…Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river-sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies…
(From “To Autumn”, John Keats, 1818)
In my last local post about cicadas I mentioned I was in the mood to write a sonnet, but a souring thing happened on my way to the muses. One of the children at our Farm-childcare came running up to me and exclaimed, with his face full of joy, “Mr Shaw! Mr. Shaw! I can hear that cicada singing up in the treetop, just like you said it would.” As I then cocked my head to listen I became aware I could barely hear it. It was a faint scratchy noise like a distant saw, lacking a lot of the timbre and glitter I could remember being there, yet could no longer hear.
Too much loud rock and roll when I was young, and then too many hours in noisy factories and running chainsaws, or just pounding a hammer, I suppose. Ears are not forever.
I first became aware I was getting deaf when I saw a cloud of gnats hovering a couple of summers ago. Unlike John Keats, I never saw gnats as mourning like a “wailful choir”, but tended to think they sounded like they were having a blast, midst a party. So I smiled and walked close to the gnats to listen, and became aware I couldn’t hear a thing. Their tiny wings make about the highest pitched notes I can think of, and the highest notes are the first to be lost, by old ears.
Well, I may have lost my ability to hear high notes, however I have honed my ability to be grumpy, so rather than a sonnet about cicadas I decided to write about gnats.
Once it was enough to be a mere boy
And stand engrossed. To listen to gnats sing
As a choir of microscopic joy;
Tiny voices in bright dusk hovering;
But now I see them and hear no singing.
I’ve gone deaf to their high pitched rhapsody
And feel an ache. Age isn’t bringing
Me wisdom; only handicaps. No glee;
Only gloom. And I wonder how it was
That Beethoven could pen songs of great joy
Though he was deaf. Then I turn to the Cause
Of all creation. “Why do you destroy
The youth you made so sweet and innocent?
Please show us where that lovely music went.”
This morning we got a break in our torrid weather, as a little low brought a front south and gave us rain.
In fact, even as the rest of the nation baked, New Hampshire enjoyed a respite, with temperatures in the cool 50’s.
I enjoyed a respite as well, because many of my mile-long list-of-chores couldn’t be done in the rain, and also one chore was to do a lot of watering of bone-dry plants, but now that chore was being done for me, by the sky.
I did something I haven’t done in a long time, which was to just lay in bed and listen to the rain on the roof. I didn’t even feel guilty about it, for Sunday is suppose to be a day of rest, and in fact Sunday is the one day you are suppose to feel guilty, if you rush about and do your chores.
As I lay in bed I wondered if the rain sounds different now that I’m going deaf, but I decided it is more the rhythm of the rain, than the notes, that matters. I also decided I felt a little like a teenager. I took my retirement back then, when I was young and could enjoy it, and I spent a lot of time lazing in bed, and thinking about stuff like the sound of summer rain on a roof.
There is nothing like the sound of the rain
On a roof, when it’s summer and your chore
Was to water. You are freed from the strain
And unlikely to complain. And what’s more
I don’t think that you ought to. You should heed
The rain’s drumming and the sighing of leaves
With windows hoisted high to hear. You need
That music to feed your heart, which grieves
In a world of fear. Let the rain come down;
Let your sorrows drown; hear the summer sigh
And drink. Let bankers rise and go to town
As you stay home and think, for muses wink,
And send the best dreams to the drowsy head
Of he who spends Sunday safe in bed.
Eventually I did get up and wander off to church in a most lazy manner, doing a bad job of being grumpy. During the sermon my mind kept wandering off to the fact Beethoven made his best music when most deaf. There is some sort of disconnect there; we tend to think we need this, that, and the other thing, to be happy. All the ads on TV tell us so. But the truth may well be we don’t need any of it. Not even our hearing.
In any case, I feel refreshed by a day off. Besides feeding the goats, the only chore on my “to do list” that I got done was to finally get around to writing a sonnet about cicadas.
Some summer long ago I knew the light,
But fell to earth and came to dwell down deep
In dank tunnels, subsisting on sap. Sight
Became a groping thing, and to creep
Became the norm, until today I got
The crazy urge to quit sucking the sap.
The dark felt suffocating, and I thought
I must go up for air, and left the trap
I’d long embraced. I climbed up, returned
To the dazzle of light, the push of wind.
My crusty skin felt old; my back burned;
And then I split from the husk where I’d been pinned.
I find I’ve grown a set of lacy wings
And can fly to tree tops where romance sings.
(PS: The post about cicadas is here: