Henry Reed--British



Henry Reed

Henry Reed was a poet, journalist, radio dramatist and translator.  He served in the British army during the war as a Japanese translator.  Born in 1914, in Birmingham, Reed worked as a teacher and journalist prior to the war.  After the war he worked for the British Broadcasting Company as a playwright and broadcaster.  Reed’s most famous poem, “Naming of Parts,” is a parody on basic army training.  The poem was first printed in the New Statesman and Nation in 1942 and later published in a collection of his poetry, A Map of Verona in 1946.  An excerpt from the poem appears in this book.




I. 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 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.


II. Judging Distances

Not only how far away, but the way that you say it
Is very important. Perhaps you may never get
The knack of judging a distance, but at least you know
How to report on a landscape: the central sector,
The right of the arc and that, which we had last Tuesday,
          And at least you know

That maps are of time, not place, so far as the army
Happens to be concerned—the reason being,
Is one which need not delay us. Again, you know
There are three kinds of tree, three only, the fir and the poplar,
And those which have bushy tops too; and lastly
          That things only seem to be things.

A barn is not called a barn, to put it more plainly,
Or a field in the distance, where sheep may be safely grazing.
You must never be over-sure. You must say, when reporting:
At five o'clock in the central sector is a dozen
Of what appear to be animals; whatever you do,
          Don't call the bleeders sheep.
I am sure that's quite clear; and suppose, for the sake of example,
The one at the end, asleep, endeavors to tell us
What he sees over there to the west, and how far away,
After first having come to attention. There to the west,
Of the fields of summer the sun and the shadows bestow
          Vestments of purple and gold.

The white dwellings are like a mirage in the heat,
And under the swaying elms a man and a woman
Lie gently together. Which is, perhaps, only to say
That there is a row of houses to the left of the arc,
And that under some poplars a pair of what appear to be humans
          Appear to be loving.

Well that, for an answer, is what we rightly call
Moderately satisfactory only, the reason being,
Is that two things have been omitted, and those are very important.
The human beings, now: in what direction are they,
And how far away, would you say? And do not forget
          There may be dead ground in between.

There may be dead ground in between; and I may not have got
The knack of judging a distance; I will only venture
A guess that perhaps between me and the apparent lovers,
(Who, incidentally, appear by now to have finished,)
At seven o'clock from the houses, is roughly a distance
          Of about one year and a half.


III. Movement Of Bodies

Those of you that have got through the rest, I am going to rapidly
Devote a little time to showing you, those that can master it,
A few ideas about tactics, which must not be confused
With what we call strategy. Tactics is merely
The mechanical movement of bodies, and that is what we mean by it.
          Or perhaps I should say: by them.

Strategy, to be quite frank, you will have no hand in.
It is done by those up above, and it merely refers to,
The larger movements over which we have no control.

But tactics are also important, together or single.
You must never forget that, suddenly, in an engagement,
          You may find yourself alone.

This brown clay model is a characteristic terrain
Of a simple and typical kind. Its general character
Should be taken in at a glance, and its general character
You can, see at a glance it is somewhat hilly by nature,
With a fair amount of typical vegetation
          Disposed at certain parts.

Here at the top of the tray, which we might call the northwards,
Is a wooded headland, with a crown of bushy-topped trees on;
And proceeding downwards or south we take in at a glance
A variety of gorges and knolls and plateaus and basins and saddles,
Somewhat symmetrically put, for easy identification.
          And here is our point of attack.

But remember of course it will not be a tray you will fight on,
Nor always by daylight. After a hot day, think of the night
Cooling the desert down, and you still moving over it:
Past a ruined tank or a gun, perhaps, or a dead friend,
In the midst of war, at peace. It might quite well be that.
          It isn't always a tray.

And even this tray is different to what I had thought.
These models are somehow never always the same: for a reason
I do not know how to explain quite. Just as I do not know
Why there is always someone at this particular lesson
Who always starts crying. Now will you kindly
          Empty those blinking eyes?

I thank you. I have no wish to seem impatient.
I know it is all very hard, but you would not like,
To take a simple example, to take for example,
This place we have thought of here, you would not like
To find yourself face to face with it, and you not knowing
          What there might be inside?

Very well then: suppose this is what you must capture.
It will not be easy, not being very exposed,
Secluded away like it is, and somewhat protected
By a typical formation of what appear to be bushes,
So that you cannot see, as to what is concealed inside,
          As to whether it is friend or foe.

And so, a strong feint will be necessary in this, connection.
It will not be a tray, remember. It may be a desert stretch
With nothing in sight, to speak of. I have no wish to be inconsiderate,
But I see there are two of you now, commencing to snivel.
I do not know where such emotional privates can come from.
          Try to behave like men.

