Micro-Season: “The Grasshopper Sings”

From hedge to hedge about the new-mown mead;  

That is the Grasshopper’s—he takes the lead

John 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. 

Although the grasshopper might not be around at this time, you may hear the song of the cricket. John Keats’s 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, 
Grasshopper picture by Pixabay
Photo by Pixabay
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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 become a reminder that as the harvest has come to an end and the winter is drawing near, so 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”.  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. This technique is easily recognized because it uses large running stitches.

Sashiko is used to sew together various fabrics to repair holes or to provide quilting for insulation. 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)

 The following haiku was written by the Japanese poet Yoshino Yoshiko (b. 1915) and highlights the act of mending clothes.

as if mending
socks, I repair my mind
and live on
-Yoshino Yoshiko 

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 by publishing haiku journals and magazines. (4)

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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 parent’s 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 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’s work has experienced a bit of a renaissance and in 2000 Oregon State University Press released a book of her collected poems.

Sashiko Jacket from the Met, New York
19th Century Sashiko Jacket, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

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.


Resources:

  1. 72 Seasons App
  2. Sashiko: Seamwork.com
  3. Alexandra Churchill: Sashiko, The Japanese Art of Mending Fabric
  4. World Kigo Database: Yoshino Yoshiko, Haiku Topics
  5. John Whyte, Hazel Hall, Oregon Encyclopedia
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14 thoughts on “Micro-Season: “The Grasshopper Sings”

Add yours

  1. Thank you, Mark, for introducing me to Hazel Hall. The poem you quote reminds me of my career in clothing manufacture (I did a lot of ‘hands-on’ training many years ago!) The poem has a quite melancholy feel to it!
    Of course, I also love Yoshiko’s haiku, simple and poignant. I would love to get a copy of the book “Far Beyond The Field” but see it is rather expensive; maybe I’ll find a good used copy online.
    Another of your wonderful posts! Have a great weekend 😊🙋‍♂️

    1. Hi Ashley, I am glad to hear that you were able to make a connection with these poems. I also truly like Yoshiko’s haiku. And, like you, I appreciated its directness and its message. Good luck in the book search! Talk soon,

  2. Great poems. Mending used to be more of a way of life, now in our modern era there is unfortunately more the idea of throwing things out and replacing them instead of simply repairing. So I hope the art of mending will start to become more appreciated.

    1. Hi Lizi, Thanks for the comment. I couldn’t agree more that anything that we can change our throw-away culture to one that is more sustainable is a benefit. And if we can do that in the name of fashion, why not! But, unfortunately, I can’t sew. I may have to learn. Thanks again for adding to the conversation! Talk soon,

      1. Haha, I am quite bad at sewing. So it’s encouraging to know that visible stitching can be considered an art form. Although when I look up pictures of Sashiko, it looks even more difficult than keeping stitches invisible!

  3. I guess I didn’t see Hall’s poem in the same way because for me, any time spent sewing is stress relief. I abhor the recent fashion trend of spending money on ripped jeans. I often walk the trails here in mended clothes. I recently earned an emergent hole in the toe of a pair of sneakers.
    I urge everyone to watch the documentary True Cost, and think about the impact of fast, throwaway fashion.

    1. Thanks for the comment! I appreciate hearing people opinions of the poems. I was recently listening to someone talk about how every poem can be such a personal experience. And it is that potential that lies within the poem that makes it great. Thanks for the documentary recommendation! It is on the list. Talk soon!

  4. I never thought the relation between grasshopper singing and weaving of clothes
    Its really wonderful and the amount of information you have provided in such a lovely way is unimaginable

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