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Tao Te Ching (US Edition) Paperback – 1 Mar 2009

4.2 out of 5 stars 79 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Frances Lincoln; Reprint edition (Mar. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0711229643
  • ISBN-13: 978-0711229648
  • Product Dimensions: 17.1 x 0.6 x 21 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (79 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 782,669 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"Mitchell's rendition of the "Tao Te Ching comes as close to being definitive for our time as any I can imagine. It embodies the virtues its translator credits to the Chinese original: a gemlike lucidity that is radiant with humor, grace, largeheartedness, and deep wisdom."-- Huston Smith, author of "The Religions of Man""Mitchell's great talent is to communicate with the profound simplicity utterly appropriate for this task. The obscure has been made transparent and available."-- "Common Boundary""Beautiful and accessible; the English, as 'fluid as melting ice, ' is a joy to read throughout."-- "The New Republic" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Stephen Mitchell was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1943. He studied at Amherst, the University of Paris and Yale. His previous books include Dropping Ashes on the Buddha, The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke and The Book of Job. He lives with his wife in Berkeley, California.


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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
When my wife Sandy was diagnosed with terminal cancer, this is the ONE book she kept nearby at home and in the hospital. She found great comfort in it words and wisdom.
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.
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Format: 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?
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Format: 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.
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Format: Paperback
Mitchell's work is not for purists of textual criticism or hermeneutics. Literal translations of ancient documents tend to be dry and awkward. Mitchell's loose paraphrase and notes are refreshing and agreeable. The spirit of this work is both heartfelt and delightful. It is a joy to read.
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Format: 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.
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