"This has been acclaimed as a very powerful poem in the Japanese. Does it retain this power in English? What do you think?"
I think, "Not really." I can feel my way into this ku a little by switching species, eg
one corroboree frog clinging to it
What does a thylacine and a Japanese wolf have in common? Both are extinct. What does a Japanese firefly and a corroboree frog have in common? They are both endangered species, and the respective nations each have breeding programs going to prevent their extinction.
Then I can try to feel my way a little further by checking the words 'wolf' and 'dragonfly' as kigo,
how the words might function as code words, and yes, 'dragonfly ' is early Summer and 'wolf' is 'all Winter'. But how far does that get me in understanding the ku?
I'd say that Kaneko Tohta's ku relies on the reader's knowledge of both Japanese social history and literary history... and the mythology and symbolism shared by both. I think it's difficult for English-speakers in countries such as Australia, New Zealand and the USA (at least) to comprehend the extent to which the historical past is kept alive in Japan and with it the sense of a national identity shared by all. Even the daily and weekly newspapers keep it alive! http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fq20080613a1.html
So the Genji (big firefly - genji-botaru
) clan defeated the Heike (smaller firefly - heike-botaru) clan in the 12th-century. The Japanese wolf ( as extinct as the thylacine, but like the thylacine reports of 'sightings' crop up now and then) :
"In Japan, grain farmers once worshiped wolves at shrines and left food offerings near their dens, beseeching them to protect their crops from wild boars and deer. Talismans and charms adorned with images of wolves were thought to protect against fire, disease, and other calamities and brought fertility to agrarian communities and to couples hoping to have children. The Ainu people believed that they were born from the union of a wolflike creature and a goddess."http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolves_in_folklore,_religion_and_mythology
There is extensive information about the Japanese wolf on Gabi Greve's data base blogs:http://worldkigo2005.blogspot.com/2006/11/wolf-ookami.html
But who could know, apart from a Japanese person, a scholar of Japanese history, mythology and folklore, or a 'gaijin' living in Japan, what this ku is about without the effort of extensive research? Who knows, from all of the Japanese symbology attached to 'wolf' and 'firefly', what this ku refers to, apart from a general sense that it refers to Japan, past and present? (I will have to reread Barthes' Empire of Signs
I think that the poem gathers its power in Japan from a shared culture, one which I can only graze the surface of. But I have suspicion that this poem might be a comment and critique on some aspects of that shared culture, from Kaneko Tohta's '21st century' point of view.
clouds gathering thylacine rumours from the mountain