What is the theme of "Naming of Parts"?
The theme of "Naming of Parts" by English poet Henry Reed is “War”. In this poem, the poet explores war’s effects on young men who desire in their hearts to enjoy life for the beauty it offers. However, these men are inducted into warfare by their respective governments and these governments’ geopolitical agendas.
The focus of this poem is contrasting the mechanical, boring, ‘naming of parts’ of a weapon of warfare, with the aesthetically pleasing elements of life. These pleasing aspects of life include the natural beauty of the physical environment around them, the flora and fauna of the earth. This is expressed in the line “Japonica/Glistens like coral in all of the neighboring gardens”.
The contrast here, as the theme of War is explored, is that the soldiers are under duty to learn and understand the parts of a rifle (and how they work). They will become proficient at killing, while the earth and its beauty and bounty are witnesses against them of their destructive behaviour.
In essence, the world around us, in its splendour, silently accuses humankind of its penchant for chaos and destruction. The world around us does not take sides. It laments for all opposing parties who engage in war and its destructive results.
This abomination of the ruination of the creation is also referred to in a line in the Book of Revelation in the New Testament, which says, “… and that you should give reward to your servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear your name, small and great; and should destroy them which destroy the earth. (Portion of Revelation 11:18; American King James Version).
The theme of War is also discussed in that Henry Reed considers that men of war, - in fact all who engage in war, whether voluntarily or involuntarily - are not of eloquent gestures when they perform warlike acts. Humankind in general is not eloquent at all when it inflicts pain on one another. Nonetheless, simple branches of trees “Hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures”. People can destroy the eloquence of the environment around them.
Other pleasing aspects of life are also conveyed in the discourse in the poem, especially about the beauty of lovemaking. As noted above, this isn’t obviously pointed out. Upon studious reading, this is recognized; it is an indictment against human beings for considering War not Love, within the Family of Man. It evokes a 1960s nostalgic “Make Love not War” feeling, however hackneyed and antiquated that seems today. The poem includes a reference to bees – the birds and the bees if you like.
The poem speaks of horrific War against the backdrop of spring, love, almond-blossoms, flowers, and such. War is man-made. It is mechanical in its cold precision. It often relegates feelings to the basement of our psyche, so that on the upper floors we concentrate on the objectives of War.
The speaker in this poem is like so many men who are drafted in wartime and forced to become soldiers against their will and against their nature. All the beauty in the world, including the beauty of women, is being taken away from the poet. Instead he is given a uniform and a rifle and forced to stand in formation with others like himself while slowly and tediously learning to use the gun.The instruction takes forever because it is "dumbed down" to the lowest common denominator, i.e., the dumbest recruit. The speaker will ultimately be forced to kill others or be killed himself. He sees the senselessness and stupidity of war but is caught up in a huge impersonal mechanism which he is powerless to escape. The speaker makes his thesis clear by continually contrasting the instructions being given about the rifle with the human values of beauty, love, freedom, and personal fulfillment as symbolized by the surroundings or by memories. For example:
Glistens like coral in all of the neighboring gardens,
And to-day we have naming of parts.
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.
The speaker is too sensitive and intelligent to become a good soldier. The fact that he is so intelligent is what makes the instructions so boring. No doubt the speaker could learn all about the rifle in fifteen minutes and would really only need to practice firing it at a target. That is one of the characteristics of war: it turns men into faceless robots without any consideration for their feelings or their characters. The ranks of the so-called enemy are filled with men who are no different from this young draftee. They will be forced to kill each other until the old men who run the world's affairs decide there has been enough carnage and destruction for the time being.
Reed’s ironic antiwar poem, which balances the parts of a weapon against an altogether different set of parts in human beings, is easy to grasp by readers. The two sets of parts named in the poem are pieces of a weapon and objects in nature, such as the Japonica, the branches, blossoms, and the early bees. In addition, an overtone in the speaker’s meditations is that he is also thinking about the parts of a woman. The ideas explored here are neither profound nor cosmic; the poem suggests that young men in spring would prefer to follow their natural instincts rather than listen to boring military lectures. Some readers may not immediately perceive the poem’s ambiguity. The contrast between the lecture and the out-of-doors is fairly easily understood, but the application to lovemaking may not be perceived quite as readily.