When I started the "Reeding Lessons" weblog, one of the things I thought it would allow me to do was extoll and expound on Reed's poems myself, something which I have been hesitant to do on the main site (with one notable exception
Having seen several folks searching for the phrase "easing the spring" this week, it seems a logical place to begin.
In Reed's poem, "Naming of Parts
," the play on the phrase "Easing the Spring" appears three times: twice in the fourth stanza, and once in the fifth and final stanza.
In the fourth stanza, the word "spring" is printed both in lowercase and capitalized
. The first reference to "spring" is mechanical and literal: this is the metal spring in the rifle's magazine which forces the cartridges up into the breech to be fired. The second and third appearances of the word are in uppercase, "Spring," referring to the season.
The stanzas of the poem are divided into two parts: the first three lines of each are of the recruit listening to the lesson on the parts of his rifle; the fourth line is a blending of the actual lesson and the recruit's interpretation; and the fifth and sixth lines complete the inner monologue of the recruit trying to make sense of what he is being taught. Thus, in stanza four:
Voice of the instructor1 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.
Thoughts of the recruit And rapidly backwards and forwards
5 The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers:
They call it easing the Spring.
The contrast between the mechanized, military spring and natural, bee-filled Spring is obvious. No matter how hard the young soldier concentrates on his arms lesson, his thoughts always revert to Spring, love, and the mechanics of sex.
Reed lifted the phrase "Easing the spring" directly from his basic training. Chapter IV, Section 52 of the Manual of Elementary Drill (All Arms)
, 1935, contains instructions for the inspection of arms. Part of this procedure is the order "EaseSprings." The object of a soldier easing the spring is to remove all tension from the mechanical parts of the rifle. Literally, the easing of the rifle's spring requires ejecting any and all cartridges from the magazine, thus rendering it safe for inspection by an officer.
4. To ease springs, or charge magazines and come to the order.
From the position described above, work the bolt rapidly backwards and forwards until all cartridges are removed from the magazine and chamber* allowing them to fall to the ground, then close the cut-off (except with S.M.L.E. Mark III* rifles, which have no cut-off) by placing the right hand over the bolt and pressing the cut-off inwards, then close the breech, press the trigger, turn the safety catch over to the rear with the first finger of the right hand, and return the hand to the small.
* This precaution will also be adopted when magazines are not charged, and at drill it should be presumed that five rounds are in the magazine and chamber.
I find it particularly interesting that the word "easing," because of the line breaks, is capitalized in line four, and in lowercase at the close of the stanza. Note also the phrase 'rapidly backwards and forwards,' which Reed also utilizes in "Naming of Parts."
The British Lee-Enfield rifle
Henry Reed would have been trained on held two clips of five cartridges apiece. The "cut-off
" mentioned in the drill instruction was a plate which could be slid into place to cut the magazine off from the breech, allowing the rifle to be fired as a single-loader, with the contents of the magazine held in reserve for heavy combat, thus saving ammunition. However, the inclusion of a magazine cut-off was retired after World War I, the tactics of warfare having shifted in favor of expending more ammunition against an enemy or target.
Reed may have a made a conscious choice to exclude the cut-off from his lesson on naming of parts, or possibly the cut-off was just another something which he "had not got."