Dàodéjīng 1: yet another interpretation

I’m not sure why I think the world needs another English version of this verse, but here it is. My aim has been to be as word-for-word as possible while retaining the allusive imagery. In a few places (‘womb’, ‘shadow’) I sacrificed literalness to retain an associative web. I’m not entirely happy with ‘subtlety’ for miao (妙), but dislike the alternatives more.

The way that can be walked is not the lasting way.

The name that can be named is not the lasting name.

Without name, heaven and earth’s womb.

With name, the swarm of creatures’ mother.

So abide without desire to see her subtlety, abide with desire to see her boundaries.

These two are born together, yet differently named.

Together, call them the shadow of a shadow’s shadow, crowded subtleties’ door.

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