Imagine a small state with a small population
let there be labor-saving tools
that aren’t used
let people consider death
and not move far
let there be boats and carts
but no reason to ride them
let there be armor and weapons
but no reason to employ them
let people return to the use of knots
and be satisfied with their food
and pleased with their clothing
and content with their homes
and happy with their customs
let there be another state so near
people hear its dogs and chickens
and live out their lives
without making a visit
by Lao-tzu, translated by Red Pine
Translation © Red Pine, 2009
Bill Porter assumes the pen name Red Pine for his translations. He was born in Los Angeles in 1943, grew up in the Idaho Panhandle, served a tour of duty in the U.S. Army, graduated from the University of California with a degree in anthropology, and attended graduate school at Columbia University. Uninspired by the prospect of an academic career, he dropped out of Columbia in 1972 and moved to a Buddhist monastery in Taiwan. After four years with the monks and nuns, he struck out on his own and eventually found work at English-language radio stations in Taiwan and Hong Kong, where he produced over a thousand programs about his travels in China. In 1993 he returned to America with his family and has lived ever since in Port Townsend, Washington.
Lao-tzu’s Taoteching, from which this poem comes (Copper Canyon Press, 2009), is an essential volume of world literature, and Red Pine’s nuanced and authoritative English translation is one of the bestselling English versions. This revised edition includes extensive commentary by Taoist scholars, adepts, poets, and recluses spanning more than 2,000 years. You can read two more selections from the book here, and learn more about Lao-tzu here.
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