けしきは見えず (keshiki wa miezu)
蝉の声 (semi no koe)
In the cicada's song
That it will soon perish
I love the combination of sounds and rhythm of the Japanese haiku. So much so that I regularly use it in theater training.
The haiku evokes the image of a tiny cicada singing its proud, unshaken song from the sweating, green bushes of a balmy summer evening. This picture is beautiful in itself, but there is a powerful underlying meaning driven by the fleeting adult life of the cicada (a few weeks).
A cicada emerges from the ground to sing a short but zealous summer song until its death. Their loud song is unshaken and carries through the sweltering days without a hint of sorrow for their approaching death. The beauty in the underlying meaning is an example of the mono no aware (the pathos of things) aesthetic, which is sensitive to the transience of things and the bittersweet sadness in their passing.
Through this haiku gem, Basho reminds us we know not when death will come, and so like the cicada every passing second should be lived with humility and zeal; our hearts overflowing in passionate song for life.