Naming of Parts

by Henry Reed

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How does Reed contrast realities like life and death, interior and exterior in "Naming of Parts"?

Quick answer:

Reed presents contrasting realities, such as those between life and death, by seemingly utilizing two different speakers. One is an instructor who delivers a mundane lesson on the parts of a gun. The mostly unspoken reality is that these same guns will be used for acts of violence. A second speaker seems to emerge at the end of each stanza. His focal point is the beauty of the natural world that exists despite human destruction.

Expert Answers

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One way to interpret this poem is that there are actually two different speakers in the poem. One is the speaker who provides the rote and emotionless descriptions of the various parts of the guns which the soldiers will soon use in battle. At the end of each stanza, there seems to be a shift to a different perspective, one that focuses on the beauty of the natural world. This shift perhaps reflects the perspective of one of the distracted soldiers who sits listening to the instructor.

This shift in perspective thus reflects a juxtaposition of central ideas. Though the instructor barely references it, there exists an understanding that these guns will be used to kill people. This reality exists as a matter-of-fact understanding, its significance downplayed by the intricate mechanics of the weapons themselves. At the same time, beauty surrounds this group of soldiers. The natural world stands "motionless" and "eloquent," listening and watching the seemingly mundane world of human destruction.

The natural world will continue even as these soldiers fight and die. While the soldiers learn about "easing the Spring" to inflict death, nature's cycle of "easing the Spring" will return over and over. The bees, branches, and blossoms which captivate the presumed second speaker of the poem will continue to exist long after these soldiers have completed their mission.

The contrasting images, presented through two speakers with quite different focal points, highlight the truth that humanity's most urgent conflicts are unimportant to the natural world. The life-giving forces of nature will continue to flourish in spite of humanity's cyclical acts of violence.

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