What is at rest is easy to hold. What manifests no omens is easily forestalled. What is fragile is easily shattered. What is small is easily scattered.
Tackle things before they have appeared. Cultivate peace and order before confusion and disorder have set in.
A tree as big as a man’s embrace springs from a tiny sprout. A tower nine stories high begins with a heap of earth. A journey of a thousand leagues starts from where your feet stand.
He who fusses over anything spoils it. He who grasps anything loses it. The Sage fusses over nothing and therefore spoils nothing. He grips at nothing and therefore loses nothing.
In handling affairs, people often spoil them just at the point of success. With heedfulness in the beginning and patience at the end, nothing will be spoiled.
Therefore, the Sage desires to be desireless, Sets no value on rare goods, Learns to unlearn his learning, And induces the masses to return from where they have overpassed. He only helps all creatures to find their own nature, But does not venture to lead them by the nose.
This passage reminds me of some simple tenets for leading a stress-free and productive life. Start out slow. Focus on the task and don’t worry about the outcome. Don’t procrastinate, but start things early and give yourself plenty of time to do what needs to be done. While these are simple, we so often fail to practice them, and as a result, we create unnecessary stress in our already hectic lives.
I have been making a conscious effort to simplify my life, focusing on single tasks instead of trying to multitask. Taking time for myself. Relaxing. Trusting that things will work out the way they are meant to, and not trying to force the results that I think are the best. As a result of these small changes, I feel happier and calmer, most of the time anyway.
Our world is stressful, and it is easy to get caught up in the turmoil. Lau Tzu teaches us the importance of slowing down and shifting our focus to what is really important. It is old wisdom, but certainly applicable to modern life.
When Nature once in lustful hot undress Conceived gargantuan offspring, then would I Have loved to live near a young giantess, Like a voluptuous cat at a queen’s feet.
To see her body flower with her desire And freely spread out in its dreadful play, Guess if her heart concealed some heavy fire Whose humid smokes would swim upon her eye.
To feel at leisure her stupendous shapes, Crawl on the cliffs of her enormous knees, And, when in summer the unhealthy suns
Have stretched her out across the plains, fatigued, Sleep in the shadows of her breasts at ease Like a small hamlet at a mountain’s base.
(Translation by Karl Shapiro)
I read this poem a couple times and sense a few possible interpretations of what Baudelaire is expressing.
My initial interpretation is that Baudelaire is describing a sexual desire towards, everything. In the original French as well as in Shapiro’s translation, “Nature” is capitalized, emphasizing the importance. The poem could then be seen as describing passion towards all creation, that the entire living Gaia is the object of Baudelaire’s desire. One can imagine hills and meadows transforming into objects of sensuality for Baudelaire, as all of Nature stirs his passion.
Next, I had a sense that Baudelaire was expressing a personal tendency towards being submissive, of desiring a strong and dominating woman. The image of him as a cat at his lover’s feet, or crawling up onto her knees, provides the impression that he enjoys being the subservient plaything of a woman.
And this leads to the final interpretation, which would likely have been Freud’s first, that the giantess symbolizes Baudelaire’s mother. He appears to feel a sense of comfort from the giantess’s breasts not unlike the comfort a young child receives from its mother’s breasts. Additionally, Baudelaire seems to echo the sense of bonding a child experiences from sitting upon a mother’s lap.
One winter, we’ll take a train, a little rose-colored car Upholstered blue. We’ll be so comfortable. A nest Of wild kisses awaits in every cushioned corner.
You’ll close your eyes to shadows Grimacing through windows This belligerent nocturnal realm, inhabited By black demons and black wolves.
Then you’ll feel a tickle on your cheek… A little kiss like a crazed spider Fleeing down your neck…
Bending your head backwards, you’ll say: “Get it!” ―And we’ll take our time finding the beast ―While it roams…
(Translation by Wyatt Mason)
The footnote to this poem states: Written on a train, 7 October 1870. With that in mind, I interpret this poem as an expression of a sexual fantasy experienced while riding alone on a train. I picture a young Rimbaud, gazing out the window as landscape streams by, imagining himself lost in a loving embrace.