I thank you. I was saying: a thoughtful deception
Is always somewhat essential in such a case. You can see
That if only the attacker can capture such an emplacement
The rest of the terrain is his: a key-position, and calling
For the most resourceful maneuvers. But that is what tactics is.
          Or I should say rather: are.

Let us begin then and appreciate the situation.
I am thinking especially of the point we have been considering,
Though in a sense everything in the whole of the terrain,
Must be appreciated. I do not know what I have said
To upset so many of you. I know it is a difficult lesson.
          Yesterday a man was sick,

But I have never known as many as five in a single intake,
Unable to cope with this lesson. I think you had better
Fall out, all five, and sit at the back of the room,
Being careful not to talk. The rest will close up.
Perhaps it was me saying 'a dead friend', earlier on?
          Well, some of us live.

And I never know why, whenever we get to tactics,
Men either laugh or cry, though neither is strictly called for.
But perhaps I have started too early with a difficult task?
We will start again, further north, with a simpler problem.
Are you ready? Is everyone paying attention?
          Very well then. Here are two hills.


IV. Unarmed Combat

In due course of course you will all be issued with
Your proper issue; but until tomorrow,
You can hardly be said to need it; and until that time,
We shall have unarmed combat. I shall teach you
The various holds and rolls and throws and breakfalls
          Which you may sometimes meet.

And the various holds and rolls and throws and breakfalls
Do not depend on any sort of weapon,
But only on what I might coin a phrase and call
The ever-important question of human balance,
And the ever-important need to be in a strong
          Position at the start.

There are many kinds of weakness about the body,
Where you would least expect, like the ball of the foot.
But the various holds and rolls and throws and breakfalls
Will always come in useful. And never be frightened
To tackle from behind: it may not be clean to do so,
          But this is global war.

So give them all you have, and always give them
As good as you get; it will always get you somewhere.
(You may not know it, but you can tie a Jerry
Up without rope; it is one of the things I shall teach.)
Nothing will matter if only you are ready for him.
          The readiness is all.

The readiness is all. How can I help but feel
I have been here before? But somehow then,
I was the tied-up one. How to get out
Was always then my problem. And even if I had
A piece of rope I was always the sort of person
          Who threw rope aside.

And in my time I had given them all I had,
Which was never as good as I got, and it got me nowhere.
And the various holds and rolls and throws and breakfalls
Somehow or other I always seemed to put
In the wrong place. And, as for war, my wars
          Were global from the start.

Perhaps I was never in a strong position.
Or the ball of my foot got hurt, or I had some weakness
Where I had least expected. But I think I see your point.
While awaiting a proper issue, we must learn the lesson
Of the ever-important question of human balance.
          It is courage that counts.

Things may be the same again; and we must fight
Not in the hope of winning but rather of keeping
Something alive: so that when we meet our end,
It may be said that we tackled wherever we could,
That battle-fit we lived, and though defeated,
          Not without glory fought.


V. Psychological Warfare

This above all remember: they will be very brave men,
And you will be facing them. You must not despise them.

I am, as you know, like all true professional soldiers,
A profoundly religious man: the true soldier has to be.
And I therefore believe the war will be over by Easter Monday.
But I must in fairness state that a number of my brother-officers,
No less religious than I, believe it will hold out till Whitsun.
Others, more on the agnostic side (and I do not condemn them)
Fancy the thing will drag on till August Bank Holiday.

Be that as it may, some time in the very near future,
We are to expect Invasion ... and invasion not from the sea.
Vast numbers of troops will be dropped, probably from above,
Superbly equipped, determined and capable; and this above all,

Remember: they will be very brave men, and chosen as such.
You must not, of course, think I am praising them.
But what I have said is basically fundamental
To all I am about to reveal: the more so, since
Those of you that have not seen service overseas—
Which is the case with all of you, as it happens—this is the first time
You will have confronted them. My remarks are aimed
At preparing you for that.

Everyone, by the way, may smoke,
And be as relaxed as you can, like myself.
I shall wander among you as I talk and note your reactions.
Do not be nervous at this: this is a thing, after all,
We are all in together.

I want you to note in your notebooks, under ten separate headings,
The ten points I have to make, remembering always
That any single one of them may save your life. Is everyone ready?
Very well then.

    The term, Psychological Warfare
Comes from the ancient Greek: psycho means character
And logical, of course, you all know. We did not have it
In the last conflict, the fourteen-eighteen affair,
Though I myself was through it from start to finish. (That is point one.)
I was, in fact, captured—or rather, I was taken prisoner—
In the Passchendaele show (a name you will all have heard of)
And in our captivity we had a close opportunity
(We were all pretty decently treated. I myself
Was a brigadier at the time: that is point two)
An opportunity I fancy I was the only one to appreciate
Of observing the psychiatry of our enemy
(The word in those days was always psychology,
A less exact description now largely abandoned). And though the subject
Is a highly complex one, I had, it was generally conceded,
A certain insight (I do not know how, but I have always, they say,
Had a certain insight) into the way the strangest things ebb up
From what psychoanalysts now refer to as the self-conscious.
It is possibly for this reason that I have been asked
To give you the gist of the thing, the—how shall I put it?—
The gist.

