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38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My favourite translation fo the Tao Te Ching
If you're looking for a literal translation of the TTC then this isn't it - however, it's way more readable than other versions. I think Stephen Mitchell explains himself very well in his Forward:

"With great poetry, the freest translation is sometimes the most faithful. 'We must try its effect as an English Poem,' Dr Johnson said; 'that is the way to judge of...
Published on 21 May 2008 by G. Barlow

versus
24 of 30 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Truly awful, please give this one a wide berth
Of all the translations of the Tao Te Ching I have ever come across, this is the worst. One of it's worst flaws (already by no means the only flaw, as others already seem to have noted) is the way Mitchell replaces numerous sections of the original with his own improvisations, including the entirity of Chapter 50, and makes no indication in the main text that he is...
Published on 4 Dec 2001


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38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My favourite translation fo the Tao Te Ching, 21 May 2008
By 
G. Barlow "G. Barlow" (UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Tao Te Ching: An Illustrated Journey (Hardcover)
If you're looking for a literal translation of the TTC then this isn't it - however, it's way more readable than other versions. I think Stephen Mitchell explains himself very well in his Forward:

"With great poetry, the freest translation is sometimes the most faithful. 'We must try its effect as an English Poem,' Dr Johnson said; 'that is the way to judge of the merit of a translation'. I have often been fairly literal - or as literal as one can be with such a subtle, kaleidoscopic book as the Tao Te Ching. But I have also paraphrased, expanded, contracted, interpreted, worked with the text, played with it, until it became embodied in a language that felt genuine to me. If I haven't always translated Lao Tzu's words, my intention has always been to translate his mind."

And I think he does a damn good job. You can compare his translation of verse 15 with the James Legge version below, for example. I know which translation I prefer.

Legge:

"The skilful masters (of the Tao) in old times, with a subtle
and exquisite penetration, comprehended its mysteries, and were deep
(also) so as to elude men's knowledge. As they were thus beyond men's
knowledge, I will make an effort to describe of what sort they
appeared to be.

Shrinking looked they like those who wade through a stream in
winter; irresolute like those who are afraid of all around them; grave
like a guest (in awe of his host); evanescent like ice that is melting
away; unpretentious like wood that has not been fashioned into
anything; vacant like a valley, and dull like muddy water.

Who can (make) the muddy water (clear)? Let it be still, and it
will gradually become clear. Who can secure the condition of rest?
Let movement go on, and the condition of rest will gradually arise.

They who preserve this method of the Tao do not wish to be full (of
themselves). It is through their not being full of themselves that
they can afford to seem worn and not appear new and complete."

Mitchell:

"The ancient Masters were profound and subtle.
Their wisdom was unfathomable.
There is no way to describe it;
all we can describe is their appearance.

They were careful
as someone crossing an iced-over stream.
Alert as a warrior in enemy territory.
Courteous as a guest.
Fluid as melting ice.
Shapable as a block of wood.
Receptive as a valley.
Clear as a glass of water.

Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?

The Master doesn't seek fulfillment.
Not seeking, not expecting,
she is present, and can welcome all things."
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful book, worth owning, 16 Jun 2013
By 
Dennis Littrell (SoCal/NorCal/Maui) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Tao Te Ching: An Illustrated Journey (Hardcover)
There are several books by the amazing Stephen Mitchell on the "Tao Te Ching." The two that I know--this one and his Harper Perennial "Tao Te Ching" (2006)--use his free-flowing and poetic translation from 1988. This book is also distinguished by the beautiful artwork on Taoist themes selected by Stephen Little.

Mitchell is a master at turning religious works into contemporary English poetry while being essentially true to the original. Noteworthy is his graceful translation of the Gita in "Bhagavad Gita: A New Translation" (2000). However Mitchell does not know Chinese and therefore in effect is interpreting translations augmented by his scholarship and literary experience. Some people find this off-putting but I think it's okay as long as you are not looking for most faithful to the "original" rendering.

I have read the Tao in several English translations (or renderings) and I can say that Mitchell's is one of the best. By "best" I mean as a work of religious literature that is essentially true to the meaning and spirit of the original. It is interesting in this regard to note that Mitchell wrote that "...the most essential preparation for my work was a fourteen-year-long course of Zen training, which brought me face to face with Lao-tzu and his true disciples and heirs, the early Chinese Zen Masters."

Mitchell adds (in true Taoist paradoxical style) "With great poetry, the freest translation is sometimes the most faithful... If I haven't always translated Lao-tzu's words, my intention has always been to translate his mind." (The quotes are from the Foreword he wrote for the Harper Perennial book mentioned above.)

