Further in summer than the birds….

When I came home last night from a weeklong stay in Ohio, a single cricket was chirping.  In a couple of weeks there will be a chorus.      By the end of August, there will be thousands of them, singing  through the night and falling silent only with the rising sun.

The sound of the crickets takes me back to middle and high school, and memories of my dad reading  the poems of Emily Dickinson.  For whatever reason, he was fascinated by her, and collected all her poems, letters, and many critical works on her poetry and life–long before she became a popular figure.   I will never forget the night he introduced this favorite to my mother and I at the dinner table:

Further in Summer than the Birds
Pathetic from the Grass
A minor Nation celebrates
Its unobtrusive Mass.

No Ordinance be seen
So gradual the Grace
A pensive Custom it becomes
Enlarging Loneliness.

Antiquest felt at Noon
When August burning low
Arise this spectral Canticle
Repose to typify

Remit as yet no Grace
No Furrow on the Glow
Yet a Druidic Difference
Enhances Nature now

Before Dad explained this poem to us, I had attached no sense of time to the sound of crickets.  I simply never noticed they began to chirp only in late July, and by the end of August are in full harmony—gradually dying off as the leaves turn and summer slips into fall.   And I think, neither had he.  From then on, even after  I grew up and moved away, we listened in unison, no matter how far apart we were, for the inevitable sound that came every year on late July or early August nights, the sound of “Further in Summer than the Birds.”    When  I went to Japan, Dad was eager to know—could  I hear them there?  (Yes, suzumushi, bell crickets, figure in Japanese poetry and art as well, and have even been kept as pets.)

Though both my parents are gone, once my birthday is past in mid-July, I still tune my ear to that first faint raspy chirp, that I know will soon become a “spectral Canticle.”  It leaves me with a bittersweet feeling—the end of summer, the years that have slipped away, and the impermanence of all living things, including those we love.

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