unbegun.jpg

Unbegun

Laozi's way empties and exhausts us. It's not something that empowers us.

Like a vortex, generations of living creatures. It dulls our sharp edges, loosens tight knots, dims bright lights, clears dark skies. Like an instinct, something that helps it survive.

Child of who knows what, eldest of the elder gods.

Notes

The title is from Heshanggong.

Every English translation I've seen describes as empty () and is our use of it. Here, , and are verbs, the object of each is , and all three complement the sayings as 's entropic balancing, moderating effect.

Given , , and , another theme of the poem is something like evolution.

In Heshanggong, the sayings are advice. Sharp edges () are the desire for worldly success, fame and fortune, which should be discouraged. Tangled knots () are grudges, which should be resolved by meditating on 's unbiased, hands-off approach (). Bright lights () are true believers who should learn to keep their lamp under a bushel, or at the very least not threaten people with violence. Finally, is fellowship. It's about living in the real world with everyone else, not keeping yourself separate and aloof.

I've been more or less literal with the sayings except that is more like equalize (as is more like harmonize) and is a cloud of dust or a strong, lingering odor. I think the last line is more like, "Laozi's way diffuses smelly farts."

As if is saturated or soaked and is keep safe, preserve.

In pre-Qin and Han ctext, appears once in Laozi and once in Guoyu, and in Guoyu, it refers specifically to ancient sage-king Shun (). In Laozi I think it refers collectively to mythic gods and heroes of the distant past.

Vocabulary

dào
辵 162 + 9
path, road, street; method, way
chōng
水 85 + 4
pour, infuse, steep; wash away
ér
而 126 + 0
and; and then; and yet; but; Kangxi radical 126
yòng
用 101 + 0
use, employ, apply, operate; use
zhī
丿 4 + 3
marks preceding phrase as modifier of following phrase; it, him her, them; go to
huò
戈 62 + 4
or, either, else; perhaps, maybe
一 1 + 3
no, not; un-; negative prefix
yíng
皿 108 + 4
fill; full, overflowing; surplus
yuān
水 85 + 8
gulf, abyss, deep
八 12 + 2
exclamatory particle
shì
人 9 + 5
resemble, similar to; as if, seem
wàn
禸 114 + 8
ten thousand; innumerable
牛 93 + 4
thing, substance, creature
zōng
宀 40 + 5
lineage, ancestry; ancestor, clan
cuò
手 64 + 7
push down; chop down; grind
八 12 + 6
his, her, its, their; that
ruì
金 167 + 7
sharp, keen, acute, pointed
jiě
角 148 + 6
loosen, unfasten, untie; explain
fēn
糸 120 + 4
in disorder, scattered, tangled
口 30 + 5
harmony, peace; peaceful, calm
guāng
儿 10 + 4
light, brilliant, shine; only
tóng
口 30 + 3
same, similar; together with
chén
土 32 + 11
dust, dirt, ashes, cinders
zhàn
水 85 + 9
deep; profound; clear; tranquil, placid
cún
子 39 + 3
exist, live, be; survive; remain
口 30 + 4
i, my, our; resist, impede
zhī
矢 111 + 3
know, perceive, comprehend
shuí shéi
言 149 + 8
who? whom? whose? anyone?
zi
子 39 + 0
offspring, child; fruit, seed of; 1st terrestrial branch
xiàng
豕 152 + 5
elephant; ivory; figure, image
巾 50 + 6
supreme ruler, emperor; god
xiān
儿 10 + 4
first, former, previous
火 86 + 8
negative, no, not; lack, have no
yuán
水 85 + 10
spring; source, head; surname
wèi
火 86 + 5
do, handle, govern, act; be
shùn
舛 136 + 6
legendary ruler, last of the Five Emperors