Rosa de Hiroshima

Lyrics from “Rosa de Hiroshima” by Vinicius de Moraes, music by  Gérson Conrad; released by Secos & Molhados (1973)

Pensem nas criancas // Think of the children
Mudas, Telepáticas // Mute, telepathic
Pensem nas meninas // Think of the girls
Cegas, inexatas // Blind, inexact (amiss)
Pensem nas mulheres // Think of the women
Rotas, alteradas // Torn, altered
Pensem nas feridas // Think of the wounds
Como rosas cálidas // Like burning roses
Mas oh! Nao se esqueçam // But oh! Don’t forget
Da rosa da rosa // The rose of roses
Da rosa de Hiroshima // The rose of Hiroshima
A rosa hereditária // The hereditary rose
A rosa radioativa // The radioactive rose
Estúpida e inválida // Senseless and invalid
A rosa com cirrose // The rose with cirrhosis
A anti-rosa atomica // The atomic anti-rose
Sem cor, sem perfume // Without color, without fragrance
Sem rosa, sem nada // Without rose, without anything

— Commentary —

hiroshima_After via Atlantic via U.S. National Archives
Hiroshima in the aftermath of the attack. Image via The Atlantic .

In the early morning of 6 August 1945, an American B-29 bomber, the Enola Gay, lifted off a runway on Tinian Island in the Pacific. Piloted by Colonel Paul W. Tibbets, who had named the giant Superfortress after his mother, the Enola Gay carried a ten-thousand-pound atomic bomb known as “Little Boy.” At 8:15 A.M., the crew of the Enola Gay covered their eyes with dark glasses and the bombardier, Thomas Ferebee, released the huge orange and black bomb over Hiroshima, Japan, a city of 250,000 people, many of whom were starting their last day on earth. The bomb exploded over the city with a brilliant flash of purple light, followed by a deafening blast and a powerful shock wave that heated the air as if expanded. A searing fireball eventually enveloped the area around ground zero, temperatures rose to approximate those on the surface of the sun, and a giant mushroom cloud roiled up from the city like an angry gray ghost. Within seconds Hiroshima was destroyed and half of its population was dead or dying. Three days later, a second atomic bomb destroyed the Japanese city of Nagasaki, killing more than 60,000 people. –Michael Hogan: Hiroshima in History and Memory

Vinicius de Moraes composed this poem in 1954. Nearly twenty years later, Gérson Conrad of Secos & Molhados set the poem to music. Secos & Molhados released “Rosa de Hiroshima” on their self-titled debut album, and Ney Matogrosso’s piercing rendition seared the song into popular memory across Brazil.

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Rio de Janeiro’s Diário da Noite from 7 August 1945 announced “Revolution in Methods of War!” A front-page article on the attack described the atomic bomb as “the most terrifying discovery of recent times,” and Hiroshima as “the Japanese city that had the bad luck of being the first to vanish from the map as a consequence of the effects of the atomic bomb.” Image via Hemeroteca da Biblioteca Nacional.

The horror of the atomic bomb was incomprehensible in Japan and around the world.  The scale of the attack was so unfathomable that the Japanese reacted almost as if they’d been struck by a natural disaster, rather than a man-made atrocity released by bombardier Thomas Ferebee at 8:15 that morning.  No prior conceptions or language existed to grapple with the scale of the attack, so reckoning largely came, when it came, through the arts.

The mushroom cloud of the bomb spread as a rose bud blooms and expands, and Vinicius de Moraes treated the bomb as the “anti-rose” in this poem.

Floor of Damaged Bank Building_Oct 6 1945
A woman lies with her child on the floor of a ruined bank building in Hiroshima, 6 October 1945. Image via The Atlantic.

The first verses focus on the hundreds of thousands of innocent victims of the bomb: Rollicking children were rendered mute, killed or surviving without words to express or come to terms with the experience. Girls were blinded by the searing flash;  “inexact” evokes incompleteness, or something amiss.  (I didn’t want to post too gruesome images here, but some of these seem representative of what Vinicius mentions.)

“Rotas, alteradas” can also be interpreted as “rotas alteradas,” or paths altered.

The second part of the lyrics discuss the “senseless” bomb. “Hereditary” rose may refer to the fact that survivors were “presumed to carry the curse of the bombs in their blood,” and were shunned in Japan. Invalid can be interpreted as not valid — out of bounds, unwarranted — or “invalid” in the sense of disabled, as the survivors were left both psychologically and physically. The Japanese government essentially ignored the bomb survivors until November 1953, when it established a research council to conduct surveys of survivors. The news surrounding this movement may have inspired the poem, written shortly thereafter. This rose is fatally flawed, sick with cirrhosis like the survivors who developed cirrhosis of the liver from radiation poisoning.

If the rose represents beauty, passion, and vigor, the bomb was the “anti-rose,” like an anti-christ.

 

 

 

Main source for this post: Hiroshima in History and Memory, ed. Mark Hogan