Analysis, Pages 6 (1361 words)
‘No More Hiroshimas’ by James Kirkup is a very atypical and extensive poem dealing with the feelings that the poet has whilst exploring the city of Hiroshima, several decades after the atomic bomb was dropped there during the Second World War. It follows his progress through the city, trying to find something that will let him truly appreciate the horror of the nuclear explosion.
This poem shares few conventions with most other poems. It utilises blank verse, which allows it to read as a stream of consciousness rather than a carefully structured poem, and also prevents the trivialisation of the subject matter that a rhyme scheme could introduce.
The only time that a rhyming couplet is used, in stanza six, it stands out dramatically. In addition, the poem is arranged into logical stanzas, each (except for the final two stanzas) dealing with a different place that Kirkup visits on his search for a proper tribute to the dead. The poet’s voice is also predominant in this piece, as he gives his personal opinions of everything that he passes.
However, this is absent in the penultimate stanza, which makes it even more poignant.
The first stanza begins with Kirkup’s impressions of the station at Hiroshima. The dreary atmosphere is established immediately, with the imagery of the ‘crudded sun’ being particularly effective – this can be taken to mean not only that even something as magnificent as the sun has been sullied, but also Japan’s pride has been hurt, as the country is sometimes known as the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’.
He continues to talk about how Hiroshima could be anywhere in Japan, not in fact a sacred place given over to remembering those who died before. Everything is seen as very unnatural or unpleasant, including the ‘soiled nude-picture books’ that seem neglected and out of place in Hiroshima, and the lavish food which is only there for the tourists to purchase. He also contrasts modern and traditional Japan: Racks and towers of neon, flashy over tiled and tilted waves Of little roofs
In the second stanza, the poet moves to the river. It is ‘sad, refusing rehabilitation’, a line that he repeats at the start and end of the stanza. This emphasises how dead and redundant the river is, even though rivers are usually associated with life. The theme of artificiality continues, with ‘new trees’ planted for aesthetics, and ‘the bridge a slick abstraction’, also a contrast between the old, brightly coloured bridges and the new abstract one. There are office blocks that are ‘basely functional’, showing that only the bare minimum of normal life goes on in this place full of impersonal memorials.
Next, Kirkup progresses to the city centre, where a ‘kind of life’ goes on. He then lists various conveniences and entertainments for the tourists, including the alliterative ‘pin-table palaces and parlours’. Here, the alliteration makes the imagery trivial and not at all profound. There are souvenir shops ‘piled with junk’, including the macabre models of buildings destroyed in the blast. Again, he is emphasising the way in which Hiroshima is entirely designed for tourists. He returns to the artificiality theme with ‘glitter-frost and artificial pearls’, which are not at all connected to the atrocity committed at Hiroshima.
In the fourth stanza, the hotel is trimmed with ‘jaded Christmas frippery’. This implies not only that there is a faï¿½ade of cheerfulness for the tourists, but also that the decorations are old and neglected, something which the ‘flatulent balloons’ also symbolise. In the hall is a Cinderella coach-shaped cake, which is entirely incongruous with the Christmas decorations and Hiroshima in general. There are also modern stairs, which are strangely dangerous. This might tie in with the next image, which begins the theme of death in this poem – the poet’s room is an ‘overheated morgue’. The hotel is also entirely deserted, implying that, while tourists once overran Hiroshima, their interest has waned. There are also electric, or artificial, chimes that play out over the ‘tidy waste’, the sterile wilderness of Hiroshima now that the tourists have left from. Their hymn is unrecognisable to the Japanese, probably in a foreign language. Very little in Hiroshima seems to concern the residents of the city itself.
The start of the next stanza summarises the poet’s feelings towards Hiroshima. He states that: Here atomic peace is geared to meet the tourist trade. Let it remain like this, for all the world to see, Without nobility or loveliness, and dogged with shame
He sees the memorials and souvenirs as very impersonal and meaningless. The ‘shame’ in the passage above may also connect to the Japanese people’s shame that their country was reduced to this. The poet continues to state that it is ‘beyond all hope of indignation’, plainly not feeling that Hiroshima could ever progress past this sad existence. Kirkup continues to say that anger is dead, representing the staleness of emotion in Hiroshima and also continuing the growing theme of death. In this stanza, he also mocks the euphemism for the disaster that the memorials are, with the implication that the people expected to put up these monuments and forget, but they actually force them to remember.
In stanza six, the theme of death is taken to new and extreme levels. Not only is the afternoon dying, he is also dying as he walks around the dismal Park of Peace, and the place itself is dead, as are the neglected lawns later in the stanza. There is also the poem’s only rhyme on lines two and three of this stanza, between ‘air’ and ‘Fair’. This trivialises the whole scene, and also indicates his apathy towards the Park. A traditional element comes back into the poem with trees wrapped in straw ‘against the cold’. It is possible that the cold referenced here could be a pathetic fallacy concerning his lack of feelings towards the Park. In the next line, he emphasises the age of the uniformed gardeners, meaning both that there are no young people coming to the area, and possibly that they are the only ones who appreciate the horror of the blast. He even fails to feel anything for the Children’s Monument, which should be poignant.
Stanza seven starts with a brief description of the ugly Atomic Bomb Explosion Centre, followed by the repetition of the theme of coldness. The remaining four lines are part of a plaque or advert outside, obviously designed for the tourists.
The penultimate verse is where the poet finally feels emotion. He lists many items that are very human and mundane which were caught in the blast, burnt and twisted. These simple images are provided without any commentary from Kirkup – they are distressing enough to stand for themselves. This list is profound and disturbing, and truly brings home the shock that the poet felt when finally seeing something that makes him ‘weep’. In addition, the death theme is mentioned again, as boys crawled home to ‘slowly die’.
The final stanza is but two lines long, and states: Remember only these. They are the memorials we need.
He discounts all of the grand memorials and parks outside in favour of the human, genuine artefacts that he finds in the museum, which are really what we should remember those killed by.
I felt that the list of items in the penultimate stanza is the most powerful imagery in the poem, even though it is so simple. Its simplicity is the major reason for its poignancy – it is a stark contrast to the impressive but impersonal monuments and tourist attractions elsewhere in the city.
In this poem, Kirkup is trying to lead us through his journey of discovery through Hiroshima, and he does this very effectively. We have to wait, like him, to find something that truly means something personal in relation to the atomic holocaust. This journey is metaphorical as much as it is literal, as he seeks to find these touching memorials. Much of his imagery is also very powerful when he is laying scorn on the city of Hiroshima, particularly the themes of dying and artificiality. His aim in writing this poem was achieved well.