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Essay

On Robert Bringhurst's "The Beauty of the Weapons"

In a pre-emptive strike at the outset of the Six Day War in June 1967, Israeli forces attacked the northern front of Egyptian Arab troops mustering in the Sinai region around the city of El-Arish. Casualties and wounded, both military and civilian, numbered in the thousands as Israeli regiments flanked and pushed back the Egyptian Arab soldiers into a retreat that, when coupled with Israel’s simultaneous airstrike, would eventually lead to their defeat.
Standard infantry issue for the Israeli army throughout the war was the Uzi SMG, a squat, boxy gun made portable by its wraparound breech and telescoping bolt. 7 1/2 lbs with a full clip, 18″ long, with an explosive muzzle velocity of 400 m/s, the Uzi can fire 600 rounds of ammunition per minute, or ten bullets per second. Consisting of a few basic stamped-metal parts the Uzi is easy to manufacture, easy to strip and clean in the most inclement field conditions, and can accumulate large amounts of sand and dirt without becoming prone to jamming.
The gun is also well-balanced, and with its magazine located in the pistol grip, the ammunition cartridges can be conveniently discharged and reloaded, even in total darkness; something the Israeli military referred to as “hand finds hand” reloading intuition. The Uzi’s sole purpose is to kill as many human beings in as efficient a manner as possible. Its design is one of utility; not a weapon that, in the vernacular of a collector or aficionado, could be described as “a real beaut”.
Or could it?

In a pre-emptive strike at the outset of the Six Day War in June 1967, Israeli forces attacked the northern front of Egyptian Arab troops mustering in the Sinai region around the city of El-Arish. Casualties and wounded, both military and civilian, numbered in the thousands as Israeli regiments flanked and pushed back the Egyptian Arab soldiers into a retreat that, when coupled with Israel’s simultaneous airstrike, would eventually lead to their defeat.
Standard infantry issue for the Israeli army throughout the war was the Uzi SMG, a squat, boxy gun made portable by its wraparound breech and telescoping bolt. 7 1/2 lbs with a full clip, 18″ long, with an explosive muzzle velocity of 400 m/s, the Uzi can fire 600 rounds of ammunition per minute, or ten bullets per second. Consisting of a few basic stamped-metal parts the Uzi is easy to manufacture, easy to strip and clean in the most inclement field conditions, and can accumulate large amounts of sand and dirt without becoming prone to jamming.
The gun is also well-balanced, and with its magazine located in the pistol grip, the ammunition cartridges can be conveniently discharged and reloaded, even in total darkness; something the Israeli military referred to as “hand finds hand” reloading intuition. The Uzi’s sole purpose is to kill as many human beings in as efficient a manner as possible. Its design is one of utility; not a weapon that, in the vernacular of a collector or aficionado, could be described as “a real beaut”.
Or could it?


In a pre-emptive strike at the outset of the Six Day War in June 1967, Israeli forces attacked the northern front of Egyptian Arab troops mustering in the Sinai region around the city of El-Arish. Casualties and wounded, both military and civilian, numbered in the thousands as Israeli regiments flanked and pushed back the Egyptian Arab soldiers into a retreat that, when coupled with Israel’s simultaneous airstrike, would eventually lead to their defeat.
Standard infantry issue for the Israeli army throughout the war was the Uzi SMG, a squat, boxy gun made portable by its wraparound breech and telescoping bolt. 7 1/2 lbs with a full clip, 18″ long, with an explosive muzzle velocity of 400 m/s, the Uzi can fire 600 rounds of ammunition per minute, or ten bullets per second. Consisting of a few basic stamped-metal parts the Uzi is easy to manufacture, easy to strip and clean in the most inclement field conditions, and can accumulate large amounts of sand and dirt without becoming prone to jamming.
The gun is also well-balanced, and with its magazine located in the pistol grip, the ammunition cartridges can be conveniently discharged and reloaded, even in total darkness; something the Israeli military referred to as “hand finds hand” reloading intuition. The Uzi’s sole purpose is to kill as many human beings in as efficient a manner as possible. Its design is one of utility; not a weapon that, in the vernacular of a collector or aficionado, could be described as “a real beaut”.
Or could it?
Bringhurst’s poem reconnoitres this kind of aesthetic terrain with a discipline toward poetic craft that verges on the pure functionality of an Uzi. The content of the poem ably informs its formal structure and, likewise, the form successfully reflects the content. The weaponry’s unalloyed efficiencies, and the abruptness of the confronted violence determine the short lines, spare language and clipped cadences. The poem’s hard line breaks and consistently sharp assonance and consonance create an aural accuracy that eerily mimics the action of the weapons: one can hear the snap of the cartridge clip into the gun-handle and the terse blowback release of the bolt in each word Bringhurst deploys.
And yet, the poem is no weapon, at least not simply so. It sings, too. It sings of beauty from an unlikely source: the beauty of the various mechanisms of war; its weapons and vehicles, its tracking devices and other materiel. The measure of the poem’s success lies in the extent to which it challenges the reader’s preconceptions of beauty’s value. The poignancy of Bringhurst’s images depends on their willing disparity, their level of risk. [_Like a six-ton flute_], the poem sings its song from a [_rivetless throat_]. But with more than one note.
In the reach for such ambitious metaphors, Bringhurst somehow manages to acquire and convey his own ‘hand finds hand’ intuition. The ideas penetrate like the radar’s sweep of unseen energy as the poem moves adroitly from the concrete image to the abstract concept and back again until they lock together into a distinctly phenomenological disposition. Any implication of cruelty in the design and manufacture of weapons has been here left out of the appraisal of the beauty of such technology. When divested of it’s human intent, though, the idea of the weapons’ violent purpose is made all the more remarkable once the human condition is reconsidered in light of this poetic attention. The poem renders fear with an alarming degree of clarity as it oscillates between these two notions.
Bearing this in mind, one would do well to regard and heed the prĂ©cis poem that appears directly before “Beauty of the Weapons” in Bringhurst’s book. Particularly the last lines:
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______________________________You are, he said,
beautiful
________________That is not love, she said rightly.

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