 I was not of course captured alone
(Note that as point three) so that I also observed
Not only the enemy's behaviour; but ours. And gradually, I concluded
That we all of us have, whether we like it or lump it,
Our own individual psychiatry, given us, for better or worse,
By God Almighty. I say this reverently; you often find
These deeper themes of psychiatry crudely but well expressed
In common parlance. People say: 'We are all as God made us.'
And so they are. So are the enemy. And so are some of you.

This I in fact observed: point four. Not only the enemy
Had their psychiatry, but we, in a different sense,
Had ours. And I firmly believe you cannot (point six) master
Their psychiatry before you have got the gist of your own.
Let me explain more fully: I do not mean to imply
That any, or many, of you are actually mentally ill.
Though that is what the name would imply. But we, your officers,
Have to be aware that you, and many of your comrades,
May have a sudden psychiatry which, sometimes without warning,
May make you feel (and this is point five) a little bit odd.

I do not mean that in the sense of anything nasty:
I am not thinking of those chaps with their eyes always on each other
(Sometimes referred to as homo-sensualists
And easily detected by the way they lace up their boots)
But in the sense you may all feel a little disturbed,
Without knowing why, a little as if you were feeling an impulse,
Without knowing why: the term for this is ambivalence.
Often referred to for some mysterious reason,
By the professionals as Amby Valence,
As though they were referring to some nigger minstrel.
(Not, of course, that I have any color prejudice:
After all, there are four excellent West Nigerians among you,
As black as your boot: they are not to blame for that.)

At all events this ambivalence is to be avoided.
Note that as point seven: I think you all know what I mean:
In the Holy Scriptures the word begins with an O,
Though in modern parlance it usually begins with an M.
You have most of you done it absentmindedly at some time or another,
But repeated, say, four times a day, it may become almost a habit,
Especially prone to by those of sedentary occupation,
By pale-faced clerks or schoolmasters, sitting all day at a desk,
Which is not, thank God, your position: you are always
More or less on the go: and that is what
(Again deep in the self-conscious) keeps you contented and happy here.

Even so, should you see some fellow-comrade
Give him all the help you can. In the spiritual sense, I mean,
With a sympathetic word or nudge, inform him in a manly fashion
'Such things are for boys, not men, lad.'
Everyone, eyes front!

       I pause, gentlemen.
I pause. I am not easily shocked or taken aback,
But even while I have been speaking of this serious subject
I observe that one of you has had the effrontery—
Yes, you at the end of row three! No! Don't stand up, for God's sake, man,
And don't attempt to explain. Just tuck it away,
And try to behave like a man. Report to me
At eighteen hundred hours. The rest of you all eyes front.
I proceed to point six.

The enemy itself,
I have reason to know is greatly prone to such actions.
It is something we must learn to exploit: an explanation, I think,
Is that they are, by and large, undeveloped children,
Or adolescents, at most. It is perhaps to do with physique,
And we cannot and must not ignore their physique as such.
(Physique, of course, being much the same as psychiatry.)
They are usually blond, and often extremely well-made,
With large blue eyes and very white teeth,
And as a rule hairless chests, and very smooth, muscular thighs,
And extremely healthy complexions, especially when slightly sunburnt.
I am convinced there is something in all this that counts for something.
Something probably deep in the self-conscious of all of them.
Undeveloped children, I have said, and like children,
As those of you with families will know,
They are sometimes very aggressive, even the gentlest of them.

All the same we must not exaggerate; in the words of Saint Matthew:
'Clear your minds of cant.' That is point five: note it down.
Do not take any notice of claptrap in the press
Especially the kind that implies that the enemy will come here,
Solely with the intention of raping your sisters.
I do not know why it is always sisters they harp on:
I fancy it must ebb up from someone's self-conscious.
It is a patent absurdity for two simple reasons: (a)
They cannot know in advance what your sisters are like:
And (b) some of you have no sisters. Let that be the end of that.

There are much darker things than that we have to think of.
It is you they consider the enemy, you they are after.
And though, as Britishers, you will not be disposed to shoot down
A group of helpless men descending from the heavens,
Do not expect from them—and I am afraid I have to say this—gratitude:
They are bound to be over-excited,
As I said, adolescently aggressive, possibly drugged,
And later, in a macabre way, grotesquely playful.
Try to avoid being playfully kicked in the crotch,
Which quite apart from any temporary discomfort,
May lead to a hernia. I do not know why you should laugh.
I once had a friend who, not due to enemy action
But to a single loud sneeze, entirely his own, developed a hernia,
And had to have great removals, though only recently married.
(I am sorry, gentlemen, but anyone who finds such things funny
Ought to suffer them and see. You deserve the chance to.
I must ask you all to extinguish your cigarettes.)