What strikes me as most interesting about this poem is that it seems to blur the distinction between fantasy and physical sensation. The fantasy does not seem to be limited to the mind but is experienced throughout the body. It is like Rimbaud has taken sexual fantasy to a next level where the thought turns to feeling.
The last two lines of the poem I find particularly interesting. The metaphor of the roaming beast can be interpreted in two ways. First, it could represent the mind lost in fantasy. What is intriguing about this possibility is that Rimbaud imagines that fantasy would be taking place during the physical encounter. This is a boldly honest observation, because Rimbaud is essentially admitting that he can get lost in fantasy, even during his most intimate moments. The other interpretation is that the roaming beast symbolizes our primal sexual drive, an animalistic urge which cannot be controlled, and which will roam freely, regardless of however hard we try to rein in our desires. Personally, I feel that both interpretations are valid, which adds richness to the closing stanza of this poem.
I hope you enjoyed this poem and found my interpretation helpful. As always, feel free to share your thoughts in the Comments section. Cheers!
Do the Non-Ado. Strive for the effortless. Savour the savourless. Exalt the low. Multiply the few. Requite injury with kindness.
Nip troubles in the bud. Sow the great in the small.
Difficult things of the world Can only be tackled when they are easy. Big things of the world Can only be achieved by attending to their small beginnings. Thus, the Sage never has to grapple with big things, Yet he alone is capable of achieving them!
He who promises lightly must be lacking in faith. He who thinks everything easy will end by finding everything difficult. Therefore, the Sage, who regards everything as difficult, Meets with no difficulties in the end.
My interpretation of this passage is that when faced with any situation, the goal should be to maintain balance and equilibrium. This is sage advice. When faced with a large, daunting task, it is best to take a small step. When you have a small, simple task, take a swift and sure step, taking care of it quickly and easily.
Too often, in our current society, individuals attempt to fight fire with fire, to apply Herculean effort when confronted with a difficult challenge. As Lau Tzu shows, this is not the way of the Tao, and if we are honest with ourselves, we are forced to admit that our default way of responding often fails to achieve the desired outcome.
Regardless of where each of us stands on the socio-political spectrum, we can all agree that things are not really working well right now. It seems that it would be in our collective best interest to explore other ways of dealing with situations. I for one like Lau Tzu’s approach.
I hope this inspires you as much as it does me. Thanks for stopping by and reading.
The Tao is the hidden Reservoir of all things. A treasure to the honest, it is a safeguard to the erring.
A good word will find its own market. A good deed may be used as a gift to another. That a man is straying from the right path Is no reason that he should be cast away.
Hence, at the Enthronement of an Emperor, Or at the Installation of the Three Ministers, Let others offer their discs of jade, following it up with teams of horses; It is better for you to offer the Tao without moving your feet!
Why did the ancients prize the Tao? Is it not because by virtue of it he who seeks finds, And the guilty are forgiven? That is why it is such a treasure to the world.
This passage begs the questions: What is treasure? What is it that is valuable in our lives? What are the things that are truly meaningful? What are the gifts that are worth giving?
Lao Tzu asserts that the answers to these questions are found within, and not through material wealth. What is worth more, a shiny trinket or expressions of love, compassion, and caring? For me, this hardly even seems a question worth asking. Yet, in our market-driven and status-obsessed culture, many of us can easily lose sight of this simple truth, that relationships matter more than material gain. When we reach the end of our roads, the only things we will still be carrying are the treasures within our hearts and souls.
I hope you found this passage as inspiring as I have, and that it reminds you of the importance of reaching out and doing something nice for another person. These are challenging times, and the best gift we can give to another is a moment of empathy and support.
Thanks for stopping by, and may you never stop reading and learning.
They all have weary mouths,
bright souls without a seam.
And a yearning (as for sin)
often haunts their dream.
They wander, each and each alike,
in God’s garden silently,
as many, many intervals
in his might and melody.
Only when they spread their wings
they awaken a great wind through the land:
as though with his broad sculptor-hands
God was turning
the leaves of the dark book of the Beginning.
(translation by C. F. MacIntyre)
I read this poem a couple times and struggled with it. There is a tension here that is tangible but not easy to identify. I did a little research online about Rilke’s ideas concerning angels, and he would go into deeper exploration of the topic in his Duino Elegies.
Throughout the Duino Elegies, Rilke explores themes of “the limitations and insufficiency of the human condition and fractured human consciousness … mankind’s loneliness, the perfection of the angels, life and death, love and lovers, and the task of the poet”. Philosopher Martin Heidegger remarked that “the long way leading to the poetry is itself one that inquires poetically”, and that Rilke “comes to realize the destitution of the time more clearly. The time remains destitute not only because God is dead, but because mortals are hardly aware and capable even of their own mortality.” Rilke explores the nature of mankind’s contact with beauty, and its transience, noting that humanity is forever only getting a brief, momentary glimpse of an inconceivable beauty and that it is terrifying.
So Rilke appears to be grappling with the contrast between the fragmented human condition and our divine nature as manifested in angelic beings. What is particularly interesting in “The Angels” is that the angels appear sad and lost, just as humans are. Additionally, within each angel is the possibility of sin. It is like every angel recognizes that it has the potential to follow the same path as Lucifer.
Like humans, the angels in Rilke’s poem wander aimlessly, lost and searching for meaning in a reality void of meaning.
Finally, we have the image of an angel taking flight, which causes a “great wind through the land.” This image conjures the myth of Icarus, who tried to escape the world but flew too close to the sun. Do the angels also long to escape from their limited existence, to ascend to new heights? In doing so, are they destined to fall, like Lucifer? Are we as humans, trapped in our reality, fettered to this broken world, and if we attempt to transcend, do we have that brief moment of exaltation before we crash into oblivion?
This poem leaves me with more questions than answers, but that is good. It is important to ponder questions about our existence and our place in the universe, and this poem succeeds in eliciting the deep questions which all of us should be asking.
I hope you enjoyed the poem and my thoughts about it. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Shiji Niangniang: goddess in Chinese religion and Taoism (source: wikipedia)
A great country is like the lowland toward which all
streams flow. It is the Reservoir of all under heaven,
the Feminine of the world. The Feminine always conquers the Masculine by her
quietness, by lowering herself through her quietness. Hence, if a great country can lower itself before a
small country, it will win over the small country; and if a
small country can lower itself before a great country, it
will win over the great country. The one wins by
stooping; the other, by remaining low. What a great country wants is simply to embrace
more people; and what a small country wants is simply
to come to serve its patron. Thus, each gets what it
wants. But it behooves a great country to lower itself.
I really like this passage, particularly because Lao Tzu establishes a correlation between a powerful country and the divine Feminine. In Western thought, power is often associated with the masculine, but this is clearly not the case in Lao Tzu’s philosophy. It is within the subtle, the yielding, and the fluid where true strength resides, and these are characteristics of the divine Feminine.
Another metaphor that resonates with me is that of the Feminine being a lowland, or Reservoir, to which all streams flow. Lowlands are associated with fertility, since valleys are fertile areas. Hence, the divine Feminine is both the source of being, and the place where all life must return. There is a sense of cycles here.
The symbolism of the great and small countries establishing a symbiotic relationship likewise represents the symbiotic relationship between the Masculine and the Feminine. Each needs the other to maintain balance, and each provides the other with the aspect that is required to create wholeness and unity.
I trust you enjoyed this passage and that you found my interpretation interesting. I hope you have a blessed day, and keep reading things that uplift your soul.
Ruling a big kingdom is like cooking a small fish.
When a man of Tao reigns over the world, demons
have no spiritual powers. Not that the demons have no
spiritual powers, but the spirits themselves do no harm
to men. Not that the spirits do no harm to men, but the
Sage himself does no harm to his people. If only the
ruler and his people would refrain from harming each
other, all the benefits of life would accumulate in the
“Ruling a big kingdom is like cooking a small fish.” I had to think about this for a little bit before grasping the metaphor, but once I got it, the entire passage became clear. Cooking a small fish requires being gentle and careful, and not to use a high heat. High heat represents a hot temper in a ruler. Essentially, society should be governed with compassion and care, with support and understanding. To rule with an iron fist is detrimental to the health and prosperity of a society.
