The poem presents a corporal or sergeant giving instruction to a group of army trainees. We hear two "voices" in the poem, but their dialogue is conducted within the mind of one person, probably that of a recruit. The first three-and-a-fraction lines of all but the last stanza are the spoken words of the sergeant as heard by the recruit. The last two-and-a-fraction lines of these stanzas, and the whole of the final stanza, are the unspoken thoughts of the recruit. Readers may dispute this interpretation because some ambiguity exists about the "speaker" in the poem. Exact determination, however, is unimportant. Whoever the "speaker" is, he is a sensitive person. His unspoken thoughts furnish a comment on the instruction he receives or is compelled to give.
The instruction takes place out-of-doors. It is spring. Not far off are gardens in blossom, with bees flying back and forth, cross pollinating the flowers. The time apparently is just before or just after the outbreak of a war, during a period of rapid mobilization, for the equipment of the recruits is incomplete. Their rifles have no slings and no piling swivels. The meaning of the poem grows out of the ironic contrast between the trainees and the gardens, both of which have symbolical value.