Let Us Be Midwives

Sadako Kurihara

‘Let Us Be Midwives’ by Sadako Kurihara is a powerful war-time poem that describes a few moments of despair and a few of hope in the aftermath of the atomic bombing.

Sadako Kurihara

Nationality: Japanese

Sadako Kurihara was a war survivor turned poet advocating peace, justice, and human compassion.

She lived in Hiroshima and survived the atomic bomb during WWII.

Key Poem Information

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Central Message: Only together can we survive tragedy

Themes: Death, War

Speaker: Unknown

Emotions Evoked: Fear, Hope, Pain

Poetic Form: Block Form

Time Period: 20th Century

This is an emotional poem that describes the birth of a child in the terrible aftermath of the atomic bombings during World War II. It memorably describes how this child symbolized hope.

One such powerful narrative is about the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is seen in this piece. This highly important poem transports readers to the haunting aftermath of the atomic bombing, where hope and compassion shine amidst the darkest of times. 

Kurihara’s words are a plea for empathy, reminding readers of how important it is to take care of one another and fight for peace. 

This poem was translated by Richard Minear. 


‘Let Us Be Midwives!’ by Sadako Kurihara is an emotional poem that tells a story about what happened after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.  

The poem opens with a scene set in a basement, now a ruined concrete structure, where survivors of the atomic bomb seek shelter. The atmosphere is described as devoid of light, with victims overflowing the room; their suffering is through the smell of blood and death.

The concluding lines of the poem echo with a plea and a call to action: “Let us be midwives! Let us be midwives! Even if we lay down our own lives to do so.”

Structure and Form 

‘Let Us Be Midwives!’ by Sadako Kurihara is an eighteen-line poem that was originally written in Japanese. It was translated into English by Richard Minear. The poem is written in block form, meaning that it is contained in a single stanza and does not have any line breaks

It’s also important to note that because this poem was written in Japanese and translated to English, it’s hard to know which literary devices were present in the original and which are a result of the translation. One should keep this in mind when interpreting the text. 

Literary Devices 

In this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. For example: 

  • Imagery: the use of particularly memorable images that should trigger the reader’s senses. For example, “The smell of fresh blood, the stench of death, / The closeness of sweaty people, the moans.”
  • Juxtaposition: an intentional contrast between two things. For example, the darkness of the room with the hope that the child brings. 
  • Caesura: an intentional pause in the middle of a line of verse. For example, “It was dark—not even a single candle.”

Detailed Analysis 

Lines 1-7

Night in the basement of a concrete structure now in ruins.
Victims of the atomic bomb jammed the room;
It was dark—not even a single candle.
The smell of fresh blood, the stench of death,
The closeness of sweaty people, the moans.
From out of all that, lo and behold, a voice:
“The baby’s coming!”

The first seven lines of this poem bring readers into a dark and intense atmosphere. The opening line, “Night in the basement of a concrete structure now in ruins,” immediately establishes the setting as a dark, destroyed space. The use of the word “ruins” suggests the devastating impact of the bombing and conveys a sense of desolation. This is contrasted by what is revealed as the poem progresses. 

The poet also makes use to emphasize the darkness, stating, “It was dark—not even a single candle.” The darkness becomes symbolic of the overall state of the survivors’ lives and the uncertainty of their future.

The seventh line serves as a turning point in the poem: “From out of all that, lo and behold, a voice: / ‘The baby’s coming!'” Here, amidst the chaos and suffering, a voice breaks through, letting readers know that a baby is about to be born. This unexpected declaration introduces a glimmer of hope and new life amidst the darkness and destruction.

Lines 8-13

In that hellish basement,
At that very moment, a young woman had gone into labour.
The speaker, seriously injured herself, had been moaning only moments before.

In the next few lines, the poet goes on to write about a young woman in labor. The phrase “In that hellish basement” conveys the intense and unbearable conditions in which the events unfold. It emphasizes the overwhelming sense of suffering and despair that permeates the environment.

The next line, “In the dark, without a single match, what to do?” emphasizes the extreme challenges faced by everyone who is present in the basement. The lack of light is a clear symbol of the general absence of resources. This serves to highlight the desperation of the situation.

The next lines introduce a voice declaring, “I’m a midwife. I’ll help with the birth.” This proclamation is a powerful act of bravery. Despite being seriously injured themselves, this person steps forward to offer their expertise and assistance. Everyone forgot, for a moment, what was going on around them and turned to help the young woman in need. 

The concluding line of this section, “The speaker, seriously injured herself, had been moaning only moments before,” emphasizes the sacrifice and determination of the midwife. It highlights that this selfless act of offering help comes from someone who has experienced her own pain and suffering. It further underscores the resilience and strength of the human spirit to rise above personal anguish and extend a helping hand.

Lines 14-18 

And so new life was born in the dark of that pit of hell.
Even if we lay down our own lives to do so.

Despite the overwhelming suffering and despair, the birth of a child represents a symbol of hope and renewal. It emphasizes the resilience and indomitable spirit of life that can emerge even in the most horrific situations.

But, the poem takes another turn, describing how the injured midwife died. The image of her dying before dawn, still covered in the blood of the newborn, serves as a powerful testament to her unwavering commitment to helping the young woman. 

