This translation is beautiful. Ursula's prose and poetry are a vessel of unbeknownst resonance for this subject matter.

Some thoughts.

Many of the ideas from the Tao repeat the importance of doing by not doing. I recognize this in my own life, however, at the same time, I cannot help but wonder how this should work together with human qualities that make use more enjoyable in groups, such as initiative, attentiveness, and others. These are all qualities that require something more than mere pacifism. Where does intrinsic motivation come from to do things with others? If we follow the Way (like the Wise Souls, the wind, water..) and not the humane process, how do we ever get around to doing anything? Sure, we do not need to be doing anything, that is one of its key lessons. But still.

I realize that this book is truly a work to be picked up and read again and again. It was powerful to read through it all in one go, but I imagine part of its power is also in providing a constant source of inspiration throughout our days. There is not a single time that is best fit to read the Tao. Every moment is equally fitting.

Ursula explicitly states that her work is not a translation, but rather a rendition. I think she could not have done a better job. I found this the most beautiful introduction to the Tao I've read. There were some bits I had learned about its philosophy earlier from reading Alan Watts, but never a full-blown, conscious and focused treating of the matter. This does make me want to read Alan's book Tao: The Watercourse Way even more though. His writing is equally beautiful in its simplicity, though in a different way. And I imagine Alan does not write his rendition of the Tao as poetry, which Ursula did.

There are many chapter/poems worthy of remembering and reciting. And I am sure there will be many opportunities to do so, for a large variety of them as written by Ursula. Let me just list the last two poems of the book, both of which made a very powerful impression on me (though this might result from a recency bias).


Let there be a little country without many people.
Let them have tools that do the work of ten or a hundred,
and never use them.
let them be mindful of death
and disinclined to long journeys
They'd have ships and carriages,
but no place to go.
They'd have armor and weapons,
but no parades.
Instead of writing,
they might go back to using knotted cords.
They'd enjoy eating,
take pleasure in clothes,
be happy with their houses,
devoted to their customs.
The next little country might be so close
the people could hear cocks crowing
and dogs barking there,
but they'd get old and die
without ever having been there.

Chapter 80 is titled Freedom. It is a touching little gem of worldbuilding, with romantic longing for simpler, more content lives. Is this what we humans aspire to when we say we seek happiness?

Telling it true

True words aren't charming,
charming words aren't true.
Good people aren't contentious,
contentious people aren't good.
People who know aren't learned,
learned people don't know.

Wise soulds don't hoard;
the more they do for others the more they have,
the more they give the richer they are.
The Way of heaven profits without destroying.
Doing without outdoing
is the Way of the wise.

Chapter 81 is titled Telling it true. It closes the book really well. With elements that have been repeated throughout it; the paradoxically sounding distinctions that are made over two lines. There is the doing without doing, but with a little twist, keeping it fresh all the way until the end. The last two lines of the first stanza actually remind me of a sentence from Ursula's short story Mountain ways (bundled in The birthday of the world and other stories, but also published online in Clarkesworld).

"As a scholar of the Discussions, Enno knew more questions than most people, but fewer answers."