The introduction to Each Journey Begins with a Single Step is informative reading providing an overview of the origins of Tao philosophy, its cultural importance and style. In the original Chinese, the words in these poems often hold several meanings and the combination of words have many translations. To look at these as a Chinese speaker does is a deep, multilayered experience. In direct translation to English, often these poems lack subject and verb and sound clunky and confusing if extra words were not added to enhance the meaning that we lose moving from the pictographic Chinese letters to the Roman alphabet. These same verses appear different in other books because the translators have chosen to focus on different aspects of the possible meaning. A new translation can open vistas that are otherwise unseen.

Author Deg Ming Dao offers the reader a fresh mix of various poems from the Dao Te Ching, I Ching, Chinese proverbs and other contemporaneous ancient poetry. In the original format, the Dao Te Ching and I Ching follow a specific order with numbered verses. In this book, they show up out of order, interspersed with other poems. I believe that the intent is to see them anew and gain insight through these juxtapositions. The poems form a journey, analogous to the Path of Tao, from beginning to end of the book. While some of these poems fall into the category of transitory beauty and fleeting moments, others speak to the nature of virtue, power, authority, the order of heaven and earth, kings and their people. In the same way one might refer to Biblical passages for guidance on right living, it is clear that the Dao also serves as a guide to living.

Too often the depth and context of Chinese poetry is missed by Westerners and seen as just lovely, transitory, nature-inspired visions or conversely stodgy, archaic, rigid rules to live by. The introduction and the glossary are helpful to provide some basic context for modern readers who may not know the geography or history. There will always be something lost in translation but a poem that is faithful to the spirit of the writer is bound to move the reader. I was taken by a longing to understand these in the original Chinese which is impractical but speaks to the ability of these ancient works to still stir the soul through the beauty of a good turn of phrase, visionary imagery, scents called to mind, great landscapes, timeless joys and sufferings. I can for an instant bend time and feel at one with these great ancient poets whose words and thoughts still inspire.


~review by Larissa Carlson Viana

Selected, translated and edited by Deng Ming Dao
Red Wheel Weiser, 2018
190 pages, $16.95

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