This piece is a great example of poetry written after World War II in response to the many horrors that took place during it. The writer conveys a first-hand account of the bombing and the immense devastation that existed as the smoke cleared. This includes the destruction of the physical city as well as the terrible suffering that the remaining residents had to endure. The English version of this poem was translated from the Japanese by Karen Thornber.
August 6 Tōge Sankichican we forget that flash?suddenly 30,000 in the streets disappearedin the crushed depths of darknessthe shrieks of 50,000 died outwhen the swirling yellow smoke thinnedbuildings split, bridges collapsedpacked trains rested singedand a shoreless accumulation of rubble and embers - Hiroshimabefore long, a line of naked bodies walking in groups, cryingwith skin hanging down like ragshands on chestsstamping on crumbled brain matterburnt clothing covering hipscorpses lie on the parade ground like stone images of Jizo, dispersed in alldirectionson the banks of the river, lying one on top of another, a group that had crawled toa tethered raftalso gradually transformed into corpses beneath the sun's scorching raysand in the light of the flames that pierced the evening skythe place where mother and younger brother were pinned under alivealso was engulfed in flamesand when the morning sun shone on a group of high-school girlswho had fled and were lyingon the floor of the armory, in excrementtheir bellies swollen, one eye crushed, half their bodies raw flesh with skin rippedoff, hairless, impossible to tell who was whoall had stopped movingin a stagnant, offensive smellthe only sound the wings of flies buzzing around metal basinscity of 300,000can we forget that silence?in that stillnessthe powerful appealof the white eye sockets of the wives and children who did not return homethat tore apart our heartscan it be forgotten?!
Explore August 6
‘August 6’ by Tōge Sankichi vividly portrays the horrifying aftermath of the bombing of Hiroshima.
Throughout the lines of the poem, the poet reflects on the immense devastation and human suffering caused by the atomic bomb. The poem begins with a haunting question, whether “we,” the people of the world, can forget the blinding flash that obliterated 30,000 people and silenced the cries of 50,000 others in the darkness.
As the yellow smoke disperses, the extent of the destruction becomes apparent. Buildings crumble, bridges collapse, and trains lie burnt and damaged. The city of Hiroshima transforms into a heap of rubble and embers.
The poem also mentions a tragic incident where a mother and her younger brother, trapped alive, were engulfed in flames. The morning sun reveals a group of high-school girls who had fled and were found lying in an armory.
At the end of the piece, the poet questions whether readers can forget the silence that followed the catastrophe. It is within this silence that the anguished “white” eye sockets of the wives and children who never returned home make a powerful plea, deeply piercing the hearts of those who witness it.
Structure and Form
‘August 6’ by Tōge Sankichi is a five-stanza poem that was written in free verse. The poem contains stanzas of varying lengths. The first is four lines long, the second: nine, the third: four, the fourth: twelve, and the fifth: seven.
This piece was, as noted above, originally written in Japanese, as well. This means that the lines use very different words than those readers can explore in the English version. Certain literary devices seen in the English version of the text did not exist in the Japanese version, and vice versa.
In this poem, the poet makes use of a few different literary devices. For example:
- Allusion: throughout this poem, the poet references the events of August 6th 1945, when the Japanese city of Hiroshima was bombed by the United States.
- Imagery: occurs when the poet uses phrases like, “the shrieks of 50,000 died out” and “before long, a line of naked bodies walking in groups, crying” to paint a mental picture of the scene.
- Enjambment: can be seen when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two of stanza two.
can we forget that flash?
suddenly 30,000 in the streets disappeared
in the crushed depths of darkness
the shrieks of 50,000 died out
The first stanza of the poem is one of the shortest. It’s only four lines long and starts with the memorable phrase, “can we forget that flash?” The “flash” refers to the blinding light and heat produced by the bomb detonation, which was a defining characteristic of the bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The following lines starkly capture the scale and immediacy of the devastation. The word “suddenly” underscores the abruptness of the loss, emphasizing the shocking and instantaneous nature of the destruction. The fact that 30,000 people were killed in this event is a painful reminder of the magnitude of the tragedy and how swiftly most of the human life in the city was destroyed.
when the swirling yellow smoke thinned
buildings split, bridges collapsed
packed trains rested singed
and a shoreless accumulation of rubble and embers – Hiroshima
before long, a line of naked bodies walking in groups, crying
with skin hanging down like rags
hands on chests
stamping on crumbled brain matter
burnt clothing covering hips
The second stanza of the poem further delves into the physical destruction and the immediate aftermath of the bombing, painting a painful picture of the scene in Hiroshima. The stanza begins with the imagery of the “swirling yellow smoke.” This smoke, which was a result of the explosion and subsequent fires, creates a chaotic and disorienting atmosphere. As the smoke thins, the devastating consequences of the bomb become more visible for the poet to explore.
