Apologies to Charles Dickens.
It was the blessed of climes until that burst of chimes…
The cicadas are coming! The cicadas are humming!
We heard about it all winter, but faced with the tsunami of plagues filling our 2021 calendars (covid, anti-vaxxers, wildfires, floods, sonic assaults from Havana and Mar-a-Lago, the inexplicable inability of the Reds to hit left-handed pitching, and Hannity), strident sibilation from a bug seemed a low priority on the fret list.
And for the most part it was no big deal. Oh, there were a few stretches of scratchy serenades, wound-tight whiny choirs, and one full-blown hella-to-ya chorus I remember, but mostly the cicadian rhythms became just one more orchestra section for my backyard summer symphony.
Recently I found a solitary simulacrum on the back of our garage. It clung like an abandoned jewel, light brown-gold on the Keeneland-green wall. It reminded me of one of my favorite writers; Lafcadio Hearn. Being retired and free to change my daily agenda to meet just about any passing whim, I moseyed to our library and burrowed into the Hearn pile.
Mr. Hearn lived a meandering life in the second half of the 19th century. He lived and wrote in Greece, France, England, New York, Cincinnati, New Orleans, Martinique, and Japan. He translated French writers for the New Orleans newspaper, reported crime for the Cincinnati paper, wrote travel articles for national periodicals, owned a bar in New Orleans, and lived his final years translating Japanese fairy tales and lecturing English literature in the Imperial University of Tokyo, Japan.
I find his writing to be challenging and pleasant. He writes with such intelligence about places and times of which I am utterly ignorant, but his prose makes him a precious guide.
In his SHADOWINGS (Boston, Little, Brown & Co., 1901), Hearn has a section designated “Japanese Studies.” One of the three parts of the section is entitled “Sémi.” Hearn tells us “sémi” is the Japanese word for “cicada.” Much of the article explores various Japanese attitudes towards cicadas as reflected by haiku.
Hearn notes; “Often a sémi may be found in the act of singing beside its cast-off skin.”
Waré to waga
Kara ya tomurð –
Sémi no koë
(Methinks that sémi sits and sings by his former body, — chanting the funeral service over his dead self.)
That’s one opinion. That’s one cicada.
Here’s another view.
Yo no naka yo
Kaëru no hadaka,
Sémi no kinu!
(Naked as frogs and weak we enter this life of trouble; shedding our pomps we pass: so sémi quit their skins.)
Which cicada might each of us be; the one who chants over our dead selves, our past selves, the old days, the glories past? Or the cicada that sings; “Thank you!” to and then leaves behind those past experiences and goes on to fly.
Which cicada might each of us be?
Which cicada might our country be?
I think I’m ready to quit those skins.
Like William Shatner, I think I’d still like to try flying.
That’s worth singing loud about.