No More Hiroshimas. James Kirkup Poem. Appreciation by P.S.Remesh Chandran.
Editor, Sahyadri Books & Bloom Books,Trivandrum.
Mankind hates to destruct, in spite of the destructive traits inherent in man. In his heart, man is a good being who likes to preserve mankind’s achievements intact for the posterity. But politics is often not led by men, but by mobs and crowds. Wars when fought by single persons have always turned to be good to this world: Socrates, Tolstoy, Louis Pasteur. When fought by people, they turned hell loose in this world.
292 years free of war in a history of 5500 years.
In the history of mankind, one will find no desire which is older and stronger than the desire for a world without wars. For centuries, peace in this world meant only the interval between two wars. Swiss historian Jean- Jacquess Bebel calculated that out of the 5500 years’ history of the world, only 292 years remained free of any kind of wars. Two World Wars emanated from the soil ofGermany. But in Europe the guns are silent now. People hope that the clock of history won’t be turned back again.
Sumee-Ko, War And Peace and The Flowers Of Hiroshima.
Arms-Limitation, Anti-War Literature and Detente brought about this favourable situation. Countless novels such as War And Peace, Sumee-ko and The Flowers Of Hiroshima, and dozens of plays including Henrik Ibson’s Ghost moulded human minds to remain synchronized with upheavals and outbreaks of political profiteerism and in the midst of chaos, practise the negative virtue of tolerance. Wilfred Owen and James Kirkup were just two of the hundreds of committed poets who added the influence of poetry too to the goodwill of this world-wide movement.
Three-headed fishes and children with no head at all : The balance-sheet of a mega ton blast.
The atom-bomb which blasted inHiroshimain the Second World War wiped out millions of people from the face of the earth for ever. Millions more survived only for being subjected to life-long agony. Three-headed fishes and children with no head at all were no wonder in the affected areas for so many years. Radio-activated patients overcrowded hospitals in the cities and villages, the sustaining and affording of whom became a national problem, stealing into the already scant national resources. Catastrophe continued through generations. Destructions of war were great, the relics of which were, and are, exhibited in Museums and War Memorials to remind the world that wayward politicians no more care for humanity.
The poet and traveller who finally arrives in Japan to settle.
James Falconer Kirkup was a poet, translator and travel-writer who was born inEngland. His poems, plays, novels and autobiographies made him a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. After a few years of an eventful life in the island, he travelled through and resided in Europe,America, Far East and finally reached Japan where he settled for 30 years and taught English Literature in several Universities. He was very skilled in writing Haiku Poems and was much respected by the Japanese. Even the Emperor of Japan and the Empress invited him to recite poetry in their presence and he was presented with many prestigious awards there. ‘No More Hiroshimas’ is his famous poem in which he reveals to the world the commercialized post-war faces of Japan.
A river once polluted, refuses to be rehabilitated and remains sad.
In the poem we see the poet arriving at a railway station in the reconstructed city ofHiroshima. He quite forgets which city it is, since all looks similar in the post-warJapan. It resembles any other town inJapan, since all towns are noisy, muddy ramshackles alike after the war. In the dim dew-falling evening, he walks towards the city proper. Neon exhibits of traders attract his attention. They are advertising Atomic Lotion for hair fallout. It looks ridiculous to the much travelled poet, but who knows the pain and frustration of those whose hair fallout rapidly daily? Just as Oliver Goldsmith said in hisDesertedVillage, ‘trade’s unfeeling train had usurped the land and disposed of the swaine.’ Whatever had remained unsellable for centuries in the pure and proud tradition of the Japanese were being made sellable to attract tourists, the sustaining revenue of a wrecked nation. He passes the rows of fruit stalls and meat stalls, observing the scenes around him on his way and finally reaches the river. The face ofHiroshimawas changing. Losses were recompensed and destructions repaired. Everything was being restored or rehabilitated to its former position. But the river alone ‘remains unchanged and sad, refusing any kind of rehabilitation.’ The river symbolizes the stream of life in the city. Once polluted, it can never be rehabilitated into its former position. ‘It was the pride of a bold peasantry that was broken and hurt.’
A traveller and a poet fights in a dilapidated hotel room.
