Tao Te Ching §11: Emptiness

by Peter Saint-Andre


Following up on yesterday's post about the Tao Te Ching, here's another poem that I might set to music (chapter 11 in the standard order). My provisional rendering is as follows:

Some thirty spokes meet in one hub
Through emptiness it does its work
Throw clay and shape it to a jar
Through emptiness it does its work
Cut doors and windows, make a room
Through emptiness it does its work

The craftsman profits from its mass
And yet it works through emptiness

At only 8 lines, it would make for an extremely short song. But that might be the nature of this project!

In this poem we glimpse the paradoxical side of Taoism. To my mind it suggests an aesthetic appreciation for subtlety, silence, simplicity, austere beauty, and what must be left unsaid - the space between the notes, if you will. Indeed, this poem raises the possibility that the Tao Te Ching itself might do its work through emptiness, for if the philosophical is the personal then (as chapter 1 puts it) "the way that we can say is not the ageless Way" and "the name that we can name is not the ageless Name".

But how could this be? Isn't the ageless something abstract and far away? Perhaps; but perhaps instead it's something tangible and near: the abiding ways of living that human beings have engaged in for as long as we have been on this beautiful earth of ours.

(Cross-posted at philosopher.coach.)


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