Basho, “Such utter silence!”

“Such utter silence!”
Basho (tr. Kenneth Yasuda)

Such utter silence!
Even the crickets’ singing…
muffled by hot rocks

Comment:

Right now, in Dallas: everything is wet, everything is cold, the whole place is a slushy mess of yuck. My disgust with the weather makes me insensitive to a number of other annoyances.

Basho speaks of oppressive weather. In his case, it’s the extreme heat of summer. Unlike me, he notes his awareness of it in a subtle, refined way. He might be actively listening for the crickets, finding that the heat has hunted them down. Or he might be more like me, wondering if the season has dulled his own senses.

I am tempted to think his senses have been dulled. “Even the cricket’s singing…” invites the question of what else has been affected by the heat. “Hot rocks” indicates how thoroughly it has permeated the world. If stone burns, what must the effect be on mere flesh?

Even indoors, one is only slightly more comfortable. My apartment has been drafty, forcing me to use the heater more. The result has been dry air, no fun for an asthmatic to breathe. I imagine Basho in a much more severe situation. He’s sweating, trying to get to sleep. And then he notices that crickets which usually irritate him aren’t doing so. He’s tired, he’s not quite himself, but his observation shows something. His faculties have responded to the situation. He has become more aware, he has an articulate thought.

What, then, to make of the “utter silence” that stirs him? On the one hand, it is surprise at how powerful mere temperature can be. Everything changes, and everything can change to completely disorient one and even the world in which one resides.

Still, the undertones of that situation are less dark and more comic. So on the other hand, there’s the fact he responded to the heat, that he takes note of his condition. “Utter silence” results in the truest speech. Not that the crickets are noise, but that he understands what is around him, however absurd it may be, just a bit better. Maybe he can even get a good night’s sleep, somehow.