Verily, the ancient wise-men were entitled to be masters,
because they were subtle, profound and thoughtful.
I cannot explain their way of wisdom,
so I will venture to illustrate it:
so cautious they were,
like a boat crossing a river in winter.
so reluctant they were,
like a country fearful of its neighbours in the four directions of the compass.
so reverent they were,
like simple guests in a rich mansion.
so elusive they were,
like water trickling under a frosted stream.
so simple they were,
like hemp rope.
so wild they were,
like a valley cloistered in the mountains.
so obscure they were,
like muddled waters.
Who can the disturbance quiet,
and gradually distil it to clarity?
He is akin to the masters.
Who keeps with the way of things,
and does not crave to be satiated?
He is like the ancients.
This is my take on translating the first chapter of the 道德經.
It is based on the gloss of the Chinese characters, and cross-referenced with other English translations, for extra accuracy.
This way could be the true way,
but it is not always so;
This name could be the true name,
but it is not always so.
it is of Heaven and Earth (天下 tiānhià) the true beginning;
Give it a name,
and it becomes of ten thousand things the mother.
always without having desires,
one unlocks the temple gate of wonders.
Always having desires,
one stumbles at the temple gate,
and this is by sheer luck.
Twofold this appears,
two different names alike are spoken;
They speak of the dark mystery.
Darkness and of the dark again,
it is the same;
Multitude of different names
all leading to the gate.
- Atanas Laskov, 2016