The last sentence is particularly poignant in our world: If only we could refrain from harming each other, the world would improve. It is really simple, yet incredibly difficult. As long as we maintain an us v. them mentality, and as long as we allow our self-centeredness to dictate our behaviors, there will always be unnecessary suffering in the world.
It is the responsibility of all of us to do what we can to make the world a better place for all people. Remember, small personal changes can lead to grand global changes. Let us try to keep this adage in mind as we go about our day.
In governing a people and in serving Heaven,
There is nothing like frugality.
To be frugal is to return before straying.
To return before straying is to have a double reserve of virtue.
To have a double reserve of virtue is to overcome everything.
To overcome everything is to reach an invisible height.
Only he who has reached an invisible height can have a kingdom.
Only he who has got the Mother of a kingdom can last long.
This is the way to be deep-rooted and firm-planted in the Tao,
The secret of long life and lasting vision.
There is an old adage which should be familiar: Everything in moderation. While this seems like sage advice on the surface, reading Lao Tzu’s passage made me aware of the flaw in this. It should read: Moderation in everything. While the difference may be subtle, “everything in moderation” implies the desire for everything, feeding that constant striving for more which has created so many issues in our society. “Moderation in everything” implies that you temper your drive to acquire, and that you also temper you response to situations.
As Lao Tzu points out in the opening line, this guidance is applicable to both governing leaders and those on the spiritual path. If individuals in government practiced moderation instead of extremism, if they were more temperate instead of fiery, they would likely be better leaders, creating an environment of collaboration instead of division. Regarding those who are “serving Heaven,” it is better to move slowly along the spiritual path, instead of rushing forward or engaging in aggressive proselytizing. Living a humble, moderate spiritual life will have a greater impact on others that climbing the pulpit and trying to force your beliefs upon the masses.
These days, emotions are running high, and those who are passionate about causes and ideas tend more and more to be in need of moderation in everything. When you feel yourself having a strong emotional response to a situation, it may be good to take a breath, consider, then have a measured response. In 95% of situations, nothing is lost by pausing to reflect before reacting.
This will now be one of my mantras: Moderation in Everything.
Thanks for stopping by and sharing in my musings. Stay safe, and may you and your family be blessed.
The knight rides forth in sable mail
into the stirring world.
Out there is all:
the friend, the foe, the valley, the day,
the meal in the hall,
the maid and the wood and the month of May,
and the Holy Grail,
and God himself many thousand times
is shown in the streets.
Yet, in the armor of the knight,
behind the sinister rings,
Death squats, brooding and brooding:
When will the sword spring
over the hedge of iron,
that strange and freeing blade,
to fetch me from this place
that has cramped me many a day,
so that at last I can stretch myself
(translation by C. F. MacIntyre)
I read this poem a couple times, and for me, I see the knight as a symbol for a young and idealistic individual, riding out to explore the world. Everything seems possible, and it is just a matter of going out and seeking one’s goal. It is essentially being on the archetypal quest.
But then the tone of the second stanza changes abruptly. It is the voice of the mature person, likely someone who having spent youth pursuing some lofty goal, has settled into the mundane reality of existence. The mature person feels trapped, stifled, and very aware of mortality. There is a sense of longing for the freedom of youth, the excitement of heading out into the world, and the simple pleasures that one associates with early years.
It is also worth considering the knight’s armor and what it represents. As we mature, we are prone to wrap ourselves in a protective cloak. But this security is an illusion. It is really a slow form of death that steadily smothers our lives.
As we near the end of our lives, we imagine that there is a better world waiting for us beyond the veil, where we can “sing and play” with the same joy and abandon as we did when young. But it is a sad and sobering thought that death would seem a welcome escape from the doldrums of life.
So how does one avoid this dread fate? I feel that by maintaining a sense of wonder and adventure that we can stave off the dreariness and monotony of life in later years. Stay on the quest. Always actively engage in life, for there is always something else out there to experience.