Sep 6, 2011

Henry Reed's "Naming of Parts" and the Importance of Bees

"Naming of Parts" by Henry Reed

Yesterday I came across some bees. It happened because they were sluggish.  Or dying. They were barely moving on these flowers that camouflaged them so well. What do I know about bees? Maybe they just sit, barely moving, on a flower, for some reason only naturalists know. Maybe this is the bees’ lazy cycle. Nap time for bees. Other animals do it.  

So I googled some phrase like “lazy bees”—actually, I think it was “bees in September”—which took me to the link you find here.  I’d heard about bees being in trouble a couple of years ago, then it slipped from my attention.

Bees Dying at Alarming Rates - CBS News Video

Another question arises. What do bees have to do with poetry? Then I remembered “Naming of Parts,” by Henry Reed (British, 1914-1986).  I’ve been away from the poem for several years, but I still find it brutally subtle (oxymoron intended), at least compared to most anti-war poems, which lay the message on thick. Less really is More, most of the time.

In the fog of memory, I think “Naming of Parts” worked well at showing students how kinds of language can be so different, can convey character and different ways of being in the world.

Here are two speakers, a military instructor and a newbie at some stage of rifle training. His thoughts drift in response to the spoken words of the instructor, who apparently has no sense that his words are numbingly rote and cold at the denotative level, but also vaguely sexual in their connotations. 

If this poem doesn’t illustrate that how we say things is as important as what we say, then maybe we’ll never get beyond shouts versus whispers. I guess I’d describe the difference as the cold, mechanical language of business, war, and old-fashioned, lecture-based classrooms. On the other hand, we hear the recruit’s lyrical, sumptuous language of daydreams, poetry, love, and longing.  Each language embodies and conveys a way of being in the world, and the two ways are anathema to each other. 

In the recruit's way of being, the widespread death of bees would matter, on aesthetic grounds, long before the bee apocalypse affected his food supply. One could almost wonder if seeing and preserving beauty are matters of survival.

Bees Dying at Alarming Rates - CBS News Video



Michelle said...

The situation with the bees was noticeable at our farm. Not as many bees out pollinating our heirloom plants. A bit more this year, but they are so vital to our environment.

RuneE said...

"To be or not to bee" may so like a pun, but in reality it is much more. Without bees, much of the nature we depend on will die, maybe even we. Not only the beauty.

In that way it interlocks with the poem - beauty dies.

Banjo52 said...

FC and RuneE, thanks. I guess the good news is that the people who might be able to fix the problem are aware of the problem?

PJ said...

I know that bees do like to nap in and amongst flowers. More great photos, B52.

Banjo52 said...

Paula, so maybe it wasn't disease?

Pasadena Adjacent said...

I'm aware of the bee issue. Had a bee friendly fellow visit my mother's cinder block (honey laden) wall. Said it was the mother hive of the valley. Next the city came and poisoned it. Yes, why?

This is a terribly odd poem. How did you ever come to find it and find the value in it? I'n not doubting you but I would of never picked up on it. The recorded reading helped very much. The narrator acting out the differing voices (which I didn't pick up on when I first read through it)

Anonymous said...

I wonder how much beauty is beautiful because it's inextricably bound to our survival.

Brenda's Arizona said...

I'm with PA here, what an odd poem.
From the parts of the rifle to the flowers on the trees... My mind was walking through all the parts as he pointed them out, how to release the safety catch, how to slide the bolt - and suddenly we are in a blossom.

Tell us more about this, Banjomyn?

PJ said...

I didn't read the poem because I had a head cold - total lack of concentration but I'm about to do that. Sounds fascinating.

Yes, bees are not always busy from what I've been told. Sometimes, they just like to be.

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