The Naming of Parts

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Every year, as spring arrives, and I walk along the nearby Kennet & Avon canal, I feel a strong need to know the names of the huge number of plants that I see.  Not content with their beauty and the pleasure of seeing them, and with what simply is – and, sadly, not too interested in the fine detail of the ecology – it’s their naming that seems to matter.  This always brings Henry Reed’s ironic poem to mind.   Written in 1941, it contrasts some very natural and unnatural processes: nature’s eloquence, procreation, and knowing your rifle – and shows the futility of the NAMING OF PARTS.

To-day we have naming of parts.  Yesterday,

We had daily cleaning.  And to-morrow morning,

We shall have what to do after firing.  But to-day,

To-day we have naming of parts.  Japonica

Glistens like coral in all of the neighbouring gardens,

And to-day we have naming of parts.

This is the lower sling swivel. And this

Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see,

When you are given your slings.  And this is the piling swivel,

Which in your case you have not got.  The branches

Hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures,

Which in our case we have not got.

This is the safety-catch, which is always released

With an easy flick of the thumb.  And please do not let me

See anyone using his finger.  You can do it quite easy

If you have any strength in your thumb.  The blossoms

Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see

Any of them using their finger.

And this you can see is the bolt.  The purpose of this

Is to open the breech, as you see.  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.

They call it easing the Spring: it is perfectly easy

If you have any strength in your thumb: like the bolt,

And the breech, and the cocking-piece, and the point of balance,

Which in our case we have not got; and the almond-blossom

Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards,

For to-day we have naming of parts.

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