Welcome to re:Virals, The Haiku Foundation’s weekly poem commentary feature on some of the finest haiku ever written in English. This week’s poem was
late summer what the cicadas insist I know — Julie Warther, tinywords 18:2 (2019)
Lorin Ford wonders:
What is it that these cicadas insist that the subject (the I of the poem) knows? That the season is late summer, so any day now it will be autumn? Or are the cicadas insisting on something else, something not overtly mentioned in the haiku but that the subject is well aware of anyway, cicadas or no cicadas? Or are these two things metaphorically related? I think this last is most likely.
The sounds cicadas in my yard make are shrill and LOUD:
“Cicadas are the most efficient and loudest sound-producing insects in existence. (. . .) The Green Grocer, Yellow Monday and the Double Drummer produce noise intensity in excess of 120dB at close range (this is approaching the pain threshold of the human ear). (. . .) Only the male sings as a mating ritual to attract the females (. . .) The males of many cicada species tend to group together when calling which increases the total volume of noise and reduces the chances of being eaten by birds.”
What are the cicadas insisting? Translated into human language, is it something like “Come out and mate before it’s too late.” ? Or is it simply that the subject of the poem, well aware that the days are shortening and she herself is getting older, doesn’t need to be reminded by naggingly insistent, ear-bashing cicadas?
Dan Schwerin is grateful:
I love the poems that sneak up on you. I think the construction of this poem is remarkable. ‘Late’ summer is so different from ‘early,’ when anything seems possible with everything ahead. There is a Swedish proverb that says, ‘the afternoon knows what morning never suspected.’ All of this is suggested in the phrase: ‘late summer.’ The fragment, ‘what the cicadas insist I know,’ reads as the content first—the ‘what.’ Then another reading emerges in what we know when time has passed and the hour is late. This reading is suggested by leaving the last line to read, ‘I know.’ There is a beautiful oneness in the cicada singing the song of all living things. I have read one kajillion cicada poems, but this one ends with the reverberation of, ‘I know,’ being a silent thing. Beautiful that the poem holds both the song of an external sound, and the still, small inner voice. Thank you for this venue too, for the poets and the poetry.
Does Christina Pecoraro also know?
With a touch of wry humor, Julie Warther’s haiku, I believe, is open to multiple meanings. Reading it, I was taken instantly by the verb “insist,” for me a powerful rendering of what cicadas do with their emphatic sound. It reminded me of Martin Walls’ word, “stubborn,” in his poem, “Cicadas at the End of Summer.” Of these determined insects who, he says, “chime like freight wheels,” Walls writes:
What cicada leave behind is a kind of crystallized memory;
The stubborn detail of, the shape around a life turned
The color of forgotten things…
Both poets place us where Warther’s ku begins: in “late summer.” This is characteristically the time when cicadas let loose the shrill serenade known to be the males’ mating song. According to insects.about.com, the sound of the cicada love song, the loudest in the insect world, “can be heard by females up to a mile (1.6 kilometers) away.” How’s that for hutzpah?
Equally significant for me is what the website Cicada Mania points out: that for many people cicadas “represent personal change, renewal, rebirth, and transformation.” Although like butterflies they do not undergo a complete metamorphosis, they do, like humans, transform from one fully-functioning state to another.
What is it, then, that Warther’s cicadas insist? Could it be simply that summer is fast disappearing? And could that, in turn, serve to put us on notice that a season of life is drawing to a close? That no stage in life is permanent?
Or could they be insisting, gleefully perhaps, that now is the time for mating, another kind of transformation?
And what of Warther’s “I know?” Do the cicada insist that she—and so I too—be aware of these realities, insist we learn them, take note of them? Or is the haiku’s author playfully telling us that what the cicada convey of life and love, timing and transformation, she already comprehends (“I know”)? And what of me, the one who along with her hears the cicada’s insisting? Do “I know” too? If not, am I willing to be tutored by these tenacious teachers?
Cezar-Florin Ciobîcă listens to the choir:
The first verse introduces us into the atmosphere of the end of a season that is under the sign of the sun and bears the halo of vitality.
The second verse invites us to reflect on an existential problem. Maybe the narrator suffers because of an illness or disease and feels that his/her end is not so far away. If it is about a cancer, then there’s no cure for stage 4… The plural of the noun (‘’cicadas’’), probably not by chance, leads me to compare the whining sound of these insects with an ancient choir, which foretells ominous things. However, the tune has the effect of an emotional catharsis that helps the narrator to accept with serenity what’s next.
The final verse seems to highlight the acceptance of something undesirable but inevitable. Sickness proved more powerful. Game is over. You are going to be erased…
From a technical point of view, putting the verb ”know” in the last line postpones the surprise offered to the readers and creates a tension that gives some gravity to the poem… It’s pointless to add anything… The rest is silence that decants…
As this week’s winner, Lorin gets to choose next week’s poem, which you’ll find below. We invite you to write a commentary to it. It may be as long or short, academic or spontaneous, serious or silly, public or personal as you like. We will select out-takes from the best of these. And the very best will be reproduced in its entirety and take its place as part of the THF Archives. Best of all, the winning commentator gets to choose the next poem for commentary.
Anyone can participate. A new poem will appear each Friday morning. Simply put your commentary in the Contact box by the following Tuesday midnight (Eastern US Time Zone). Please use the subject
header “re:Virals” so we know what we’re looking at. We look forward to seeing some of your favorite poems — and finding out why!
winding road for the next eight miles Coltrane — Cherie Hunter Day, Modern Haiku 43:1 (2012)