An untitled poem of 1854 by A. A. Fet, literally translated, goes something like this.
How cool it is here under the thick linden-tree—
the intense heat of midday has not been penetrating hither,
and hanging over me, thousands
of fragrant fans are swinging.
But there, in the distance, the burning air glitters,
wavering, as if drowsing.
So sharp and dry is the soporific and grating
ceaseless ringing of the grasshoppers.
Beyond the shadows of the branches the vault of heaven shows blue,
as if lightly shrouded in haze,
and, like dreams of slumbering nature,
wavy clouds pass by.
Here is the Russian original.
Как здесь свежо под липою густою –
Полдневный зной сюда не проникал,
И тысячи висящих надо мною
Качаются душистых опахал.
А там, вдали, сверкает воздух жгучий,
Колебляся, как будто дремлет он.
Так резко-сух снотворный и трескучий
Кузнечиков неугомонный звон.
За мглой ветвей синеют неба своды,
Как дымкою подернуты слегка,
И, как мечты почиющей природы,
Волнистые проходят облака.
A transliteration follows. (It uses the typographically convenient system of Nabokov’s Eugene Onegin. Stress accents in polysyllables are marked, except where the accent falls on ï.)
Kak zdes’ svezhó pod lípoyu gustóyu –
Poldnévnïy znoy syudá ne pronikál,
I tïsyachi visyáshchih nádo mnóyu
Kacháyutsya dushístïh opahál.
A tam, vdalí, sverkáet vózduh zhgúchiy,
Koléblyasya, kak búdto drémlet on.
Tak rézko-sukh snotvórnïy i treskúchiy
Kuznéchikov neugomónnïy zvon.
Za mgloy vetvéy sinéyut néba svódï,
Kak dïmkoyu podyórnutï slegká,
I, kak mechtï pochíyushchey priródï,
Volnístïe prohódyat oblaká.
Here is the original word order, with some alternatives. (Genitive phrases are indicated by of- prefixed to the first word.)
How here cool/fresh under thick/dense linden—
midday intense-heat to-here not has-been-penetrating,
and thousands of-hanging over me
are-swinging fragrant large-fans.
But/And there, in-the-distance, glitters/glares air burning,
wavering/swaying/vibrating, as if is-drowsing it.
So sharp-dry soporific and grating/harsh/crackling/chirping
of-grasshoppers ceaseless/unresting ringing/peal.
Beyond/behind haze/shadows of-branches show-blue of-sky/heaven vaults/arches,
as by-smoky-haze shrouded/enveloped lightly/slightly,
and, like dreams/daydreams of-slumbering/fallen-asleep/lying-in-the-grave nature,
wavy/undulating pass-by/go-along clouds.
The tree is a linden, or lime. If the speaker of the poem is in Russia, we might expect the small-leaved linden, Tilia cordata (or parvifolia). But since the word for the leaves means a large fan, opahalo not veer, maybe it is the large-leaved linden, Tilia platyphyllos, whose species designator is formed from Greek platus ‘broad’ and phyllon ‘leaf’. It could also be their hybrid, the common linden Tilia × europaea, whose leaves are of intermediate size.
The insect referred to is called the grasshopper, kuznechik. In crowds it is producing a constant ringing sound, presumably in the linden tree as well as beyond it. Since in view of the heat the time may be late summer, we may wonder if the term is being loosely used for the cicada, tsikada. I don’t know whether such usage is possible for a countryman and nature poet like Fet; of course, the speaker could be less exact than he.
The first stanza is concerned with here, the place of the speaker, who may be a poetical shepherd or plowman taking his rest at noon. It is like an earthly heaven or terrestrial paradise dedicated to his comfort. What is outside is happily avoided. The air is cool and fragrant. The senses affected are the subtle ones of touch and smell. The place invites meditation.
The second stanza considers there, the place the speaker can see by looking out from under the tree. It is hellish: the very air is burning, and seems to have succumbed to the inexorably soporific song of the grasshoppers. This place is perceived by sight and hearing, the dominant senses, which demand all of one’s attention. It is suggestive of passion and exhaustion.
In the third stanza the speaker becomes aware of what is above him, neither here nor there, but rather the sky and the clouds in it, somewhat veiled by the tree which in the first stanza excluded the heat. There is silence, and the seeing that now occurs is a kind of vision of heaven, whose moving clouds he compares to the dreaming thought of nature herself, as though she were a shepherd dreaming of her sheep. This conception of nature as slumbering—is it just?
To a reader of Plato, the scene is reminiscent of the dialogue Phaedrus. There Socrates and Phaedrus talk in the midday heat under a plane tree, platanos, its name like that of the platyphyllos linden deriving from platus, because of its broad leaves (or flat bark, or broad crown, depending on your authority); and they hear the song of the cicada, tettix. Although the word is also translated ‘grasshopper’, in this case it surely means ‘cicada’, since the dialogue alludes to that creature’s time underground and subsequent metamorphosis—see the discussion here.
According to a tale Socrates tells Phaedrus, the cicadas in the tree are singing and conversing (engaging in dialectic); themselves descended from men who loved song, if they should see those below “conversing and sailing past them—as though they were Sirens—proof against the enchantment” of their voices which would lull hearers to sleep, they may bear a good report of them to the Muses Calliope and Urania as men who “pass their lives in philosophy and honor the music of these Muses who, being the most concerned with heaven and with logoi divine and human, send forth the most beautiful voice” (258e–259d). (The last phrase echoes Odyssey 12.192, of the Sirens; cf. Iliad 3.152, of cicadas.) I find some similarity to this scheme in the poem of Fet. Not giving way to the glare and noise of the great world that would drown the poetic sensibility in heedlessness, the speaker is vouchsafed a certain access to the divine: the tree in which the grasshoppers or cicadas sing becomes partially transparent, admitting to view a region far above the solitary self of the first stanza.
Like other sound, song is produced by vibration, which is a type of cyclical motion. Besides the insect song, Fet’s poem shows more of this: the leaf-fans swing, the air wavers, the clouds undulate. (For that matter the heart-shape of the linden leaves [whence the name cordata, above] suggests a beating pulse.) In Phaedrus too there is much cycling, reversal, and repetition, especially in the journey of the soul (246a ff, passim); other examples are Phaedrus asking Lysias to repeat (228a), Socrates performing a palinode (a re-cantation, ‘singing over again’ or ‘back’, 243b), and written words serving to remind, that is, to take one back (275a). Above all, there is the give-and-take of philosophic discourse, by which a natural cycle of words begetting new words without end is maintained (276e-277a).
Why then is the song of the cicada or grasshopper soporific, a voice that lures to destruction? Whatever biology may have to say, proceeding from the Socratic myth we may imagine that it is simply too rapid to convey its meaning to a person. To the high energy of midday heat corresponds the high frequency of the insect’s vibration; it suits the nature of that little creature, but not human consciousness, which is aware only of a ringing or buzzing. The ancients found this song sweet, it seems; but such pattern-forming distinctions as may be drawn in it are quite lost on human beings, so that rather than being stimulated by the song one is charmed or dazed, and finally put to sleep. As Socrates indicates in criticizing the speech of Lysias and the epitaph of Midas, failure of form accompanies deficiency of sense; a discourse must be well structured and adapted to the hearer; and distinctions are essential (see the latter part of Phaedrus, e.g. 263d–264e, 271c–272b, 277b–c). These desiderata depend upon right tempo. A garden of Adonis hastily forced in summer bears no fruit (276b). Whether in solitary meditation or in conversational exchange, the philosophic discourse which above all things Socrates would perpetuate demands its own temperate measure.