March 31, 2004

The Coming Cicadas
During Brood X's 1970 emergence, Bob Dylan...added to the immortality of cicadas with a song he wrote about the occasion, "Day of the Locusts" [catching] the eerie appeal of the cicadas' sound:

And the locusts sang, well, it give me a chill,
Yeah, the locusts sang such a sweet melody.
And the locusts sang with a high whinin' trill,
Yeah, the locusts sang and they was singing for me . . .

Dylan is one of a long line of artists smitten with cicadas. J.G. Myers, whose 1929 book "Insect Singers" records much of cicada lore, preserves these lines from an ode to the insect attributed to the Greek poet Anacreon: "You are worthy of the homage of mortals, you, the charming prophet of summer. The Muses love you." Out of the East comes this haiku from the Japanese poet Saren, as translated by Japanologist and cicada-lover Lafcadio Hearn:

Fathomless deepens the heat;
The ceaseless shrilling of cicadas mounts, like hissing fire,
Up to the motionless clouds.

Once the eggs are laid, the adults begin to die, and they will all be gone by early July. The eggs will mature, and provided they have not been eaten, young cicada nymphs will hatch out of their nests in August. Each one smaller than a grain of rice, they will drop to the ground and work their way into the soil, not to be seen above ground again until 2021.

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