Almost Nothing, yet Everything: A Stunning Japanese Illustrated Poem Celebrating Water and the Wonder of Life
By Maria Popova
“If you turn your back to the blues and deny your dependence on them,” Ellen Meloy wrote in her timeless meditation on water as a portal to transcendence, “you might lose your place in the world, your actions would become small, your soul disengaged.”
There is more than poetic truth in her words — there is also a scientific fact about what makes our planet a world. When the Voyager took its epochal photographs of Earth from the edge of the Solar System and Carl Sagan saw suspended in a sunbeam a “pale blue dot,” he placed that scientific fact at the heart of his famous prose poem of cosmic perspective. “That’s home. That’s us,” he wrote. “On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives.”
And those lives, every single one of them, yours and mine and the firefly’s, are of the blue world. Eons after we rose from the primordial ocean, water courses through us, comprising the vast majority of our bodies, composing the entire symphony of aliveness with its miniature oceans walled within each silent cell.
That silent symphony comes alive in the lovely illustrated poem Almost Nothing, yet Everything: A Book about Water (public library) by Japanese poet Hiroshi Osada, artist Ryōji Arai, and translator David Boyd — the trio behind the subtle and wondrous Every Color of Light.
From its delicately painted pages, which this screen representation drains of splendor, water springs eternal yet endlessly mutable.
As father and child embark on a riverine journey in their slender red boat, haloed by their wide-brimmed sun hats, we see them — the large sun and the small sun — encounter water, “the mother of us all,” in its various guises: changing shape and color, flowing “like tears” and raining down “like falling stars,” cascading over waterfalls and coursing along rivers, giving shape and substance to everything we know as life.
It has no color,
but can be any color.
It has no shape
but can take any shape
You can touch it, but you cannot hold it.
Even if you slice into it, it won’t be cut.
It can slip through your fingers, like it’s nothing at all.
But life would be unthinkable without it.
Only oxygen and hydrogen, simple as can be.
But nothing means more to life as we know it.
Complement Almost Nothing, yet Everything — a worthy belated addition to the loveliest children’s books of 2021 — with the Scottish mountaineer and poet Nan Shepherd on the might and mystery of water, Olivia Laing on life, loss, and the wisdom of rivers, and Bruce Lee on the philosophy behind his water metaphor for resilience.
Illustrations courtesy of Enchanted Lion Books; photographs by Maria Popova
Published January 2, 2022