Thursday, 17 March 2011

Naming of Parts

I've had this going round my head recently:


To Alan Michell
Vixi duellis nuper idoneus
Et militavi non sine gloria

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 neighboring 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.

It's by Henry Reed, and he wrote it in 1942.  It has been much parodied (Cakes, Harry Potter (allegedly, although I couldn't find the link), private parts) but despite that I'm not sure that it's lost, for me anyway, any of the power it had when I first read it, aged probably about 13.

Because, and I'm no literary critic so I may be totally wrong, but I've always felt it was about how we often find ourselves focusing on the stuff that doesn't matter, the transient, the trivial, the just plain unimportant.  And at the moment, I'm blogging about poo, and potties, and breech babies, and thinking about paint colours, and fabrics, and whether wooden door knobs are nicer or less nice than metal ones, and whether I really do have to consult B on what wallpaper I choose, or whether the door should go there or *moves two inches to the left* there.

And I'm ignoring the stuff that matters.  Because while I'm blogging or wiping, or choosing or dithering, in Japan we still have no idea how many thousands are dead, and in Libya people are being shot, or raped, or torn apart by dogs.

And I find myself getting incredibly stressed about the fourth wash of the day, or the exact colour of the skirting boards, and then coming too, getting cross with myself and saying utterly sanctimonious things like "Well, does any of this really matter, when entire cities can be washed away in an instant?", which not only makes me sound like some sort of priggish 1930s Angela Brazil heroine, but is also quite insulting, when you think about it, to the builder, who was only asking if I'd chosen the floortiles, and whose livelihood this is, and who is doing (thus far) an excellent job.

I mentioned this to my mother, who was here last weekend, and she, with the common sense for which my mother is famed, said, "Well, yes, but you can do something about what colour your walls are, and you can't do anything about the people who are still homeless in Christchurch."  She's right of course.  I can't do anything about it, but I still somehow feel guilty that my energy and time is being consumed by something so much less important.
So I sit and I stew and I get cross with myself for getting on with my life as though nothing has happened, even though I know that not getting on with my life helps neither those in need elsewhere in the world, or those sitting in a wet puddle on my kitchen floor.

And really what I need to do is get over myself, find one practical thing I can do, do it*, and then step away from the internet.


*Such as gather up the monthly donations I have been failing to make since October and make them to the Red Cross in the knowledge that they are doing amazing work in all the locations I have mentioned and many more.

Poem taken from  Thank you.


  1. Oh bother bother bother bother.

    I wrote a comment in which I waxed lyrical about this poem, and how I remember it from an English lesson when I was 10, and then wrote a whole inspirational piece about how I interpret it, and how your role as a potty trainer and kitchen designer is really saving the world, and then Google went and lost it.

    Bother bother bother bother.

    Perhaps it was so bad that the fates just couldn't allow it.

  2. Great post! I remember that poem well too, and this has brought it back into really sharp focus. x

  3. I loved this poem when I first read it at school. It still seems odd to me that a poem about war, and beauty, and mundane things, and life and death, could have meant so much to me as a flippant schoolgirl, but it did. So much that I wrote it out in my best handwriting and decorated it.


    Anyway, thanks for reminding me. And for reminding me to stop, and take note.


I know. I'm sorry. I hate these word recognition, are you a robot, guff things too, but having just got rid of a large number of ungrammatical and poorly spelt adverts for all sorts of things I don't want, and especially don't want on my blog, I'm hoping that this will mean that only lovely people, of the actually a person variety, will comment.

So please do. Comments are great...