A nearly instant test of a rendering of the "Tao" is a quick look at the opening couplet and at one or two of the most famous stanzas. Here's Mitchell's opening couplet:

"The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name."

For comparison let's look at some other translations. Here's J. Legge's version (from "Sacred Books of the East," Volume 39 1891):

"The Tao that can be trodden is not the enduring and unchanging Tao. The name that can be named is not the enduring and unchanging name."

There's a clear difference in the first line. Mitchell writes of the tao being told (small "t" indicating not the eternal Tao) while Legge refers to a "Tao" that can be walked upon not being the real unchanging Tao.

Since I don't read Chinese I don't know which is truer to the original text--or actually texts since translators who do read the Chinese characters typically rely on several versions. The simple truth is nobody knows what the "original" "Tao Te Ching" looked like. In fact it almost certainly came down from an earlier oral tradition. Consequently a free translation may indeed be the "best."

Okay, let's now look at another translation of the first two lines, this time by Derek Lin from his book, "Tao Te Ching: Annotated and Explained" (2006):

"The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named is not the eternal name"

This is virtually the same as Mitchell's rendering.

One more, this time from Robert G. Henricks' "Lao-Tzu Te-Tao Ching: A New Translation Based on the Recently Discovered Ma-Wang-Tui Texts" (1989):

As for the Way, the Way that can be spoken of is not the constant Way;
As for names the name that can be named is not the constant name."

This examination of fine points of course is contrary to the Way (not to mention Zen) now that I think about it. Still it is fun to do. So let's do one more. Here are Mitchell's first few lines of the famous Chapter 41:

"When a superior man hears of the Tao,
he immediately begins to embody it.
When an average man hears of the Tao,
he half believes it, half doubts it.
When a foolish man hears of the Tao,
he laughs out loud.
If he didn't laugh,
it wouldn't be the Tao."

Here's Legge's version:

Scholars of the highest class, when they hear about the Tao,
earnestly carry it into practice. Scholars of the middle class, when
they have heard about it, seem now to keep it and now to lose it.
Scholars of the lowest class, when they have heard about it, laugh
greatly at it. If it were not (thus) laughed at, it would not be fit
to be the Tao.

And here is Lin's version:

"Higher people hear of the Tao
They diligently practice it
Average people hear of the Tao
They sometimes keep it and sometimes lose it
Lower people hear of the Tao
They laugh loudly at it
If they do not laugh, it would not be the Tao"

My vote is for Mitchell's "freer" version.

One of the things I don't like about Mitchell's translation is his alternative use of the pronouns "he" and "she." It's a shame that English does not have a gender neutral first person singular; however I think that, since the "Tao Te Ching" is the most feminine of all the great religious works of the world added to the fact that the Tao is itself considered feminine, Mitchell should have gone exclusively with "she."

Finally what I want to say is that what Mitchell brings to the translation of the "Tao Te Ching" is vast poetic and spiritual experience. When he says he was "face to face" with Lao-tzu he means that everything he had learned in his life up to that time allowed him to understand the old master in a way that a less experienced person could not.

--Dennis Littrell, author of "Yoga: Sacred and Profane (Beyond Hatha Yoga)"
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning publication, 22 Nov 2009
By 
It is a daring thing to do these days to make yet another translation of the Tao Te Ching because there have been so many to date. It would seem to be a necessary requisite to produce something that singles an edition out from the crowd. Here is a stunning publication that has been sympathetically translated ( I am not a Chinese scholar so can make no comment as to accuracy).I have at least six different editions of the Tao Te Ching on my shelves all of which I like but Frances Lincoln have produced an edition that is so beautiful that it is a work of art.It is an unpretentious size with an exquisite yet understated cover. Very high quality paper has been used throughout and on every other page there are full page reproductions of Chinese paintings of the Sung, Yuan, Ming and Ch'ing dynasties. These paintings are delightful with every detail visible and are also exquisite. The whole book seems to me to reflect perfect harmony and is entirely at one with the text. Congratulations to both Stephen Mitchell for his illuminating translation and to Frances Lincoln for this inspiring and optimum quality publication.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the most wonderful books I have ever read!, 10 Nov 2009
By 
K. Campbell "Katharine Campbell" (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Tao Te Ching: An Illustrated Journey (Hardcover)
This book has become a treasure to me - I read a page from it everyday, and look at the beautiful illustrations. The translation is modern, but thoroughly appropriate, and the wording is wonderful. The artwork harmonises with the words in a lovely way. I have bought 2 copies of this book for my best friends, as well as one for myself!
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Love it, 21 May 2007
By 
N. Bar (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Tao Te Ching: An Illustrated Journey (Hardcover)
Ok, I'm sure that Mitchel has taken lots of liberties, but the result is beautiful and readable.