The poet is able to succinctly convey the widespread destruction and collapse of structures in Hiroshima. The trains, once filled with passengers, are now motionless and damaged, symbolizing the disruption and abrupt halt of daily life caused by the bomb. The poet also describes the rubble and embers of what is left over.
In the next section the stanza, the poet presents a striking image of the survivors in the aftermath of the bombing. The mention of a “line of naked bodies walking in groups, crying” captures the vulnerability and anguish experienced by those who managed to survive the devastation.
The poet uses horrifying images like “skin hanging down like rags” to describe what happened to the people in the city. This imagery powerfully conveys the profound impact of the bomb, leaving individuals with mangled and deformed bodies. The stanza progresses with a jarring image of individuals “stamping on crumbled brain matter.” This stark depiction underscores the grotesque and nightmarish scenes that the survivors are forced to confront and endure.
corpses lie on the parade ground like stone images of Jizō, dispersed in all
on the banks of the river, lying one on top of another, a group that had crawled to
a tethered raft
This stanza begins with the striking comparison between “corpses lie on the parade ground like stone images of Jizō.” Jizō is a Bodhisattva in Japanese Buddhism associated with compassion and the protection of souls. The comparison suggests a sense of stillness and a profound, timeless grief that pervades the scene.
The use of “stone images” implies a sense of permanence, as if the corpses have become immortalized in their lifeless state. The poet then shifts the focus to the banks of the river, where bodies are depicted as lying “one on top of another.” This conveys a sense of overcrowding and an overwhelming number of casualties.
The juxtaposition of these images of bodies on the parade ground and by the river emphasizes the widespread devastation and loss of life caused by the bombing, something that comes through very clearly in this memorable poem.
also gradually transformed into corpses beneath the sun’s scorching rays
and in the light of the flames that pierced the evening sky
the place where mother and younger brother were pinned under alive
also was engulfed in flames
and when the morning sun shone on a group of high-school girls
who had fled and were lying
on the floor of the armory, in excrement
their bellies swollen, one eye crushed, half their bodies raw flesh with skin ripped
off, hairless, impossible to tell who was who
all had stopped moving
in a stagnant, offensive smell
the only sound the wings of flies buzzing around metal basins
The fourth stanza is the longest of the poem. In it, the poet continues to depict the gruesome and heartbreaking consequences of the bombing, presenting a series of distressing images that highlight the widespread suffering endured by the victims.
The stanza begins with the mention of the victims being “gradually transformed into corpses beneath the sun’s scorching rays.” This gradual transformation reinforces the notion of a prolonged and agonizing death, adding to the overall sense of tragedy. This imagery also underscores the destructive power of the bomb and its devastating impact on the environment.
The stanza then focuses on specific incidents, such as the place where a mother and her younger brother were “pinned under alive,” indicating that they were trapped or crushed under the debris, still alive but unable to escape. The phrase “also was engulfed in flames” suggests that their already dire situation was further compounded by being consumed by fire, intensifying their suffering.
The poet goes on to ensure that the stanza further emphasizes the stillness and lifelessness that pervades the scene. The poet writes: ” All had stopped moving.” The stagnant and offensive smell, along with the incessant buzzing of flies around metal basins, adds to the atmosphere of decay and despair.
city of 300,000
can we forget that silence?
in that stillness
the powerful appeal
of the white eye sockets of the wives and children who did not return home
that tore apart our hearts
can it be forgotten?!
The final stanza is seven lines long. It reflects on the profound impact of the bombing of Hiroshima, focusing on the overwhelming silence and the lasting emotional scars left in its wake. The question posed, “Can we forget that silence?” highlights the eerie and haunting quiet that followed the catastrophic event. It suggests that the silence itself holds weight and significance that cannot be easily erased from memory.
The poet then describes the “powerful appeal” of the white eye sockets of the wives and children who did not return home. This image should evoke a profound sense of grief and anguish in the reader.
The final rhetorical question, “Can it be forgotten?!” expresses the poet’s vehement plea against forgetting the horrors of the bombing. It serves as a powerful call to remember the tragedy and its profound consequences, urging the reader to recognize the importance of preserving the memory and honoring the victims.
The central theme of the poem is the devastating impact of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. It explores the aftermath of the bombing and the immense suffering endured by the survivors.
The poem is important because it serves as a powerful testament to the human suffering and devastation caused by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The poet wrote it to bring awareness to the horrific realities of war and the profound impact it has on innocent lives.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other related poems. For example:
- ‘Let Us Be Midwives’ by Sadako Kurihara – is a powerful wartime poem that describes a few moments of despair and a few of hope in the aftermath of the atomic bombing.
- ‘November’ by William Stafford – a heart-wrenching and important poem that was inspired by the WWII bombing of Hiroshima.
- ‘Courage’ by Anna Akhmatova – is a passionate poem about World War II. It discusses how impressive courage is in the face of war.