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re:Virals 181

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…

virus2
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!
re:Virals THISWEEK’SNUMBER:

 
     winding road
     for the next eight miles
     Coltrane

          — Cherie Hunter Day, Modern Haiku 43:1 (2012) 

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. I encountered this lovely poem too late, but wanted to say something about it…

    This poem is pure praise: a paean to a fellow and beloved artist; an acknowledgement of how art can accompany and companion a moment—and an entire life; a kind of epitaphic declaration, where the one word Coltrane, inscribed in time and mind, stands for a lifetime of gorgeous genius, a fulsome fountain of fresh sound. His music moves us as we move. The first line also offers an echoing riff: Coltrane played a wind instrument; and the setting of this poem is a winding road. Eight, too, has its own secret to tell: it’s a symbol of infinity; and Coltrane was deeply interested in the infinite—evidenced by the albums A Love Supreme and Om; and much more. Another wonder of this one-breath beauty: it allows the reader to so easily see the writer: see her driving the winding road; see her switching to the music that best fits this joint of her journey; see her wiling away the time—and then using her wiles to lure us into her poem. She listens to Coltrane; we listen to her. The duo becomes an ensemble–the unfathomable fellowship of a resounding poem.

  2. howdy haijin,

    I for one am most curious about it all, and the haiku-poem makes me restless , I don’t like open-ended, unresolved stuff, I wear a hole into the stone flooring trying to think and think again and tear the thought and think again,

    this poem is making me restless,
    LORIN, senses that the cicadas also seem to insist that it is late summer….the I know – is then something that changes the tone of the poem, perhaps. Like in – of course, I know…

    And , I am left grappling with whether the speaker is saying – I know – in a tired voice or an amused voice or a frustrated voice or an irritated voice,

    which changes the way the poem reads, depending on how I perceive the -I know – is being uttered

    There we go again, nothing more to it, but the open ended closure,
    and the beginning of one more reading or misreading…

    so the cicadas are into insisting. Dagnabbit! The – I – in there knows. But the I in me does not, and I do not like it. Sort of like fomo …fear of missing out…I am missing out something. Late summer, what would I know about late summer, it is always late summer here, even in the middle of winter, I can pop corn on the tarmac… but getting back to the poem,

    –late summer, okay, if you want to specify the season, and include the conventional seasonal word
    — what the cicadas insist

    can we do that? Have cicadas insist where insist is a human thing…
    I guess we can, besides, without that word, there is no trace of irony in the poem, and insist is a fun word here: ” what? cicadas and they insist?” really ? —kind of a thing …

    — I know
    that is one of the expressions I have grown to dislike in the early of my spring and I carry into the summer of my life …
    I know…
    what my granddad used to say when I was bawling about the boy I beat up because he beat me up at the swings and got grounded for ..
    I know
    what my teachers said when we all complained that the text books were not available because they were not printed.

    The thing is, did they know, I guess they did, but did they empathise? I don’t know
    Did they understand? They did not dwell too much on it, life is too busy and the I know was a sort of mollifier …I know – did mollify but only so much …

    so the cicadas insist
    I know

    darn the speaker, where is she heading with this ?

    On a more serious note though, I am so glad the cicadas are vocal and insisting.. because the pause in a cicada song means – signalling danger, alert, alert

    this was a great poem for discussion. Thank you

  3. Love Dan Schwerin’s poetic engagement and contemplative take (perhaps the same thing?) on the Lorin-selected ku. Also his contrast of early-late with the proverb ‘the afternoon knows what morning never suspected.’ “There is a beautiful oneness in the cicada singing the song of all living things,” he says. Yes! And this urges me to listen for a “still, small inner voice” whenever I hear such insistent “external sound[s].” Whether Dan intended it or not, his commentary has a spiritual depth that makes my heart soar. To borrow Cezar-Florin Ciobîcă’s wonderful words: “It’s pointless to add anything… The rest is silence that decants…”

    1. “. . . Dan Schwerin’s poetic engagement and contemplative take (perhaps the same thing?) on the Lorin-selected ku.” – Christina
      .
      Christina, Julie Warther’s ‘cicada’ haiku was “Cezar-Florin-selected” as a consequence of Cezar-Florin’s winning commentary for last week’s Re:Virals, not “Lorin-selected”.
      .
      “Although like butterflies they do not undergo a complete metamorphosis, they do, like humans, transform from one fully-functioning state to another.” – Christina
      .
      Yes, but quite unlike humans cicadas spend up to about 7 years underground as kind of grubs (down among the earthworms or, according to Ancient Greek mythology, in Hades) before they emerge and after emerging they have to perform precise surgery on themselves with a new forelimb while perched on a bush or tree branch, or wood fence etc., sawing away to make the slit down the back from which to emerge!
      .

      Awe-inspiring to come upon one by chance and watch this process. Later in the season, the empty shells still cling to things with their empty claws and rattle in the wind.
      .
      – Lorin

      1. Thanks for the name-correction, LORIN, and the additional info about the cicada’s nymph stage. Inspiring.

        Apologies, CEZAR-FLORIN, for not naming you as the one who selected Warther’s haiku last week. A wonderful choice.

        I enjoyed, by the way, each of your commentaries.

    2. Dan,

      “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 that, I almost did not notice it.
      …I have walked busy roads in the tropical world with the cars vrooming past and the cicadas being their vocal selves. It is a harmonious hum…somehow, the I never emerged in the awe of it all, nature and motor merge …

  4. Dear Christina Pecoraro,
    Greetings! After all the colors and forgotten things, shape of life turned, your take beautifully carved in the following conclusive lines.

    “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?”

    1. Lorin,
      I am fascinated by the scientific extrapolation in your response.
      “What are the cicadas insisting? Translated into human language, is it something like “Come out and mate before it’s too late.” ?

      Here is something that I find fascinating: cicadas spend a long time underground and emerge from there for a short mortal period… The span of underground activity varies from species to species…

      You know what? I wonder what the poet was dwelling on when she penned this one…

      and you may be right …

      I am just caught up in the various ways we can read the poem

      late summer
      I know

      what

      the cicadas insist


      I know
      what the cicadas insist

      late summer

  5. Dear Lorin Ford,

    Greetings! Your analysis, well drawn, in the process, in the end your thoughtful queries, are highly insightful. ” ear -bashing coinage” wonderful coinage.

    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?

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