I tried the John Wu translation, which I'm sure is much more accurate, and that's all you can say about it - accurate. It doesn't move you; it's all left brain.

Any translation course will teach you that you must make choices about the interpetation you give. This is exceedingly more important in a text as old and complex as this. Mitchel was bold enough to make choices. Being a student in spirutality for many years, none of his choices ring untrue; I believe that he's close to the spirit of the original text, even tough I have no tools to confirm it.

I suggest that the text should be examined mainly by how much it touches the heart. It did touch mine, big time.
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24 of 30 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Truly awful, please give this one a wide berth, 4 Dec 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: Tao Te Ching: An Illustrated Journey (Hardcover)
Of all the translations of the Tao Te Ching I have ever come across, this is the worst. One of it's worst flaws (already by no means the only flaw, as others already seem to have noted) is the way Mitchell replaces numerous sections of the original with his own improvisations, including the entirity of Chapter 50, and makes no indication in the main text that he is improvising, leaving this for the reader to discover until they investigate the footnotes.
A great shame, but there are fortunately many much better translations to be found.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tao Te Ching - amazing, 22 Aug 2009
By 
Mrs. CG Thacker "Marnie May" (Carrick, NI) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Tao Te Ching: An Illustrated Journey (Hardcover)
I am in love with this book. For anyone who is open minded and in need of some unbiased enlightenment this is the book for you. I'm no hippy but I open a page every day and feel its positivity, without judgement or the shackles of religion. If it gave author James Frey (A Million Little Pieces & My Friend Leonard) a reason to keep living during drug and alcohol withdrawal then it can bring comfort and light to all. 10 0ut 0f 10 and beautifully illustrated!
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The way of Tao in originality, 9 Feb 2009
This review is from: Tao Te Ching: An Illustrated Journey (Hardcover)
Well... I would first give credit to how this book is beautifully presented with finest art of Oriental paintings, and the translation has captured the deep minimalist meaning in Tao. Sometimes less is more. Especially when it comes to interpret such profound knowledge of life and living the way.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Should be subtitled "A personal interpretation of Lao Tzu's ancient classic", 5 Mar 2014
By 
Richard Prangnell "Truth is not a statistic" (Newmarket, Suffolk UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Tao Te Ching: An Illustrated Journey (Hardcover)
In my humble opinion, the author of this particular translation has deviated too much from the intentions of Lao Tsu. Let us compare the opening lines of Verse 1:

Here it is as printed in this book:

"The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named
is not the eternal name

The unnameable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin
of all particular things."

- And here is a more faithfully accurate translation of the same lines (translated by James Legge for the Cleveland Museum of Art):

"The Tao that can be trodden is not the enduring and unchanging Tao.
The name that can be named is not the enduring and unchanging name.

Conceived of as having no name, it is the Originator of Heaven and Earth;
conceived of as having a name, it is the Mother of all things."

I think you will agree that the more faithful version has a deeper, more poetic resonance that informs much more about the quintessential nature of the Tao. I think the author has been too terse; probably a result of his long exposure to Zen, which is, after all, as different from the Tao as chalk is from cheese. Note that significantly, the author has omitted from his translation the words 'Heaven', 'Earth' and 'Mother' that are vital, scene-setting lynch-pins in the original.

For me though, the most irritating aspect of this book is that the author chose not to adopt the time-honoured and well understood convention of assuming that wherever the word 'he' appears in text and does not specifically refer to a named male individual, the word 'she' is also implied and on equal terms. Instead, he has randomly substituted the word 'she' for 'he' throughout the verses. Not only is this highly patronising to members of the fairer sex, who have no difficulty in appreciating the value of conventional form, it is also totally at odds with the original Chinese and creates unnecessary confusion wherever the word 'she' occurs, because of the many references in the Tao to the Great Mother. How is a reader to judge if this or that occurrence of 'she' actually refers to the Great Mother or to a person of unspecified gender? For me, it disrupts the flow of the verses and makes a nonsense of the whole thing.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Life Wisdom, 8 Feb 2014
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This review is from: Tao Te Ching: An Illustrated Journey (Hardcover)
This is my second favourite book ever written. The wisdom within it concerns life and the best way to live it. It can bring about a calm, contented and insightful way of living, one beyond the trappings of materialistic society. If you want to live in tune with your true wider self, then this book is a great companion for you, and the simplistic beauty of the illustrations compliments the words perfectly. True wisdom beyond the bounds of religious dogma, the Tao Te Ching is a must read for anyone who looks for understanding and inner peace.
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