This poem is constructed as a series of oppositions between death—represented by the gun and war generally—and life—represented by bees, flowers, and trees flourishing in springtime. Through this contrast, Reed suggests that war and militarism require a willful, effortful blindness to nature's vitality—in other words, in order to participate in war, soldiers must choose death over life. This choice of death over life is reflected again and again in the speaker's tone. His language is harsh and terse, and he delivers an outdated script, full of instructions that don't apply to the soldiers before him, as if he himself is in some sense no longer fully alive or capable of change.
While this poem draws a contrast between the natural world and the rigid military hierarchy, it never posits that nature is a totally free or non-hierarchical realm. After all, the poem dwells on the changing of the seasons, itself a consistent, cyclical pattern. It hints at processes of sex and reproduction—also consistent systems and patterns—and obliquely suggests the presence of violence in nature. The speaker also uses a great deal of figurative language, drawing comparisons and pointing out relationships between disparate parts of nature. Nature, the poem hints, does indeed have predictability and authority built into it, but its rules are useful rather than arbitrary, and they are based on perpetuating rather than ending life.
Through innuendo and hinting, the poem makes repeated references to sex and sexuality. These include broad nods to spring and rebirth, as well as more specific innuendoes like "And rapidly backwards and forwards / The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers" and "This is the safety-catch, which is always released / With an easy flick of the thumb." The speaker seems almost comically unaware of his sexual language, suggesting that he has thoroughly absorbed a single-minded, militaristic mindset to such an extent that he cannot think in sexual or sensual terms. The poem suggests that war alienates soldiers from normal sexuality, focusing their entire understanding of the physical world on violence, weaponry, and aggression.
Naming of Parts Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Naming of Parts is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.