Culture Magazine

Singing Cicadas

By Praymont

Singing cicadas abound in ancient Greece. Already, in the BCE, 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). 

One finds them singing instead of eating in Plato's Phaedrus (259b-e) and singing to nymphs in Meleager of Gadara's "To the Cicada" (1st century). 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) while 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); lonelier still, another serenades "the absent" in John Haines' "Cicadas" (1977). But they're used to it, singing a "rustic song that sounds in lonely places" (Meleager again, "The Cricket to the Cicada," trans. Rory B. Egan).

A bunch of them break the earth's surface "already singing" in David Lunde's "Cicadas" (1999) and one keeps singing all the way up a "persimmon tree" in George Scarborough's "The Cicada" (1977). 

Doubtless, from that height their "insistent song" can spin "a web of silver o'er the silence" (Sir Charles G. D. Roberts, "The Cicada in the Firs," 1893). 

Robert Hass worried about the "maniacal cicadas tuning up to tear the fabric of the silence" ("Between the Wars," 1989), and 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

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