Carrying Over Laozi

The translation of Daodejing proceeds apace. Dear Wenlong works harder than ever to help me understand the simultaneous complexity and simplicity of Laozi.

The term “to translate” literally mean to move something from one place to another or to carry over. In Latin, translate is a past participle of transfer.

Our primary goal is to transfer or carry-over dear Laozi as straighforwardly as possible without having to add too much. Of course the way the poems are written, they often put notions together in a stream. The reader is expected to know how this stream gives up certain concepts that would be common to the everyday Chinese person of nearly 2500 years past. And trust me, if the stream were literally carried-over as written, you might think we had dropped a few things along the way.

According to legends, Laozi leaves China on hi...

The opening line of #52 is an appropriate example: “Start have under heaven.” If we translated it that way, it would be far too clunky. So, “All under-heaven has a beginning.” Hopefully the attempt does not add or rearrange too much.

And then there is Laozi’s term “under heaven” used in such a way that it can mean world, empire, everything, etc. To choose one is to hide the others. Thus, while it will make the poems a tad clunky, we want to use “all under heaven” rather than choose a concept. Like the ancient reader, our fellows today can understand that if “all under heaven” is being used along with nature concepts, it probably intends “world”. And if used along with political ones, “under heaven” surely would mean “empire” or “state.” But already you see: not every state is an empire. It is important to leave room for the reader to do more than passive reading.

On the other hand, “all” stands out here. Why are we tacking on “all”? Mostly because to just say “under heaven” remains a bit too clunky.

Thanks again for feedback on what we have put up so far and for the reposts. Expect a new version of a poem everyday for the next couple of weeks.


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