Dàodéjīng 5: lots of talk often exhausts

Heaven and earth are not humane.

Use countless creatures as straw dogs.

The sage is not humane.

Uses all families as straw dogs.

Heaven and earth’s spaces, are they like bellows?

Empty and not collapsed, moving and expelling more.

Lots of talk often exhausts.

Does not compare to preserving the centre.

Notes on the version:

Bǎixìng (百姓) is literally ‘the hundred surnames’, but usually means ‘the people’ or ‘the common people’. Variations of both turn up in translations. I’ve gone for ‘all families’ as ‘common people’ loses the resonance with wànwù  (萬物) (‘countless creatures’, ten thousand things). ‘Hundred’ is used to indicate ‘all of the’, and ‘ten thousand’ is used to indicate ‘countless’. In both cases, I have gone for the less literal, more natural, English option.

‘Heaven and earth’s spaces’ is more often given as singular, or even as something like ‘the space between heaven and earth’. As with my use of plural ‘ways’ instead of the singular ‘the way’, my aim in pluralising is to deflate the dualist metaphysics that the definite article gives English versions. I don’t see any reason to start supposing that ‘space(s)’ is/are something separate to the world, but as soon as the singular is used (and ‘it’) in opposition to all of heaven and earth, it seems like that.


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