The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Naming of Parts” is a thirty-line lyric poem divided into five stanzas. The poem depicts a group of infantry recruits receiving a familiarization lecture on their rifles. The title reflects the practical, if prosaic, necessity of knowing the proper term for each of the rifle’s parts. Readers hear two distinctive voices in the poem—that of the insensitive, boorish drill instructor giving the lecture and that of a sensitive, young recruit whose mind is wandering during this mind-numbing discourse on rifle terminology. The key to understanding the poem is realizing that roughly the first three and one-half lines of each stanza present what the young recruit is literally hearing and enduring while the remaining lines suggest what he is thinking and noticing as his instructor lectures about rifle parts.

The first stanza opens with an overview of the week’s training schedule. As the first lines make clear, this day’s class will be devoted to learning the names of the rifle’s parts. The recruit’s mind, however, is elsewhere. He notices the Japonica shrubs blooming in neighboring gardens, a detail that establishes the season as spring. In the second stanza, the instructor is calling the group’s attention to the rifle’s “swivels,” that are fastened to the weapon’s wooden frame or “stock.” The missing “piling swivel,” a part the military deems inessential, inspires the recruit’s sudden notice of the branches described in lines 4...

(The entire section is 513 words.)