"Wild Grass on the Riverbank" by Hiromi Ito is a poem that highlights the experiences of a young girl who travels to a new place called the Wastelands to visit her father. Her differences from the natives in the area are apparent, and she is marginalized for not being like everyone else. In spite of the problems she faces, she keeps going, pursuing the course. She concludes that people like herself can bloom into someone new and begin a fresh start despite past hardships. Ito successfully uses repetition, comparisons to nature, personification and a burdened, yet enlightened tone to effectively prove how obstacles can be overcome in light of troublesome circumstances. Here is my interpretation of the poem.
Firstly, by implementing the repetition of phrases and sentences throughout the poem, Ito gives the poem's lines more effect. The repetition helps to emphasize the connection that Ito creates between man and nature. By frequently claiming, “The ground was covered, blooms spread across the earth” (line 92) three times, Ito makes the reader reread that particular line and better engrave the image into his or her mind. The blooms spreading over the face of the earth and expanding their reach are a sign of new life that was not always abundant there. This can be attributed to the speaker and the situation that she and the other immigrants are in. For the many people travelling to the Wastelands, they have the opportunity to start anew. The very lines written in the poem are repetitive, continuous and abundant because they are a reflection of the blooms covering the earth, meaning the syntax used also furthers the meaning of the stanza. Ito also used repetition as a means of accentuating hope within dark times, demonstrated by the way the author repeated phrases and lines that were primarily optimistic in tone, in contrast to some of the other unhappier lines.
By the end of the poem, the speaker comes to the realization that life will carry on no matter the difficulties she and people like her may face, as “living is more commonplace than dying for plants” (Ito 94) because they have the capacity to grow through rain or sunshine; good times and bad times. The endurance of the speaker in trying times is established through the adaptability of the plants that represent man. The metaphorical relationship between plants and people continues to be reinforced as the poem goes on. The speaker compares herself and others to plant life with the intent of having nature represent strength and rebirth, thus attributing that same characteristic to man. Because Ito is consistently making this contrast in various stanzas, it becomes clear that there is an underlying theme of enlightenment due to the way the author stresses how, like the plants, humans are able to undergo change or persecution and still overcome the issues that they once had to deal with.
This idea is further established and proven by the speaker’s use of positive diction in the final stanza. In addition, the speaker manages to persevere through the “...piles of dried up corpses...” (line 90) found in new places as she immigrates to the wastelands where people like her are expected to give up their culture. She is also pressured to conform to the norms of the new place she travels to. This can be seen when she first reaches the Wastelands and is expected to be silent and leave behind her old language which is a major part of who she is. This emphasizes that she is different and unwelcomed because there, such differences are not to be embraced. Instead, people such as herself are told to “...shut their mouth...” (Ito 90) and return to where it is they came from. This adds to the list of burdens the speaker experiences, which influence her ultimate understanding of the idea that she can continue to surpass such obstacles and prosper just as nature continues to bloom and grow continuously. These events help her to reach this conclusion, rather than tearing her down. By maintaining this theme, the poem takes on a more positive deeper meaning, despite the unfortunate instances on the surface that the speaker faces.
Because of the continuous comparisons being drawn between greenery and people, plants are personified within the poem. They are given the ability to speak and think in order to portray the words and action of the other immigrants that the speaker is amongst. She is able to “...[hear] the different types of grass on the riverbank whisper...” (line 89) as they speak of the trials and misfortunes they have gone through after the fires. The grass is personified as the earth itself speaking up about the situation which works to show how different aspects of nature can be closely attributed to humans and the society they live in as well. The grass discuss with each other like people would in order to convey their resemblance.
The speaker finds hope in the fact that after such difficulties she is still “wearing the open flowers and withered flowers upon [her] body” and “continued to grow stems” (Ito 96). Her withering flowers are meant to depict past hardships or scars, resulting in a battered soul. But in spite of such, she still proceeds to grow stronger each day. This is the burden she overcame and what helps to demonstrate the optimism weaved throughout the lines of the poem. By including diction such as “flowers” and “grow,” the poem takes on a sanguine tone that has the purpose of creating a more high-spirited situation in contrast to the bad experiences of the speaker. One of Ito’s main purposes with the poem is to convey the ways in which struggles are something that do not last forever because like the grass on a riverbank after a fire, people can start over, turn a new leaf and grow with a fresh start and a new beginning.