Tuesday, May 09, 2006


The Valley Spirit is immortal;
it is called the Mysterious Female,
the source from which Heaven and Earth arise.

Drawn out forever like an endless silken thread,
Its movement is without effort.

What could the first stanza possibly mean? It's likely to be an idiom or expression that has been lost. Imagine if archeologists in the year 4000 AD find the expression "team spirit" written somewhere, without a definition. Would they think we believed in ghosts that could help sports teams? In the first line, the characters I've translated as "Valley Spirit" are literally the character for valley, followed by the character for spirit. It has been rendered in various ways by other translators in an attempt to give some kind of recognizable meaning to the verse, but there is no widespread agreement on the intended meaning. What we can see for sure is that the concept of the feminine is used here with a positive connotation, as it is elsewhere in the Tao Te Ching. Depending on the verse and context, the feminine is held up as an example of receptivity, non-competitiveness, creativity, or mystery.

No comments: