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Wm. Bolinger, translator. Seven Verses from the Tao Te Ching. With an introduction by J. P. Seaton. Longhouse, 2006. First edition. Three color fold out poems. With wrap around band. New and limited. $10 postpaid / $20 signed postpaid
Seven Verses from the Tao Te Ching.
The poems straight ahead of you are selected from a translation of the Tao Te Ching, the foundation text of both religious and philosophical Taoism and a major source of what makes Zen different from other Buddhisms. The translation, by Bill Bolinger, is extremely free: maybe it is its freedom that allows the translator to make the wisdom and the humor of the text available in a way that I have very very seldom seen in the many many published attempts at translation of this classic. Wisdom and the humor are inextricable in the original its wise because its funny, its funny because its wise Its arch, then paradoxical, and then stark, sharp, street smart, and finally gentle, with a wry curl to the lip and a little sparkle in the eye
So, its a very free translation. And then, wonder of wonders, Bolinger has worked all of the eighty-one passages of the original into rhymed verse: to impress the young prisoners who were his first audience? (Bolinger spent a thirty years as a teacher in the Indiana state prison system.) To pass the time? Because it worked? Or, to amaze those who said it couldnt be done? (it amazed me, when full of trepidation, asked to read an old friends work, I read one after another, hunched over, loosening up, shouting with laughter, calling Kathy in to share the joy). Rhymed verse works because Bolinger can do it with effortlessly grace. Its appropriate, maybe, to bring a little bit or formality to the treatment of a great religious text, and, finally, because after a century in Coventry, rhymes often prepare us to grin, and that is, often, appropriate here.
Oh, or, maybe he rhymed it to piss off those who said that it shouldnt be done. Lao Tzu and my friend Bo both abhor prohibitions.
1. The Tao
The way that can be named is not the Way.
The name that can be called is the wrong name.
No one can know from whence Creation came,
But new names are created every day.
Then let the world be with us; not too much,
Lest that our wanting consumes us in fire,
But some, so that the sweetness of desire
Be not surrendered vainly. There is such
A sameness at the root of differing things.
From Big Bang all the way to kingdom come,
A single source for myriad minds, as from
A single body grows two arms, two wings.
Amazing is the charted path of history;
Still more so the Ineffable Mystery.
2. The Light Boat
If some young girl is told shes beautiful,
Some other girl will cry herself to sleep.
You think that bright medallions yours to keep?
Ill steal it for myself, though it turn dull.
So honor breeds dishonor; grace, disgrace.
The mighty will be humbled, high brought low.
The strong are weakened and the swift made slow
To save us from the vanity of place.
All vulgar grappling for name and note
Hurts more than it helps, the sages say.
After his triumph, Fan Li sailed away
To nowhere special, in a light boat.
Ex nihil, nihil fit? Not so.
In fact, its quite the opposite, you know.
3. The Peaceable Kingdom
We heap young children with condign rewards,
Praise and encouragement: Good Job! All Right!
Or if they do wrong, we use harsher words:
Stop that this minute! No, no! Cut that out!
But once theyre grown, how nice to be without
That nurturing obligation. What delight
Comes from not having to know wrong from right,
Good from bad, bluebirds from dirty birds.
So the wise ruler might be well-advised
To lay aside carrots and sticks and let us be.
Through quietness of heart, the crime is stopped
Before it starts. If having means naught to me,
Why steal? If its bad form when names are dropped,
The search for fame is rightly compromised.
60. Fish Fry
If you net a mess of smelt,
Throw them in a hot vat
And fry them heads, tails, skins and all.
Gutting and cleaning
And much more trouble than its worth.
The man who cleans
Is not the guy you want to have in charge.
65. A Tiger on the Road
A few of us are lovers of the truth,
But not many. Most of us struggle tooth
And nail to hide from what the harsh world tries
To tell. We languish on a bed of lies.
Wed rather meet a tiger on the road,
The poet says. The truths a heavy load,
But of great worth; and so it may be wise
To guard it with a bodyguard of lies.
80. In Southern Indiana
In southern Indiana,
People have chain saws and tractors,
But they like to use mules and axes.
Their cars and trucks
Sit back behind the barn on concrete blocks.
In the corner, behind the pantry door,
Stands a slightly rusty twelve-gauge, waiting for
A mean dog or copperhead.
The family bank account
Is in a mason jar under the smokehouse stoop.
The treat of the week
Is fried chicken on Sunday.
People wear overalls and feed-sack dresses,
Just like their neighbors.
Across the river,
You can hear a hound dog barking,
But we dont go there.
Nothing against Kentucky,
But we like it in Indiana.
81. The Heart of the Matter
Every thief is a liar first,
So when you hear fine words, expect the worst.
Those who love to argue and shout
Dont know what theyre talking about.
People who try to sound erudite
Are fools who dont know wrong from right.
The wise man heeds this caveat:
Keep your learning under your hat.
He finds a way to share his mind
Without being arrogant or unkind.
To purchase the full booklet, this is available exclusively from our Bookshop:
As an act of goodwill and for poetry - Longhouse is sending out each month complete publications - online - of one poet (or more) we have published in booklet, broadside or postcard form for everyone to share. It's a way of giving back to many of you who have sent to us poems, letters, purchases and the same goodwill over the years. The series will fly in under the banner of our Woodburners We Recommend. It should also be felt as a certain warmth in memory to all our close and dear poetry comrades passed along - each one becoming more of a loss. Each monthly booklet will also be available for purchase from Longhouse. Issued in a very limited keepsake edition of 50 copies. Starting in 2006 we will begin to reissue and present past issues from Longhouse of select poets. For those readers that travel back as far as 1972 when Longhouse began, you know poetry was released like bandits by the day, by the week, by the month, and always free. We have never taken on grants and meant poetry to be seen & heard & on poetry terms. From 2006, into the Infinite, and within the universal cyber cosmos, we would like to share multiple poets with you....and only ask that you share them further.
© 2006 Wm. Bolinger and J. P. Seaton
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