I was sitting in our art room the other morning looking out over the front paddock and my attention was drawn to a small bird flitting between the abundant flowers on the Japonica tree just outside the window. As it busily sipped nectar from the pink blossom I remembered a war poem that I was introduced to in my high school years. A war poem may seem a strange thing to recall on a beautiful spring day, but the Japonica carried my thoughts to, ‘The Naming of Parts’, by Henry Reed, and to a particular line that it contains ;
‘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’.
I love the way his poem captures the exquisite beauty, activity and resurgence of life that comes with the onset of spring.
At Wildflowers Spring is in full flush, the wattle trees are dripping yellow, the once grey and lifeless blackberry bushes are now sprouting green leaves, the blossoms from the plum trees fall from the sky, scattered by the wind, and buds on trees and vines are bursting forth everywhere. There is warmth in the air and in the soil.
The poet has a purpose in painting such a vivid and tranquil picture of a Spring day. He uses it to show us that another, more sinister and dark, event is occurring amidst the intricate activity of awakening gardens. Men are preparing to go to war, not to promote new life, but to destroy it.
In 2014 we remember the commencement of World War One one hundred years ago, the war to end all wars. And yet, even as I write, Australia again prepares its young men for war in distant lands. I wonder if these young warriors, as they are drilled to name the parts of their weapon, will wistfully ponder the ‘eloquent gestures’ of this beautiful Spring?
So….sometimes the most pleasant of scenes can evoke the most disturbing of thoughts
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.