‘Kamikaze’ by Beatrice Garland is a narrative poem wherein the poet explores the journey of a kamikaze pilot toward battle, and his sudden decision to turn back, and the kind of treatments and reactions he gets from his near and dear ones as well as neighbors after arriving home. Beatrice Garland once said: “I spend a lot of the day listening to other people’s worlds”. The poem, ‘Kamikaze’ gives an example of the imaginative writing of the poet who chooses to write a subject that she had never experienced with and been into.
‘Kamikaze’ by Beatrice Garland is a poem reliving the moment of history. It presents one of the imaginary Kamikaze pilots. The pilot was unable to perform his suicide mission for the links he had created on this earth, his family. In this poem, the pilot seems to be ready to undertake the “one-way” journey of the oblivion that would eventually lead to the destruction of humanity. However, when he looked below, the “boats”, the sea, and the serene beauty of nature reminded him of all the pleasures he was going to leave for the sake of pseudo-nationalism.
He changed his mind and returned to his family life. However, the treatment he got from his family and the neighbors were very pathetic. It reminds readers of people’s nationalistic mindset during the second World War.
Who are Kamikaze Pilots? Context of the Poem
The ‘kamikaze’, or divine wind, was a type of new lethal weapon that was introduced by the Japanese Imperial Army Air Service. The army had to use this weapon at the end of World War Second in a desperate, final attempt to bridle their losses in the Pacific. In the poem, ‘Kamikaze’ by Beatrice Garland, the poet visualizes a lone pilot who returns from his suicide mission and turns back to a life where he was subject to face a lot of disgrace and disrespect from his family members and neighbor.
‘Kamikaze’ by Beatrice Garland presents several important themes like nationalism, war vs peace, vanity of war, and relationship. The most important theme of the poem is nationalism. The poet talks about how nationalism or the love for the country makes people blind to reality. A pilot saved himself as well as thousands of people still he was treated like an outcast. Even the image of the national flag in the water presents the illusory world the sensation of nationalism creates in a person’s mind. Secondly, the themes of war vs peace and vanity of war are also integral to the overall subject matter of the poem. The poet as it seems from her tone is against war and all such things that destroy the underlying peace of society.
The theme of family relationships and mostly the theme of family love is another important aspect of the poem. It in the end saves a million lives. Love has the power to change even a Kamikaze pilot’s mind hallucinated with extremist nationalism.
‘Kamikaze’ by Beatrice Garland presents some important quotes that are significant concerning the theme of the poem. Here are the key quotes from each stanza that capture the essence of the poem as a whole.
- Stanza One: “and enough fuel for a one-way/ journey into history”
- Stanza Two: “he must have looked far down/ as the little fishing boats”
- Stanza Three: “…their bellies/ swivelled towards the sun”
- Stanza Four: “the turbulent inrush of breakers/ bringing their father’s boat safe”
- Stanza Six: “…they treated him/ as though he no longer existed”
- Stanza Seven: “…that this/ was no longer the father we loved.” “which had been the better way to die.”
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
Her father embarked at sunrise
with a flask of water, a samurai sword
and enough fuel for a one-way
journey into history
In ‘Kamikaze’ by Beatrice Garland, the speaker is certainly not the pilot, but his daughter whereby the poet explores the testimony of a Kamikaze pilot. The daughter of the pilot is the narrator who explores how her father showed the courage and readiness to board the plane at sunrise (in the morning) with a flask of water, a samurai sword in the plane’s cockpit, a “shaven head”, full of powerful incantations, and enough fuel for a one-way journey into history. The pilot’s daughter (the narrator) says that her father was going on such a journey that was to be written in the golden letters of history.
This stanza describes the narrator’s father getting ready for the battle, and how he was embedded in the Kamikaze attack that the Japanese used against the US Navy during World War Two. The use of the word ‘embark’ in the very first line of this stanza has a double meaning; first to board a plane and second to embark upon a new adventure. This is a willingly done positive connotation, but reading the whole poem it comes out the word ‘embark’ is suitably used in terms of the relevance of the poem’s theme.
On the other hand, in the sixth line of this stanza, the meaning of the word ‘journey into history’ brings into light the recognition and honor the pilots are awarded for their heroic and meritorious service and courage during any battle or war. In line with the use of phrases like: ‘a shaven head full of powerful incantations’ stands for the Japanese rituals according to which the soldiers have to shave their heads. The shaven head not only shows their readiness but also their dignity after their death.
but half way there, she thought,
on a green-blue translucent sea
From line eight, the tone of the poem suddenly changes. There is a reference to the abrupt decision of the pilot in this line, “he must have looked far down.” The lines like “but halfway there, she thought, recounting it later to her children” confuse the readers as it becomes quite difficult to know whether the narrator of the poem is narrating her father’s Kamikaze story to her children or grandchildren.
With the use of the phrase: ‘she thought’, the poet may want to show that while narrating the story of the pilot, she paused to think and imagine why her father decided of turning back from the suicide mission. Here the narrator may also be confused about whether she should reveal this fact of her father to her grandchildren or not. But after a little pause, she starts telling why her father has taken such a decision, and therefore, she uses the auxiliary word like ‘must’ to show the firmness of her father.
According to the poem’s context, the daughter (narrator) is telling the story of the pilot to a whole new generation of grandchildren who might have never met him. These references are enough to establish the outcome of the pilot’s decision – and the way his entire community and family judge him, based on the decision he took while going on a journey of Kamikaze (suicide mission). The poet here also invites the readers to question whether the judgment the pilot receives from his near and dear ones as well as from the community is harsh or not. The readers are also invited to question the practice of suicide missions in the war.
and beneath them, arcing in swathes
like a huge flag waved first one way
flashing silver as their bellies
swivelled towards the sun
In the third stanza of the poem, the poet presents the image of the national flag that was created in the Kamikaze pilot’s mind. When he looked down from his plane, he saw an illusion of the flag in the water below. The movement of water seemed like someone was waving the flag for him as well as the glory he was about to bring for the nation.
