"Kamikaze" was written by contemporary British poet Beatrice Garland and published in The Invention of Fireworks (2013). The title refers to Japanese pilots during World War II tasked with flying a suicide mission. With planes full of explosives and just enough fuel to make it to their target, kamikaze pilots had to fly directly at American warships to inflict maximum damage—killing themselves in the process. The poem tells the story of one particular pilot who decides to turn back, prompted by a childhood memory of his brother and father by the sea. Upon his return, however, his whole family disown him—including the poem's main speaker, his daughter.
Her father embarked ...
... journey into history
but half way ...
... green-blue translucent sea
and beneath them, ...
... towards the sun
and remembered how ...
... father’s boat safe
– yes, grandfather’s ...
... prince, muscular, dangerous.
And though he ...
... chattered and laughed
till gradually we ...
... way to die.
Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.
World War II Poetry — A valuable critical overview of WWII poets by the Poetry Foundation.
Garland's Perspective — Garland discusses the poem in this short interview.
Interview with Kamikaze Pilots — Garland's poem was in part inspired by this article, an interview with two kamikaze pilots.
More Poems by Garland — A link to Garland's own website, which has a number of her poems up for reading.
Shame and Honor — A fascinating essay that looks into the Japanese attitude towards shame and honor. The essay also focuses on bushido (which originated with the samurai warriors).
1Her father embarked at sunrise
2with a flask of water, a samurai sword
3in the cockpit, a shaven head
4full of powerful incantations
5and enough fuel for a one-way
6journey into history
7but half way there, she thought,
8recounting it later to her children,
9he must have looked far down
10at the little fishing boats
11strung out like bunting
12on a green-blue translucent sea
13and beneath them, arcing in swathes
14like a huge flag waved first one way
15then the other in a figure of eight,
16the dark shoals of fishes
17flashing silver as their bellies
18swivelled towards the sun
19and remembered how he
20and his brothers waiting on the shore
21built cairns of pearl-grey pebbles
22to see whose withstood longest
23the turbulent inrush of breakers
24bringing their father’s boat safe
25– yes, grandfather’s boat – safe
26to the shore, salt-sodden, awash
27with cloud-marked mackerel,
28black crabs, feathery prawns,
29the loose silver of whitebait and once
30a tuna, the dark prince, muscular, dangerous.
31And though he came back
32my mother never spoke again
33in his presence, nor did she meet his eyes
34and the neighbours too, they treated him
35as though he no longer existed,
36only we children still chattered and laughed
37till gradually we too learned
38to be silent, to live as though
39he had never returned, that this
40was no longer the father we loved.
41And sometimes, she said, he must have wondered
42which had been the better way to die.