Reed was born in Birmingham and educated at King Edward VI School, Aston, followed by the University of Birmingham. At university he associated with W. H. Auden, Louis MacNeice and Walter Allen. He went on to study for an M.A. and then worked as a teacher and journalist. He was called up to the Army in 1941, spending most of the war as a Japanese translator. Although he had studied French and Italian at university and taught himself Greek at school Reed did not take to Japanese, perhaps because he had learned an almost entirely military vocabulary. Walter Allen in his autobiography As I Walked down New Grub Street quoted Reed as saying “He intended...to devote every day for the rest of his life to forgetting another word of Japanese.”
“Naming of Parts” is actually Part I of a six-part poem entitled “Lessons Of The War” (the six parts were published separately over a period of several years) . One site calls it “a witty parody of British army basic training during World War II” but after reading all six parts I disagree. I found it clever but ultimately horrifying. Francis, as I said, called it her favorite war poem.
My favorite war poem (by which I mean my favorite poem about war, not a poem about my favorite war) has always been a tie between “The Blue and The Gray” by Francis Miles Finch (see this post) and “In Flanders Field” by John McCrae (see this post). The first is about the American Civil War (1861-1865) and the second is about World War I (1914-1918) , but both are really more about the aftermath of war than war itself.
I have decided to link to the six parts of “Lessons Of the War” individually so that you can tackle the poem at your own pace and decide for yourself how witty, clever, or horrifying it is.
Here they are:
LESSONS OF THE WAR
Part I. “Naming of Parts”
Part II. “Judging Distances”
Part III. “Movement of Bodies”
Part IV. “Unarmed Combat”
Part V. “Psychological Warfare”
Part VI. “Returning Of Issue”
After you have
What I think, in case anyone is interested, is that the lessons of war are many, and we have learned none of them. Or maybe that we must learn them over and over, because we keep forgetting.