Naming of Parts

by Henry Reed

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What is the form and content of Henry Reed's "Lessons of the War"?

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Henry Reed's "Lessons of War" (sometimes also referred to by the incipit of the first section, "Naming of Parts") is a poem consisting of five six-line stanzas. In terms of genre, it is considered a parody, satirizing the dull, mechanical precision of language of an army gun manual. On a more profound level, it illuminates what Arendt refers to as the "mundanity of evil"; behind the blandness of the instructions lies the purpose of the training which is to teach soldiers how to kill people. The sexual innuendos suggest the fecundity of the natural world in tension with the implied violence of the army. On a more serious level, the beauty of the garden suggests a plenitude lacking in the narrow world of the army:

 

 ... The branches
Hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures,
Which in our case we have not got.

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