Culture Magazine

Cutting Sounds (Cicadas, Pt. 3)

By Praymont

My last post included quotations in which the sound of cicadas was compared to that of a blade-grinding wheel. The blades being sharpened included scissors, knives, and razors. 

Eugenio Montale likens cicadas to cutting instruments in his poem "L'ombra della magnolia": "On the treetop intermittently a cicada shrills ... . . . The thin cutting file will soon be hushed, the empty husk of the erstwhile singer will soon be dust, it is autumn, it is winter...." (trans. Glauco Cambon in Cambon's "Eugenio Montale's 'Motets': The Occasions of Epiphany,PMLA, v. 82[7] [Dec., 1967]: 471-484 at 482)  

In her poem "Cicadas" (2000), Margaret Atwood complains of the male cicadas' "maddening racket" and "piercing one note of a jackhammer." In "Nocturne for Cicada," William Wright describes the insects as "Red-eyed dusk-chisels: they whittle the mind." In "The Cicadas" (1985), Jamie Grant says the insects are "raucous as lawnmowers." 

Sawing devices are commonly invoked. Pablo Neruda mentions the cicadas' "sawing song." ("Oda a la luz encantada," c. 1957; trans. as "Ode to Enchanted Light" by Ken Krabbenhoft) In Henry George Fischer's "Cicada Cadence," cicada sounds are "ripsawing inspissated heat." For Martin Walls, in "Cicadas At the End of Summer" (2000), it is "as though a bandsaw cleaves a thousand thin sheets of titanium." In his sequence "Island of Summer" (Incarnations: Poems 1966-1968), Robert Penn Warren writes, "All day, cicadas, / At the foot of infinity, like / A tree, saw." 


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