The poet presents another excellent image of the “shoals of fishes” here that brings out the contrast in the poet. Above the water there was a rage of war, under the water, humanity “swivelled” in the form of “fishes”. Such a representation also refers to the mental state of the pilot. His brain was hallucinated with heroism but his soul feared what the brain was going to perform.
and remembered how he
bringing their father’s boat safe
In this stanza, the sense of the previous line continues. It is called enjambment. In this section, the sea below him reminded him of the episodes of childhood. He along with his brother waited for his father to return from fishing. They built cairns that metaphorically displayed the frail but beautiful memories of childhood days. There is important imagery in the line, “bringing their father’s boat safe”. This image played a pivotal role in the pilot’s life. As it changed his decision in just a flash of seconds.
Love and trust, makes one return home. Returning home is not a kind of defeat, it is a kind of victory, a victory of love over the raging destruction war creates in the world. The “turbulent inrush of breakers” at last brought the pilot’s father who is the grandfather of the speaker back. This thought made the kamikaze pilot return to his family.
– yes, grandfather’s boat – safe
to the shore, salt-sodden, awash
the loose silver of whitebait and once
a tuna, the dark prince, muscular, dangerous.
With the introduction of the above phrase, the flow of the story is interrupted. The poet presents it in italics and can be claimed as the actual words of the storyteller i.e. the pilot’s daughter, instead of the third-person recounting we’ve been up to this point. This line may also suggest the children are already familiar with the story, or they may be joining in when the narrator says, ‘- yes, grandfather’s boat’. This line may also be an answer to the question of the children who might have asked if the grandfather’s boat was safe or taken to the safe side. This may also mean if he has betrayed the army and returned safely to his home.
In stanza 5, the narrator tells the children that grandfather’s boat was taken to the shore, which was salt-sodden, and full of butt-marked mackerel, black crabs, feathery prawns, the loose silver of whitebait, and once a tuna, the dark prince, muscular, dangerous. The phrase: ‘safe to the shore, salt-sodden’ is an example of alliteration that the poet has used to portray the way the pilot has returned. The use of letter ‘s’ in the words like the shore, salt-sodden, awash is an indication of sibilance, and this rhythm could mimic the sound/movement of the sea. The pilot turns back just like the sea, whereas the ‘whitebait’ is a kind of small immature fish that often travel together in schools along the coast. The ‘dark prince’, muscular, dangerous mean listing marine life, that is quite similar to the fish which is caught in nets and trapping of war.
And though he came back
only we children still chattered and laughed
In stanza six, the narrator again changes her tone by putting ‘he came back’ in italics. The poet says that while my father had arrived home, neither my mother nor our neighbors showed any respect to him. He had become a non-existing thing for all of us. It was only we children who were still chattering and laughing with him, but with the passage of time, we too lost interest and ignored him completely. Now he was like a dead man with no mission and no respect. The meaning of ‘my mother never spoke again in his presence’ is that narrator’s mother was emotionally punished for not completing his mission.
Because of my father return without completing his mission, my mother was not able to face my father because; this looked very disgraceful to my mother. But I want to ask whether the sacrifice mission was forcibly imposed. Because of the way the pilot was being treated by his near and dear ones and community, it was not a sign of respect rather a sign of hatred. Does the narrator want to teach through this story that your mission is bigger than your life? Does she want to tell the children that they must never give up on their lives? Does she want to tell them that the work undertaken by them must be completed without any ifs and buts? The ‘we children still chattered and laughed’ indicates childhood innocence.
till gradually we too learned
to be silent, to live as though
And sometimes, she said, he must have wondered
which had been the better way to die.
This last part of the poem carries forward the para six wherein the poet says that on the arrival of my father, not only our neighbors, friends, and family members reacted sarcastically, but ‘we too learned to be silent, to live as though he had never returned’. The narrator and other children in the pilot’s home now began to say that ‘this was no longer the father we loved.’ The last two lines of the poem highlight the mental stage of the pilot through the narrator when she said, ‘he must have wondered which had been the better way to die.’ The last line expresses the internal and mental conflict of the poet, and has a huge impact; the narrator says it would have been better if the pilot had killed himself instead of turning his head back to his home.
Through the word ‘silent’, the poet creates terse in the poem, while the modal verb ‘must’ brings about a bond between the pilot and the narrator. It may also be justifying the pilot’s actions. There is also a hint of desperation in his tone as if the narrator wishes the readers to be sympathetic and show mercy. The end of the poem with the word ‘die’ shows its somber tone, and this use of word lays emphasis on the primary function of a Kamikaze pilot.
The poem, ‘Kamikaze’ by Beatrice Garland, is one of the best poems I have read so far. However, it also disappoints me with the kind of treatment is given to a Kamikaze pilot. Though the story of the pilot’s return to his home may be based on the imagination of the narrator, it does touch me when he takes his decision of turning back from his mission remembering his childhood memories. Whatever may have been the reason for his return, the kind of stigma he is labeled by his community, family, and friends is really not to be appreciated. In all, this poem is an excellent masterpiece of Beatrice Garland that no poetry lover would ever wish to forget.
‘Kamikaze’ by Beatrice Garland was published in the poetry collection named “The Invention of Fireworks” in 2013.