Part poetry, part paradox, always stirring and profound, Lao Tzu's "Tao Te Ching" has been inspiring readers since it was written over two thousand years ago. This masterpiece is also one of the most frequently translated books in all of history, in part because the multiple meanings of the Chinese characters make it impossible to translate into a Western language in a strictly literal way. For this reason, many translations are either too loosely interpretive or are too overloaded with notes, thereby losing the clarity of the terse poetry found in the original Chinese.
The extraordinary strength of Sam Hamill's translation is that it has captured the poetry of Lao Tzu's original without sacrificing the resonance of the text's many meanings and possible interpretations. The result is a beautiful and deeply meditative rendering, one that is a delight to read over and over again.
Accompanying Sam Hamill's translation are seventeen Chinese characters brushed by one of the great masters of calligraphy, Kazuaki Tanahashi. Hamill provides a comment for each character, giving the reader a fuller sense of the richness of the original text and insight into the process of translation itself.
About the Author
The first reliable reference to Laozi is his "biography" in Shiji (63, tr. Chan 1963:35-37), by Chinese historian Sima Qian (ca. 145-86 BC), which combines three stories. First, Laozi was a contemporary of Confucius (551-479 BC). His surname was Li, and his personal name was Er or Dan "long ear." He was an official in the imperial archives, and wrote a book in two parts before departing to the West. Second, Laozi was Lao Laizi "Old Come Master," also a contemporary of Confucius, who wrote a book in 15 parts. Third, Laozi was the Grand Historian and astrologer Lao Dan ("Old Long-ears"), who lived during the reign (384-362 BC) of Duke Xian (Qin). Generations of scholars have debated the historicity of Laozi and the dating of the Tao Te Ching. Linguistic studies of the text's vocabulary and rhyme scheme point to a date of composition after the Shi Jing yet before the Zhuangzi. Legends claim variously that Laozi was "born old"; that he lived for 996 years, with twelve previous incarnations starting around the time of the Three Sovereigns before the thirteenth as Laozi. Some Western scholars have expressed doubts over Laozi's historical existence, claiming that the Tao Te Ching is actually a collection of the work of various authors.
Tanahashi was born in Japan where he studied painting and calligraphy. He is a Fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science.
Sam Hamill is the author of more than a dozen collections of poetry, including Destination Zero: Poems 1970- 1995 (1995), DUMB LUCK (2002), Almost Paradise: New and Selected Poems and Translations (2005), and Measured by Stone (2007). Influenced by Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, Kenneth Rexroth, Denise Levertov, and Hayden Carruth, Hamill "presents a model of honest, consistent, undisguised political engagement: he articulates not only a vision of peace with justice, not only his relish for work to achieve that vision, but his sense of the role that poetry can play," as Publishers Weekly noted in its review of Measured by Stone. Hamill has also published several collections of essays and numerous translations. With Bill O'Daly and Tree Swenson, he co-founded the all-poetry Copper Canyon Press in Denver, Colorado. Copper Canyon later joined with the nonprofit arts organization Centrum in Port Townsend, Washington. Hamill was editor-printer for the press from 1972 until 2004.
"Hamill has rendered the Tao Te Ching afresh, his translation from the Chinese is achingly poetic."—Publishers Weekly
“Exquisite renderings of the paradoxes that encircle us.”—Terry Tempest Williams