(Dear Fictionauts, et al.--I offer this mea culpa and explanatory note as background or preamble to the paraphrase of the Daodejing I am offering here at Fictionaut. Many thanks to all who have supplied generous comments and encouragement with their votes and readership.)
What follows is not a translation but a paraphrase of the Chinese classic Daodejing, a title commonly rendered as something along the lines of The Classic of the Way and Its Virtue and traditionally ascribed to the Chinese sage Lao-tzu, a legendary figure said to have been a contemporary of Confucius (551—479 BCE), although modern scholarship only attests manuscript versions of the Daodejing dating later than Confucius.
This is no translation because the perpetrator does not know Chinese. Because of the original text’s intrinsic value as a poetic rendering of ancient Chinese thought and religious sentiment, he embarked on this project as a small tribute to an enduring piece of world literature.
Seven actual translations were used in assembling this paraphrase, and these translations are based upon the two prevailing textual editions: the Wang Bi edition (dating from the third century CE) and the older (second century BCE) but only more recently discovered (1973) Mawangdui texts. Without noting here which translation relies on which edition (readers are invited to consult any and all for helpful commentary and interpretive guidance), these seven translations are:
The Canon of Reason and Virtue, translated by Paul Carus and D. T. Suzuki, 1913, 1927, Open Court Publishing Company
Tao Te Ching, translated by D. C. Lau, 1963, Penguin Books
Te-Tao Ching, translated by Robert G. Henricks, 1989, 1993, The Modern Library
Tao Te Ching: The Classic Book of Integrity and the Way, translated by Victor H. Mair, 1990, Bantam Books
The Tao of the Tao Te Ching, translated by Michael LaFargue, 1992, State University of New York Press
Tao Te Ching, translated by D. C. Lau, 1994, Everyman’s Library
Dao De Jing: “Making This Life Significant”—A Philosophical Translation, translated by Roger T. Ames and David L. Hall, 2003, 2004, Ballantine Books
Occasionally, recourse was made to the following for clarification or stylistic purposes:
The Way of Life According to Laotzu, translated by Witter Bynner, 1944, 1972, A Perigee Book
Tao Teh Ching, translated by John C. H. Wu, 1961, St. John’s University Press, 1989, Shambhala
Tao Te Ching, translated by Gia-fu Feng and Jane English, 1972, 1989, Vintage Books
Tao Te Ching, a new English version by Stephen Mitchell, 1988, Harper & Row, Publishers
Because a paraphrase is a freer interpretation than a formal translation, the perpetrator here took liberties and license on occasion, even introducing ironic transpositions of clearly translated passages in a handful of places to accentuate points that seemed to be present in the text or lurking close to it. These liberties were not taken to trifle either with the text or with the painstaking work of responsible and informed translators: nevertheless, they do occur in a few places which better informed readers will note, and no disrespect to scholarship was intended.
The Daodejing is a unique document of poetry, philosophical insight, gnomic and proverbial wisdom, mystical meditation, and a commentary on ancient Chinese statecraft, all rolled into one.
What follows is one interpretation: Anglophone readers are invited to investigate actual translations for deeper insights and scholarly commentary, but since you are here now—