of the gun as he explains it. “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:” return to the battlefield, where most men have fallen, but the remaining are still fighting, “we call this/Easing the spring. And rapidly backwards and forwards” all but two men–one on each side–fall before the scene changes again. Some having fallen on their faces, some on their backs. As the next line is spoken, the scene turns to the flowers on the tree–including the one mentioned before–a bee buzzing about its friends and falling upon their weak petals before coming to it. “The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers:/They call it easing the Spring.”

Return to the D.I. and his recruits: “They call it easing the Spring: it is perfectly easy/If you have any strength in your thumb: like the bolt,” Although composed and at attention, the men–including the D.I.–seem somehow drained. More exhausted than at the beginning. “And the breech, and the cocking-piece, and the point of balance,” the D.I. describes as he gestures to their positions on his own gun. “Which in our case we have not got; and the almond-blossom.” Slowly, very slowly, the scene fades to the battlefield–bereft of breathing men, carpeted in bodies. The D.I.’s voice grows very soft, and is no longer forceful. “Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards.” The camera spots a single flower, untouched among the wreckage. The buzzing of a bee is heard as it approaches the flower. “For today we have the naming of parts.”

I cannot explain why, exactly, I chose this poem. My brother was a Marine, but that is about as close to the military as I have been. When we read this poem in class, however, and talked about the dramatic situation, I found myself completely disagreeing with what the others were saying. I sat back and thought about it, and this is what I saw. The connections, the metaphors, the sadness; I felt compelled to write about this poem in this way. It is hard to explain exactly what I wish for my audience to get from this. How can I dictate what a reader should think about what I give him/her? Mostly, I wish for the audience to see the metaphors, the connections, the struggles and sadness of war. Of life. I wish for something to click in the audience’s mind, and he/she leaves with a more open, questioning mind. Not only to question the military, but to question nature, and literature, and everything around him/her.

End paper.

Upon re-reading/re-writing this paper, I noticed something. I interpret the poem way differently, now. I see where the flowers are supposed to be the recruits where I didn’t see that before. In that case, the entire film should be completely different. I can see why I only got an A- on this, heheh. I also don’t like where I confused the reader by talking about a field of flowers, then suddenly there’s another field of flowers with a tree. Like, there are three or four different scenes going on in this thing.

But I don’t really know. I remember when I first read the poem, this is exactly what I saw. It was such a powerful image to me, and I just really wanted to share that with everyone. Anyways, although I would have done this paper differently, now, I hope you all enjoyed it.

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