Tao Te Ching Paperback – 25 Jun 2009
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About the Author
Lao-Tzu is believed to be a contemporary of Confucius (551 479 BC). Stephen Mitchell is a poet, translator, scholar, and anthologist based in Berkeley, California. He is widely known for his translations and adaptations of ancient and modern classics of poetry and wisdom, including Bhagavad Gita, Gilgamesh, The Book of Job and the works of Rilke. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
When she died I picked it up and began to read. Several passages fell right open (8 & 16). These were the passages that she must have been reading the most. So I read those passages at her funeral. I'm still reading this book and finding something new with each reading. Even if a passage may not make sense on the first or second reading, it may become clear by the fifth or sixth. Or maybe it will take years.
Sandy was a poet and teacher who studied many translations of the Tao, but this was her favorite. It may not be the most literal translation, but it surely is the most poetic. If this translation was good enough for her, then it's good enough for me.
In fact, this book is so good, I've given away at least 8 copies in the two months since her death. This book has helped me deal with and survive the most difficult time in my life. I'm much wiser and more open having read this book. My friends to whom I've given copies agree and are sharing it with their friends.
"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.
"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?Read more ›
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Only read through this book once and will revisit it many more times in the future. My initial thoughts are that although the translation is of an archaic Chinese text it may be... Read morePublished 5 months ago by Samuel
FRAUD. This book is announced as the kindle version of the Stephen Mitchell translation, which is BTW really completely superior to this one. Read morePublished 5 months ago by Carl Henrik Janson
a bit repudiative,but an enjoyable read.kinda helps i like the subject matterPublished 5 months ago by chatbear1