“The noisy cricket Soaks up the moonbeams
On the wet Lawn.”
Watanabe Suiha (1882-1946)
“Ceaseless as the interminable voices of the bell-cricket, all night till dawn my tears flow.”
Murasaki Shikibu, The Tale of Genji
There is a cricket in my home. For the past several evenings I have heard its chirping – scraping like scissors through the thick air of an Indian Summer. It has found a labyrinth home amongst the pipes leading from my bathtub to the kitchen sink. Somewhere in the wall that separates the two, it has found cool, sublime dark. It has not come into the open – yet. Rather, it is content to serenade in secrecy.
I hate it. Its twittering is so loud and endless, I am sure that an insect the size of a dinosaur is bulking inside that wall, curled like an awful fetus ready to erupt through the plaster.
But it seems that other people don’t feel the way I do. For instance, some believe that should a cricket appear in dreams – horrid thought! – it means that the sleeper is meditative, and yearns for guidance.
Western thought equates the cricket’s chirruping with contentment, the safety of the domestic hearth. To some, the cricket is a symbol that will offer protection against the Evil Eye.
The tyrant Peisistratos is said to have set up in the Acropolis the bronze statue of a cricket to protect the Athenian populace against its fearsome stare. Nearly every Native American tribe considers this terrifying chirper to be a harbinger of good luck – and that it is extremely disrespectful – poor form, even – to mimic the sound of a cricket
Images of crickets appear on charms and amulets, tiny protectors that hung from necks and wrists, that rested on shoulders and scabbards. Etched onto primeval metal or stone, they resemble fossils, an illustration rendered by fear and the need for a comforting voice in the dark.
In Japan, vendors sold crickets at temples and at summer fairs. A symbol of the brevity of life, the cricket was equated with the samurai’s brief, melancholy existence. Its chirp, a strident mystery in the grass, accompanied his heavy march to war.
In addition, the Japanese considered cicadas “vulgar chatterers”.
“whenever the autumnal season arrives, the ladies of the palace catch crickets in small golden cages … and during the night hearken to the voices of the insects”
The Affairs of the period Tsin-Tao (742–756 A.D.)
Keeping crickets in exquisite cages – carved and filigreed cylinders, golden octogans with latticed fencing – began as a hobby in ancient China. Noble ladies, clad in lustrous silks and slippers three inches long, crowded around their pets, waiting for the night to release their chorus.
In the early 12th century the Chinese began holding cricket fights – the art of selecting and breeding the finest combatants was perfected during the next 500 years. Fed on chestnuts and honey, their homes cleansed with herbal medicines, the fighters and their sport was an imperial monopoly until the early 19th century.
Throughout the Far East, crickets were considered watchdogs as well as entertainment. At the sign of any perceived danger, or of any disruption in its cricket-like contentment, the chirping will abruptly stop.
And everywhere, in every culture, it is considered very bad luck to kill a cricket – even by accident.
Now, I had completely intended on killing my noisy roommate should it ever show its face. But since I have become aware of its illustrious history and rampant symbolism, I am not so sure I should be considering this. Perhaps I should merely avert my eyes. And to ignore is always preferable to ignorance.