language science physics education poetry

Henry Reed: Naming of Parts

One of my favourite poems is Naming of Parts, by Henry Reed. It encapsulates so much of what is wrong with our education.

It is about an army instruction lesson on the parts of an army rifle, where the poet is half listening to the instructor, and half looking outside the window at the beautiful japonica flowers. For me some of the best lines are here:

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.

So many Physics concepts are interconnected and we often find that we teachers introduce one concept in terms of others which students have still not covered and are therefore not familiar with.

Of course the more obvious message is the contrast between the dry-as-dust lesson and the wonderful world outside.

It’s also nice to read the comments below the poem; different people take completely different messages from it. And of course there is no one ‘right’ answer or interpretation, in spite of the answers which (some of) my English teachers wanted me to learn off so many years ago.

Henry Reed and Frank Duncan reading “Naming of Parts” here

Film adaptation of poem here