Poetry Centre

Weekly Poem for 15 February 2010

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    Imagine a small state with a small population
    let there be labor-saving tools
    that aren’t used
    let people consider death
    and not move far
    let there be boats and carts
    but no reason to ride them
    let there be armor and weapons
    but no reason to employ them
    let people return to the use of knots
    and be satisfied with their food
    and pleased with their clothing
    and content with their homes
    and happy with their customs
    let there be another state so near
    people hear its dogs and chickens
    and live out their lives
    without making a visit

    by Lao-tzu, translated by Red Pine

    Translation © Red Pine, 2009

    Bill Porter assumes the pen name Red Pine for his translations. He was born in Los Angeles in 1943, grew up in the Idaho Panhandle, served a tour of duty in the U.S. Army, graduated from the University of California with a degree in anthropology, and attended graduate school at Columbia University. Uninspired by the prospect of an academic career, he dropped out of Columbia in 1972 and moved to a Buddhist monastery in Taiwan. After four years with the monks and nuns, he struck out on his own and eventually found work at English-language radio stations in Taiwan and Hong Kong, where he produced over a thousand programs about his travels in China. In 1993 he returned to America with his family and has lived ever since in Port Townsend, Washington.

    Lao-tzu’s Taoteching, from which this poem comes (Copper Canyon Press, 2009), is an essential volume of world literature, and Red Pine’s nuanced and authoritative English translation is one of the bestselling English versions. This revised edition includes extensive commentary by Taoist scholars, adepts, poets, and recluses spanning more than 2,000 years. You can read two more selections from the book here, and learn more about Lao-tzu here.

    Copper Canyon Press is a non-profit publisher that believes poetry is vital to language and living. For thirty-five years, the Press has fostered the work of emerging, established, and world-renowned poets for an expanding audience. To find out more about Copper Canyon and its publications, click here.

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