The cry of the cicada

Matsuo Bashō

‘The cry of the cicada’ by Matsuo Bashō is a thoughtful poem that evokes images of summer and reminds readers about the inevitability of death.


Matsuo Bashō

Nationality: Japanese

Matsuo Bashō was a 17th-century Japanese poet.

During the 20th century, his poetry spread around the world.

Key Poem Information

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Central Message: Life is short

Themes: Death, Journey, Nature

Speaker: Likely Bashō

Emotions Evoked: Contentment, Empathy, Sadness

Poetic Form: Haiku

Time Period: 17th Century

This is a beautiful poem that effectively demonstrates Bashō's ability to discuss complex topics within the haiku form.

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 Bashō

The cry of the cicadaGives us no signThat presently they will die.


‘The cry of the cicada’ by Matsuo Bashō reflects on the fleeting nature of life through the symbolism of the cicada’s cry. 

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. 

Literary Devices 

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. 

Detailed Analysis 

Line One 

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.

Similar Poetry 

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.

Poetry+ Review Corner

The cry of the cicada

Enhance your understanding of the poem's key elements with our exclusive review and critical analysis. Join Poetry+ to unlock this valuable content.

Matsuo Bashō

This poem is a great example of Bashō's verse. It is a good testament to his poetic skill, filled with succinct and thought-provoking verses. The poem is capable of capturing the essence of human experience. It demonstrates his ability to distill profound emotions and observations into concise lines. This poem may not be his best-known, but it should be regarded among his best.
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17th Century

The 17th century was a time of great literary flourishing for Japanese poets, and Matsuo Bashō emerged as a luminary in this era. His works, including 'The cry of the cicada' showcased the poetic sensibilities of the time. Reflecting the cultural and social milieu of Japan during this period, this poem should be considered among the best of the period.
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This poem is situated within the rich tradition of Japanese poetry, deeply rooted in nature and spirituality. Drawing on techniques such as juxtaposition and understatement, Bashō's haiku exemplifies the essence of Japanese poetic aesthetics. Much of the poet's verse, like this poem, is considered to be among the best Japanese poetry ever written.
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This poem reminds readers of the inevitability of mortality, urging one to acknowledge the impermanence of life. Bashō's exploration of death is subtle yet impactful, serving as a catalyst for introspection and prompting us to reflect upon the fragility of existence through the experience of cicadas.
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This poem hints at the passage of time, inviting readers to reflect on their own personal journeys. The cicada's cry serves as a reminder to embrace the present moment and appreciate the ever-changing landscapes encountered along life's path.
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Through the mention of the cicada, a creature closely associated with the natural world, Bashō forges a connection between the cyclical rhythms of nature and the transient nature of life. The poem offers a glimpse into the harmonious and interconnected relationship between humanity and the natural world.
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In this poem, Bashō hints at the notion of contentment. The cicada's cry, devoid of signs of impending death, implies a state of blissful acceptance. The poem subtly encourages readers to find contentment in the present moment and appreciate life's fleeting joys.
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This poem may elicit a sense of empathy towards the cicada's transitory existence, encouraging readers to contemplate the shared vulnerability of all living beings. While quite different from the cicada, all living creatures can empathize with the looming presence of death.
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There is a great feeling of sadness in this poem. Bashō's ability to convey profound emotions through minimalistic verse is very clear. The poem invites contemplation of the complexities of the human heart, acknowledging the presence of sadness as an inherent aspect of the human experience.
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The poet describes the cicadas as crying out in this poem. Bashō's adept use of language allows readers to find resonance in the unspoken emotions embedded within the poem, providing a platform for personal reflection on the myriad ways in which humans express and perceive emotions.
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Insects, including the cicada, hold symbolic significance in Bashō's poetry. They represent nature and life while serving as metaphors for the human experience. By incorporating insects into his verses, Bashō highlights the intricate relationship between humanity and the natural world.
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Life Struggles

This poem alludes to the struggles encountered in life. The poem's exploration of transience and mortality indirectly invites readers to reflect on the challenges and uncertainties that define the human condition. Bashō's delicate yet evocative portrayal of the cicada's cry prompts contemplation of the resilience and strength required to navigate life's struggles.
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Mortality looms importantly within the lines of "The cry of the cicada.' Bashō's recognition of the cicada's imminent death invites contemplation of our own mortality. The poem serves as a reminder of the limited time all human beings have on earth and encourages readers to embrace life while one has it.
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This poem is a great example of haiku poetry, a traditional Japanese form characterized by its brevity and focus on capturing a single moment in time. Bashō's haiku mastery shines through in this specific poem, where he distills deep meaning and emotional resonance into a concise structure, leaving space for readers to contemplate the images.
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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.

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