In the city proper, the poet finds life splendid, busy and ornamental. People seem to have forgotten what have happened. In some shops, cheaply decorated mini models of the famous, bombed Industry Promotion Hall are on display for sale. The indecent modernity of the tourist hotel in which he stays displeases him. The very twisted stair cases which have witnessed the heavy blast appear that they may collapse and fall anytime. He feels ‘the contemporary stairs treacherous, the corridors deserted and peopleless, his room in the hotel an overheated mortuary and the bar, a bar in darkness.’ It should be specially noted here that the traveller poet is uncertain as to whether he should grieve or relish the unrepaired state of the heavily damaged and dilapidated hotel of his stay. The traveller in him craves for comfort and the poet in him longs for nostalgic status-quo.
The power to forget is the greatest faculty of the oriental mind.
When a nation and a people feel that they are wronged, it is common consensus that they have a right to be angry. But in the city ofHiroshimathe poet sees that it was evident that the people forgot everything too soon. Their sorrow seems short-lived. He has his own European logic in such matters and is angry that their anger too is dead. He is plain to speak that anger should not die and should be kept alive till war-destructions are avenged. ‘To forgive is to cut branches of the tree; but to forget is to lay axe to the very roots’: though not his lines, it reflects his philosophy. It has to be noted here that the poet was born and brought up inBritain, had travelled through and lived for years in Europe,Americaand the Far East and had only arrived inJapanrecently. He knows nothing about the workings of the Oriental Mind. Oriental Mind means magnanimity, deliquescence and tolerance. Had it been otherwise, great philosophies such as Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism would not have originated from there. Also if it had not been so, those places would have become the vast burial grounds of the colonial British. Had man remembered everything from his birth, his brain would have become overcrowded to the point of bursting itself. That is why Nature provided man with the power to forget as a pressure-valve, the very essential to the oriental mind.
‘How times are altered, trade’s unfeeling train usurps the land’.
But in Japan, instead, atomic peace was seen geared to meet the demands of the tourists’ trade. War relics were renovated for promoting tourism industry, adding new charm, loveliness and nobility to those relics. But the poet feels that this renovation is a shame and indignity to those relics. As indignated already, they are beyond all hope of further indignation by anyone.
Who will not weep if they see it?
It is when he reaches the ParkOf Peacethat the emotional poet finds something perfectly appealing to his orthodox tastes. It is the only place in HiroshimaCitythat rouses respect in his mind. It is a monument for the children who were blasted away by mankind’s crime. The various exhibits in the War Memorial Museum moved him and he wept. Melted bricks and slates, photos of various scenes after the blast and other relics of the explosion were arranged there for all the world to see. The other relics which made the poet weep were stop-watches all stuck at that destined time, burnt clothing, charred boots, twisted buttons, ripped kimonos, atomic rain-perforated blouses and the cotton pants in which blasted boys crawled to their homes to bleed and breathe their last. According to the poet, they are the only memorials of the war, worth viewing. When we come to this part of the poem, we are not inclined but forced to agree with the poet in that war remains shall not be sold and grief commercialized, however poor we are. The poet has perfectly convinced us of this. War relics are the properties of our dead, those people who lived and played and laughed with us. When death occurs in a house, it is when we see the clothes worn by the gone person hanging there that a lump is caused in our throats and we weep. It is a feeling which shall not be written, told, expressed; a feeling so sacred and private to the very soul of humans that even its utterance is a crime.
Pictures Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons.
You are invited to kindly visit the Author’s Web Site of P.S.Remesh Chandran, Editor, Sahyadri Books & Bloom Books, Trivandrum at:
Translations of this article in French, German, Spanish and Italian published in Knol.com can be read by clicking here.
Appreciations, Atomic Disasters, Atomic Fallout, British Poets, English Poets, English Songs, James Kirkup, Japan In War, Literature And Language, No More Hiroshimas, Nuclear Blasts, Nuclear Hollocausts, P S Remesh Chandran, Poetry, Reviews, Sahyadri Books And Bloom Books Trivandrum, Second World War
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Editor of Sahyadri Books & Bloom Books, Trivandrum. Author of several books in English and in Malayalam. And also author of Swan : The Intelligent Picture Book.
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Great tribute to James Kirkup, the compassionate poet.
Also let us hope for no more Fukushimas.