From hedge to hedge about the new-mown mead;
That is the Grasshopper’s—he takes the leadJohn Keats
October 22 is the last day of the micro-season called “The Grasshopper Sings”.
Not too long ago we had the micro-season “Hibernating Creatures Close their Doors” (Sep. 28- Oct 2). During this season we mentioned that early October brings frost to northern Vermont. With this frost smaller insects, like the grasshopper, often die. So it is very unlikely that there are grasshoppers singing at this time of year.
This difference in seasonal changes highlights how important the local climate was to the creation of the 72 season calendar. It also highlights how we should use this calendar not as a definitive record of events, but as a reminder to pay attention to the subtle changes that happen in the world around us.
Although the grasshopper might not be around at this time, you may hear the song of the cricket. John Keats poem “On the Grasshopper and the Cricket” reminds us that these little insects often find a way to survive that early frost.
On a lone winter evening, when the frost Has wrought a silence, from the stove there shrills The Cricket’s song, in warmth increasing ever,
The authors of the 72 season app also note that you are more likely to hear crickets in Japan at this time of year. When the Japanese talk about crickets, they say their songs sound like, “kata-sase, suso-sase, tsuzure-sase”. (1) This translates to “sew the shoulder, sew the hem, sew the embroidery”. The cricket’s song has thus become a reminder that as the harvest comes to an end, and the winter is drawing near, it is time to mend and repair your clothes.
Sashiko – Mending Fabrics with Visible Stitches
The Japanese have a tradition of mending clothes known as Sashiko or “Little Stabs”. This hand stitching technique uses large running stitches. The history of this sewing tradition is a little unclear, but it is suspected to have started in northern rural Japan during the Edo period (1615–1868)(2). The farmers and fishermen who lived in these parts used this technique to extend the life of their garments.
The sashiko technique sews together various fabrics to repair holes or provide quilting that insulates the clothes. Often the stitching has geometric shapes and patterns inspired by the surroundings. Alexandra Churchill explains, “Common motifs were originally inspired by natural surroundings-ocean waves, mountain peaks, and fields of grass-resulting in concentric circles and geometric patterns with poetic names such as persimmon flower (kaki no hana) or pine bark (matsukawabishi).”(3) It should probably not be much of a surprise that those that lived close to the land would use nature to inspire these decorative stitches. However, what could be surprising, is how the process of sewing fabrics also inspired some poems.
The following haiku was written by the Japanese poet Yoshino Yoshiko (b. 1915).
as if mending socks, I repair my mind and live on
Yoshiko is considered one of the great women poets of modern haiku. Yoshiko published her first haiku in 1948 and continued to promote haiku writing through publishing haiku journals and magazines. (4)
Around this same time, but across the ocean in Portland, Oregon, Hazel Hall also wrote about mending fabric.
Mending by Hazel Hall
Here are old things: Fraying edges, Ravelling threads; And here are scraps of new goods, Needles and thread, An expectant thimble, A pair of silver-toothed scissors. Thimble on a finger, New thread through an eye; Needle, do not linger, Hurry as you ply. If you ever would be through Hurry, scurry, fly! Here are patches, Felled edges, Darned threads, Strengthening old utility, Pending the coming of the new. Yes, I have been mending … But also, I have been enacting A little travesty on life.
Both Hall and Yoshiko are writing about the sewing of fabrics, but their perception of this process feels very different. Yoshiko seems to be creating an optimistic metaphor, whereas Hall seems to have a more mournful tone. Hall’s tone in her poem could be a result of her life situation.
Hall was bound to a wheelchair at the age of 12 after a bout of scarlet fever. She lived in an upper room at her parents’ home and took up sewing and embroidery as a way to help support the family. John Whyte says of Hall’s work,
“Beginning with the conditions at hand—her gifts with needlework and words, her limited mobility, isolation and loneliness, and the exquisite grief they inflicted—Hall fashioned poetry of remarkable originality and durability.”(5)
Hall published two books of poetry between the years of 1921 and 1923, with a third book published posthumously in 1928. Critics remark that Hall’s work lyrically connects her role as a seamstress with her work as a poet. Whyte adds, “Hers [Halls] was a rich inner world, celebrated in a darkly mellifluous lyricism.”(5) Halls work has experienced a bit on a renaissance and in 2000 Oregon State University Press released a book of her collected poems.
You can read Yoshino Yoshiko’s haiku in the book Far Beyond the Field: Haiku by Japanese Women. Hazel Hall’s work can be found in her books: Curtains, Walkers, Cry of the Times, or the Oregon State University Press book, The Collected Poems of Hazel Hall.
- 72 Seasons App
- Sashiko: Seamwork.com
- Alexandra Churchill: Sashiko, The Japanese Art of Mending Fabric
- World Kigo Database: Yoshino Yoshiko, Haiku Topics
- John Whyte, Hazel Hall, Oregon Encyclopedia
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