Summary of the Law (said at every Sunday Mass)

Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Poetry: Chi Ni Wa Odayaka

Flags signed by loved ones and friends were often given to Japanese soldiers during World War 
II, both as keepsakes and as prayers or good-luck charms. Many were found on the bodies of dead 
soldiers, and today they are commonly returned to the living relatives of the deceased when found.

Chi Ni Wa Odayaka

The sun rose plum-red
Above its native ocean
Into the white sky.

Its trailing branches
Caught with it a woman, made
Of steel, big with child.

She was heavy with
The deathly issue: her son
And her Little Boy.

Accompanied by
Two others, she flew westward
O'er the rising sun.

It was the feast day
Of the Light behind the sun,
A white, deathless light.

Upon a mountain
Westward, towards the Old World's edge,
It shone long ago.

It was then heavy
With a deathly issue, and
Three sons beneath It

Saw It rise, trailing
An accompaniment of
Two others, elders.

The skiey woman
Tore open her breasts; gave birth
To death; went her way.

The earthly city
Was transfigured before them:
It shone that morning

Like no launderer
Could whiten any garment,
Nor dye to redness.

Her Little Boy fell,
And in midair, crucified
Above plum-blossoms,

Proclaimed his gospel:
And the Innocents

Died for it again;
No katana was broken,
But virgin children.

The mountains melt
Like wax before the Lord; and
Men's faces melted.

(But we were only
Following orders. We were
Fighting fanatics.)

Over the kingdom,
The power and the glory
Irradiated --

Cherry branches bled
Out into the Pacific,
Silence to silence.

A little girl's eyes
Full of glass shards, plucked out by
Her mother's black hands.

A strapping soldier's
Picture, cracked in the wreck that
Crushes his father.

The Light had foretold
The exodus It would lead
From Jerusalem

Before only three:
But that day, many were led
Up on the mountain,

In a pillar of
Cloud, in a pillar of fire,
White and red and white.

Forgive, forgive us,
Christ whom we crucified
In uncounted souls.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis
Peccata mundi, dona
Eis requiem.

Icon of the Transfiguration from St. Catherine's Monastery on Mount Sinai

+     +     +     +     +     +     +


Title. The Japanese phrase chi ni wa odayaka is used to translate the text "peace on earth" in Luke 2.14.

1st stanza. It has been suggested that the sun-disc that adorns the Japanese flag may have been inspired in part by a popular lunch dish, consisting in a box of rice with a pickled plum in the middle. Regardless, fruits and flowers and their colors play a significant role in Japanese aesthetics.

3rd stanza. The "woman" is of course the Enola Gay, which was named for the mother of the pilot, Colonel Paul Tibbets. The H-bomb it carried was nicknamed "Little Boy."

5th stanza. August 6th, the date selected for the bombing of Hiroshima, also happens to be the Feast of the Transfiguration. The contrast between unnatural and supernatural light and energies runs throughout the poem.

7th stanza. The "deathly issue" that Christ was heavy with is detailed in Luke 9.30-31, where the evangelist specifies what He was speaking of with Moses and Elijah: the departure (or in the Greek, the exodos) He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem, i.e. the Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension.

11th stanza: Cf. Mark 9.3: And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them.

14th stanza: The Holy Innocents, killed on the orders of Herod the Great (cf. Matthew 2.13-20), form a parallel case to the civilians and particularly to the children who died in the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Of particular interest to Catholics is the fact that Nagasaki was one of the earliest and strongest Catholic centers in Japan, before, during, and after the suppression of foreign trade and Christianity; more than a dozen of its churches have been proposed for the UNESCO World Heritage List.

15th stanza: Cf. Psalm 97.3-6: A fire goeth before him, and burneth up his enemies round about. His lightnings enlightened the world: the earth saw, and trembled. The hills melted like wax at the presence of the LORD, at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth. The heavens declare his righteousness, and all the people see his glory. Especially in conjunction with the allusion to "the kingdom, the power, and the glory" from the Lord's Prayer, this suggests the presumption involved in taking power as enormous and uncontrollable into human hands at all.

16th stanza: An allusion to the Nuremberg Trials, in which many Nazi war criminals attempted to defend themselves on the grounds that they were only following orders, and had been too strictly trained for conscientious disobedience to be expected of them. The mention of fanaticism sets up an ironic contrast between the often criminal acts of the Japanese in the war, and the act of deploying the atomic bombs against civilians on the part of the Allies.

18th stanza: The cherry blossom or sakura is the eminent flower of Japan, equating in importance to the English rose or the French lily. The double mention of silence is meant, among other things, to suggest the Japanese Catholic author Shusaku Endo's novel of the same name, which explores the significance of suffering in the context of the cruel persecutions of the seventeenth century following the Shimabara Rebellion, and of the silence of God in the face of earthly torment.

25th stanza: This is taken from the Latin text of the Funeral Mass, and means: Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, grant them rest.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent poem.

    Even now, people are unwilling to accept the fact that the bombings of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden, and other civilian targets were war crimes just as much as similar bombings by the Axis powers. The insane excuse is often given that it was necessary so that our soldiers would not nave to die in an invasion of the Japanese mainland — as if the distinction in international law between combatants and non-combatants were irrelevant or nonexistent.