900+ translated haiku, all on the sea cucumber and most over a hundred years old, with a good measure of natural history.
You might know about Ponge and his object poems, but the sea cucumber, a featureless and formless (protean) animal without a ganglia of brain, is the ultimate "thing," a thing that to all appearances is no more than such; yet, in Japan, there are thousands of haiku about it (namako in Japanese). How can this be? The title comes from Issa's evocative haiku, written in a month when the gods of Japan, one of whom (a goddess) lacerated its mouth rendering it speechless, are away caucusing and only Buddhist mercy rules the land. Haiku are taxed and essayed by metaphor . The practicality and joy of multiple readings are demonstrated by clusters of what might be called composite translation and the original Japanese of all poems is provided.
The sea cucumber is generally translated as a "sea slug" in haiku tradition because it is metaphorically more apt and, being shorter, fits more easily. "Trepang" is traditionally the first definition for "sea slug" in the OED, so it is not wrong, but scientifically-minded laymen can become very upset with its use for the holothurian, as conventional usage in marine science today makes the sea slug a nudibranch, a comparitively lively critter with a Nobel Prize winning brain so colorful one may even find a "Nudi of the Day." Our subject, a literal no brainer, deserves credit for working all night to keep sand clean, is made of smart material and, "knows" how to live. As TIT professor, singing biologist and best-selling author, Motokawa Tatsuo (in my translation) put it,
"by staying still and learning to live on so little, the namako has turned this world into its paradise."