The poem describes the “cry of the cicada” and how strong it is, despite the fact that the creatures are nearing the end of their lives. A listener who didn’t know this would have no idea that the creatures are about to face death.
This poem was translated from the Japanese by William George.
The cry of the cicada Matsuo BashōThe cry of the cicadaGives us no signThat presently they will die.
Explore The cry of the cicada
The poet observes the sound of the cicada’s song, which is often associated with summer and transience. Despite the intensity and vibrancy of its cry, there is no indication that the cicada’s life is nearing its end.
The poem encapsulates the concept that life can be unpredictable and that even in moments of apparent vitality, death may be lurking.
Structure and Form
‘The cry of the cicada’ by Matsuo Bashō is a three-line haiku that focuses on the image of dying cicadas. The poem was originally written in Japanese, so the English version that is analyzed here lacks the structure that the original would’ve had.
Readers are also likely to notice that the poem engages with imagery that is very commonly related to haiku poetry, life, death, and nature.
In this poem, the poet makes use of a few different literary devices. These include:
- Imagery: the use of particularly evokative descriptions that should inspire the reader’s senses. For example, “cry of the cicada.”
- Personification: the poet describes the cicada’s call as a “cry,” something that humans do. This is a great example of how personification is used in poetry.
- Enjambment: can be seen when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two.
The cry of the cicada
The first line of the poem is also used as the title. It sets the stage for the subsequent exploration of life’s limited scope. This line evokes auditory imagery of the sound produced by the cicada, which is often associated with the summertime.
The word “cry” conveys a sense of intensity and emotional expression, suggesting that the cicada’s song is not merely a mundane sound but carries a deeper significance.
The choice of the word “cry” also implies a certain poignancy or sorrow, which adds to the theme of impermanence and the fleeting nature of life. It suggests that the cicada’s song, while beautiful and powerful, is a manifestation of its existence that will eventually come to an end.
The cicada in the poem holds symbolic value. In Japanese culture, cicadas are often associated with the summer season and are regarded as a symbol of life’s ephemeral nature. They emerge, sing their songs, and then disappear.
Lines Two and Three
Gives us no sign
That presently it will die.
The next two lines suggest that despite the vibrant and expressive cry of the cicada, there are no indications or clues that reveal when its life will come to an end.
The phrase “Gives us no sign” implies that the cicada’s song does not provide any forewarning or indication of its imminent demise. It emphasizes the unpredictable nature of life, where even in moments of apparent vitality and vigor, death can occur without any apparent warning.
This realization prompts the reader to reflect on the uncertainties and fragilities of life, encouraging them to seize the present moment and appreciate its value.
The use of the pronoun “us” in the line also highlights the universal aspect of the poem. It suggests that the observation made by the speaker applies to all of humanity, emphasizing that no one can predict or control the passage of time or the inevitability of death.
The phrase “it will die” starkly confronts the reality of mortality. It emphasizes the inevitable and inescapable nature of death. The simplicity and directness of the line emphasize the universality of mortality, underscoring the common fate shared by all beings.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other Matsuo Bashō poems. For example:
- ‘In Kyoto’ – expresses the poet’s longing to find peace in the city of Kyoto.
- ‘The Old Pond’ – this is an incredibly famous haiku that describes a frog jumping into a pond.
- ‘In the twilight rain’ – is a beautiful 3-line haiku that juxtaposes an evening rain with a bright hibiscus flower.
- ‘Autumn moonlight’ – is a traditional haiku that’s beautifully written about the seasons.