There are other unpleasant things they may face you with.
You may, as I did in the fourteen-eighteen thing,
Find them cruelly, ruthlessly, starkly obsessed with the arts,
Music and painting, sculpture and the writing of verses,
Please, do not stand for that.

Our information is
That the enemy has no such rules, though of course they may have.
We must see what they say when they come. There can, of course,
Be no objection to the more virile arts:
In fact in private life I am very fond of the ballet,
Whose athleticism, manliness and sense of danger
Is open to all of us to admire. We had a ballet-dancer
In the last mob but three, as you have doubtless heard.
He was cruelly teased and laughed at—until he was seen in the gym.
And then, my goodness me! I was reminded of the sublime story
Of Samson, rending the veil of the Temple.
I do not mean he fetched the place actually down; though he clearly did what he could.
Though for some other reason I was never quite clear about,
And in spite of my own strong pressure on the poor lad's behalf,
And his own almost pathetic desire to stay on with us,
He was, in fact, demobilized after only three weeks' service,
Two and a half weeks of which he spent in prison.
Such are war's tragedies: how often we come upon them!
(Everyone may smoke again, those that wish.)

This brings me to my final point about the psychiatry
Of our formidable foe. To cope with it,
I know of nothing better than the sublime words of Saint Paul
In one of his well-known letters to the Corinthians:
'This above all, to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day
No man can take thee in.'

'This above all': what resonant words those are!
They lead me to point nine, which is a thing
I may have a special thing about, but if so,
Remember this is not the first war I have been through.
I refer (point nine this is) to the question of dignity.
Dignity. Human dignity. Yours. Never forget it, men.
Let it sink deep into your self-consciousness,
While still remaining plentifully available on the surface,
In the form of manly politeness. I mean, in particular, this:
Never behave in a manner to evoke contempt
Before thine enemy. Our enemy, I should say.

Comrades, and brothers-in-arms,
And those especially who have not understood my words,
You were not born to live like cowards or cravens:
Let me exhort you: never, whatever lies you have heard,
Be content to throw your arms on the ground and your other arms into the air and squawk 'Kaputt!'
It is unsoldierly, unwarlike, vulgar, and out of date,
And may make the enemy laugh. They have a keen sense of humor,
Almost (though never quite, of course) as keen as our own.
No: when you come face to face with the foe, remember dignity,
And though a number of them do fortunately speak English,
Say, proudly, with cold politeness, in the visitor's own language:
'Ich ergebe mich.' Ich meaning I,

Ergebe meaning surrender, and mich meaning me.
Ich ergebe mich.' Do not forget the phrase.
Practise it among yourselves: do not let it sound stilted,
Make it sound idiotish, as if you were always saying it,
Only always cold in tone: icy, if necessary:
It is such behaviour that will make them accord you
The same respect that they accorded myself,
At Passchendaele. (Incidentally,
You may also add the word nicht if you feel inclined to,
Nicht meaning not. It will amount to much the same thing.)

Dignity, then, and respect: those are the final aims
Of psychiatric relations, and psychological warfare.
They are the fundamentals also of our religion.
I may have mentioned my own religious intuitions:
They are why I venture to think this terrible war will be over
On Easter Monday, and that the invasion will take place
On either Maundy Thursday or Good Friday,
Probably the Thursday, which in so very many
Of our great, brave, proud, heroic and battered cities,
Is early closing day, as the enemy may have learnt from their agents.
Alas, there may be many such days in the immediate future.
But remember this in the better world we all have to build,
And build by ourselves alone—for the government
May well in the next few weeks have withdrawn to Canada—
What did you say? The man in row five. He said something.
Stand up and repeat what you said.
I said 'And a sodding good job', sir, I said, sir.
I have not asked anyone for political comments, thank you,
However apt. Sit down. I was saying:
That in the better world we all have to try to build
After the war is over, whether we win or lose,
Or whether we all agree to call it a draw,
We shall have to try our utmost to get used to each other,
To live together with dignity and respect.
As our Lord sublimely said in one of his weekly Sermons on the Mount
Outside Jerusalem (where interestingly enough,
I was stationed myself for three months in 1926):
'A thirteenth commandment I give you (this is point ten)
That ye love one another.' Love, in Biblical terms,
Meaning of course not quite what it means today,
But precisely what I have called dignity and respect.
And that, men, is the great psychiatrical problem before you:
Of how on God's earth we shall ever learn to attain some sort
Of dignity.
                     And due respect.
                                                      One man.
                                                                            For another.
Thank you; God bless you, men. Good afternoon.