Title: Hirohito

Author: Bill Manhire

In: Sport 3: Spring 1989

Publication details: Fergus Barrowman, October 1989, Wellington

Part of: Sport

Keywords: Verse Literature

Conditions of use



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Sport 3: Spring 1989

Bill Manhire — Hirohito

page 51

Bill Manhire


I am like a canary whose cage has been opened and someone says: 'Flyaway!' Where should I fly to? If I have a song to sing, why should I waste it on places where the wind may blow it away?

To improve his eyesight
the young Hirohito gazes
at the horizon every day.

Birds and clouds: one day
he will be a living god.


In the playground
he always has to be leader;
the other kids
line up behind.

Already he knows
about physical fitness,
the importance of the will.

He likes insects, plants and butterflies.
He admires
the delicate protocols of Nature.


page 52

One day his father went mad:
he peered at his people
through the paper telescope
of his own speech.

Hirohito watched his father
being taken away
and thought of jellyfish.


At the age of 20
he travelled to Europe.

In London he sat for Augustus John.
He played golf
with the Prince of Wales.

In Paris his knowledge
of European military history
amazed the generals of France.

The happiest days of his life.

Hirohito went home,
ate eggs and bacon,
and dressed like a Western gentleman.


Then there was the war:
about which we know the truth
or do not know the truth,

in which Hirohito either played
the leading part
or he did not.

Perhaps he was
just a puppet of his warlords.

page 53

Or perhaps they lined up behind him
while he stared at the horizon

and the sun rose
and the sky filled with planes.


Hirohito knew everything
and nothing. 'Let the cry
be vengeance!' cried the allies.
'If you meet this man, don't hesitate.'

Hirohito hid inside the palace air-raid shelter,
a bank vault
with ten-metre thick
ferro-concrete walls.


When he announced the surrender
his ministers wept:
the god's voice
being broadcast on the radio.

At first no one could understand Hirohito.
He spoke a language of his own.

And for two days the nation wept —
long enough to let the Emperor's chamberlain
replace the bust of Napoleon
in his study

with one of Lincoln.


page 54

They say that when he met MacArthur
Hirohito bowed so low
that the handshake took place
high above his head.

So the Son of Heaven was a family man after all —
not in the least divine,
just a quiet marine biologist
able to sign the instruments of surrender.


I am writing my book about him,
A Modest History of the Wind,
but I am in difficulty:

chapter after chapter
is being blown away.

There he is: the warrior on a white horse —
blown away.

And there: the Shinto priest
planting rice seedlings
in the palace gardens.


And look: there is Hirohito
winding his Mickey Mouse watch.
Tick-tock: the wind takes him.

Petals blown away —
as in a haiku,
as in a tanka.


page 55

In this final chapter, a funeral:
the powers of the world
have gathered in mourning.

Hirohito —
the 124th occupant
of the Chrysanthemum Throne.

Glancing idly at the news
I catch sight of him through snow,

a man with glasses
staring out of the screen
of my 14-inch Sanyo.