Yarrow (angelweed) wrote,

What's up with these Tao Te Ching posts?

The Tao Te Ching (or Dao De Jing) is an classic Chinese work, very short and very frequently translated. Here's a link to 29 versions! Because the original can carry really different meanings, translations vary wildly. So once you get into it, there's an itch: what does it really say? Is it a mystical book with political asides, or is it a political book with mystical asides? In my twenties I read several versions and started writing down a version that appealed to me, but had no way to check my accuracy (or lack thereof). These days there are several verbatim translations available, including one that's freely downloadable. (Click on the Matrix Translation.)

So I've started back on creating an English version that fits for me. I don't know Chinese, let alone archaic Chinese, so this isn't a translation; but the verbatim translations let me hew closer to accuracy than I could imagine thirty years ago. Such non-translations are almost as common as real translations: I follow Ursula K. Le Guin (whose version I admire very much), Stephen Mitchell, Aleister Crowley, and many others.

For now I'm just trying in each chapter to come up with language that captures something of the poetry of the original (and doesn't mangle the meaning!) When I get through with all 81 I'll go back and wrestle with the Hobgoblin of Consistency.

If you're intrigued, I'd start with Le Guin's version. She is a wonderful poet, and she uses the fact that Chinese doesn't make gender or singular/plural distinctions to talk about wise people rather than the (male) Sage. (As do I.) The book by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English remains the most readable true translation I've found. Gregory Richter's Gate of All Marvelous Things is a very approachable verbatim translation, while Jonathan Star's offers many alternative meanings for each word.

P.S. on Tao Te Ching versus Dao De Jing: These days more and more people use the pinyin romanization (Dao De Jing), rather than the older Wade-Giles system, and I may well start using that as a title.

  • Dao De Jing, 12

    We’re blinded by color, deafened by sound, numbed by flavor, maddened by gallops and hunts. When we get what’s hard to get, we get stuck. That’s why…

  • Dao De Jing, 11

    Thirty spokes join a hub: the axle goes in the empty space. Shape clay to make a pot: the water goes in the empty space. Cut doors and windows for…

  • Tao Te Ching, 10

    Can you embrace your souls in unity, and keep them from parting? Can you focus your breath gently as a baby? Can you wash the dark mirror free of…

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