These closing lines of the poem leave a lasting impact, urging readers to reflect on their own capacity for compassion and selflessness while reminding everyone of the horrors of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 


What is the historical context of the poem?

The poem is set in the aftermath of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. It reflects the experiences and untold stories of the survivors who endured immense suffering and destruction.

How does the poem explore the theme of resilience?

The poem portrays the resilience of the human spirit through the birth of a child in the basement, despite the devastating circumstances. It highlights the ability to find hope and renewal even in the darkest of times, emphasizing the strength and determination to move forward.

What does the midwife symbolize in the poem?

The midwife represents selflessness, sacrifice, and compassion. Despite her own injuries and pain, she steps forward to help the young woman in labor, ultimately sacrificing her own life. The midwife becomes a symbol of empathy, resilience, and the willingness to prioritize the well-being of others.

What is the tone of this poem? 

The tone of the poemLet Us Be Midwives!’ by Sadako Kurihara can be described as a mix of somberness and despair with hope. The birth of a child in such dire circumstances brings a tone of hope, symbolizing the triumph of life.

Similar Poetry 

Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some related poems. For example:

  • Novemberby William Stafford – is a heart-wrenching and important poem that was inspired by the WWII bombing of Hiroshima. 
  • Morning Song’ by Sylvia Plath is a powerful poem about motherhood. The speaker explores the emotions related to it as well as its implications.
  • Carrion Comfort by Gerard Manley Hopkins describes the depths of a speaker’s despair and the realizations he came to by not giving in. 

Poetry+ Review Corner

Let Us Be Midwives

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Sadako Kurihara (poems)

Sadako Kurihara

Sadako Kurihara's poetry captures human resilience, particularly in the context of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Her works delve deep into the depths of despair and explore the enduring spirit of hope and compassion.This poem is the poet's best-known piece. Kurihara is able to shed light on the untold stories of the survivors and offer a powerful voice to those affected by the atrocities of war.
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20th Century

Sadako Kurihara's poem exemplifies the diversity and experimentation of 20th-century poetry. Her work reflects the shifting literary landscape of the time, incorporating themes of war and trauma. Kurihara's poetry demonstrates a departure from traditional forms and embraces a more personal and visceral expression of emotions. Her contributions to 20th-century poetry offer a unique perspective on the tumultuous events and the complex emotional landscape of the era. Be this as this may, this isn't a very well-known poem.
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Sadako Kurihara's 'Let Us Be Midwives' draws inspiration from the long tradition of Japanese poetry but is not regarded as a highly important Japanese poem. Despite this, it incorporates elements such as symbolism and an appreciation for the beauty within fleeting moments. The poem embodies the contemplative and evocative nature often found in Japanese poetry.
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Death permeates Sadako Kurihara's poem, particularly in the context of war and destruction. Her descriptions of the aftermath of the atomic bombings confront the stark reality of mortality and the fragility of life. Through her exploration of death, Kurihara prompts readers to reflect on the devastating consequences of war and the urgency to seek peace and understanding.
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War is a central theme in this poem, specifically the horrors and aftermath of World War II. She vividly portrays the devastating impact of war on individuals, families, and communities in this piece. Kurihara's poem describes the physical and psychological scars left by war, emphasizing the need to prevent such atrocities from happening again.
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Fear is an important element in this poem, particularly the fear instilled by the terrors of war and the devastation caused by the atomic bombings. She captures the intense fear experienced by individuals facing death, destruction, and an uncertain future.
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Despite the harrowing subject matter, hope emerges as a recurring theme in Sadako Kurihara's poem. Through moments of resilience, care for one another, and the birth of a new life, she portrays the enduring spirit of hope amidst despair.
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Pain is a pervasive element in this poem. The poet captures the physical and emotional anguish experienced by a few individuals affected by the atomic bombing. Kurihara's poignant descriptions in this short poem allow readers to empathize with the depths of human suffering and reflect on the consequences of violence and conflict.
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The midwife's selflessness and dedication to assisting the young woman in labor demonstrate the power of caring for others, even in the direst circumstances. The poem emphasizes the importance of compassion and collective support, showcasing the transformative potential of care and the healing it can bring.
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The poem mourns the lives lost in the bombings and laments the tragedy of human loss in the face of war. It invites readers to reflect on the profound impact of loss and the imperative to remember and honor those who have been taken away.
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Motherhood is intimately woven into the fabric of the poem. The young woman in labor represents the strength and vulnerability of motherhood, while the midwife embodies the selfless nurturing and protection that define the maternal role. 'Let Us Be Midwives' acknowledges the profound bond between mother and child and celebrates the resilience and sacrifices of mothers in the midst of adversity.
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World War Two (WWII)

This poem reflects the devastating impact of the war, particularly through the lens of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It sheds light on the experiences of the survivors and the immense suffering they endured. The description of the ruined concrete structure and the presence of injured and dying individuals in the dark basement evokes the chaos and destruction caused by the war.
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Block Form

This is a block form poem, meaning that all the lines are combined into one stanza. There are no line breaks, meaning that the narrative flows easily from one action to the next or from one piece of dialogue to the next. This could be seen to represent the collective strength and unity of women working together as midwives, supporting and empowering each other in the birthing process of a better world.
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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.

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