Almost Nothing, yet Everything: A Stunning Japanese Illustrated Poem Celebrating Water and the Wonder of Life

“It has no shape but can take any shape… You can touch it, but you cannot hold it… It can slip through your fingers, like it’s nothing at all. But life would be unthinkable without it.”

Almost Nothing, yet Everything: A Stunning Japanese Illustrated Poem Celebrating Water and the Wonder of Life

“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. If 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. Water runs through our bodies, making up the majority of the universe, and composing the whole symphony, complete with miniature oceans within every cell, billions of years after we emerged from the primordial ocean.

The beautiful illustration poem Almost Nothing but Everything: A Book about Water brings this silent symphony to life.Public Library() By Japanese poet Hiroshi ObadaArtist Ryōji AraiTranslator David Boyd — the trio behind the subtle and wondrous Every Color of Light.

Water springs from its exquisitely drawn pages.

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 is completely transparent.
However, it can also be in any other color.

It is a void of form.
However, they can also take on any shape

Although you can hold the item, it is not possible to touch.
Even if you slice into it, it won’t be cut.

It can slip through your fingers, like it’s nothing at all.
Without it, life wouldn’t be possible.

Simple as it gets: oxygen and hydrogen
However, life is more important than we realize.

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 from Enchanted Lion Books. Photographs by Maria Popova

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