Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Naming of Parts” addresses an issue philosophers and military historians have long termed “the problem of war.” In its simplest terms, this problem is whether war is an aberration or a perennial part of the human condition. Reed’s poem posits at least a partial answer. The fact that spring, the season of renewal and rebirth, still unfolds quite heedless of this group’s commitment to the mechanistic processes of war and death carries the main weight of the theme. Reed obviously views militarism and war as distinctly unnatural. Reed’s choice of the red-flowered Japonica in the first stanza, for instance, is significant. As its name implies, Japonica, or “Japanese quince,” is native to Japan—one of the Axis powers against which England and the United States were allied in World War II. (Reed, an Englishman, served in World War II, the ostensible period during which the poem is set.) The effect is to suggest that nature transcends both national borders and human notions of loyalty and enmity.

In the third stanza, the criticism becomes personal and specific. In marked contrast to the instructor’s affected anxiety about operating the “safety-catch” correctly, the young soldier is struck by the serenity of the spring blooms all around him. Reed’s inspiration may well have been the biblical Sermon on the Mount in which Christ urges his followers to heed the example of the “lilies of the field,” that neither toil nor spin (Matthew 6:28). Trapped in the unnatural world of war, this young soldier feels no such confidence about his basic needs being met. By applying the instructor’s admonition...

(The entire section is 666 words.)