Thursday, March 18, 2021

Singing cicadas (Cicadas, pt 1)

Singing cicadas abound in ancient Greece. Already, before the CE, they sing like a king in Anacreon's "Ode to the Cicada" (6th century) and sing ... well ... better than donkeys in the prologue to Callimachus' Aetia (3rd century). 

Cicadas prefer singing to eating in Plato's Phaedrus (259b-e). One there finds them liaising with the Muses while, in Meleager of Gadara's "To the Cicada" (1st century), they're singing to the nymphs. They "pour forth their lily-like voice" in the Iliad (3.151, trans. A. T. Murray). (Wait ... their voice sounds like a lily...?)

Further afield, cicadas sing themselves hoarse in Virgil's second Eclogue. One "sings all his life" in Richard Wilbur's "Cigales" (1947) and another "sang itself utterly away" (Basho, trans. R. H. Blyth). 

Singing cicadas greet the dusk in Tennyson's "Mariana In the South" (1842), accompany dry grass in Eliot's Waste Land (1922, lines 354-5), and fill the night with "insensate zest" in Aldous Huxley's "The Cicadas" (1931). 

A cicada goes solo in Richard Aldington's "To a Greek Marble" (1912). Another serenades "the absent" in John Haines' "Cicadas" (1977). They're used to it, singing their "rustic song that sounds in lonely places" (Meleager again, "The Cricket to the Cicada," trans. Rory B. Egan).

A whole choir of them break the surface "already singing" in David Lunde's "Cicadas" (1999), and "the cicada, that brazen jongleur of the trees, shaking his iridescent rapture" (Conrad Aiken, "The Cicada," 1958) keeps singing all the way up a "persimmon tree" in George Scarborough's "The Cicada" (1977). 

From such heights, the "insistent song" spins "a web of silver o'er the silence" (Sir Charles G. D. Roberts, "The Cicada in the Firs," 1893). 

Robert Hass anticipated "maniacal cicadas tuning up to tear the fabric of the silence" ("Between the Wars," 1989), and Gary Snyder heard "cicada singing / swirling in the tangle" ("Song of the Tangle," 1968). Truman Capote utterly lost patience with them: 

A cicada called. Another answered. "Shut up, bettle-bugs! Whut you wanna be makin' so much racket fer? You lonesome?" (Truman Capote, "Preacher's Legend," 1945)

Billions of cicadas will soon be singing in the eastern USA

No comments: