The way goes on forever nameless.
Uncut wood, nothing important,
yet nobody under heaven
dare try to carve it.
If rulers and leaders could use it,
the ten thousand things
would gather in homage,
heaven and earth would drop sweet dew,
and people, without being ordered,
would be fair to one another.
To order, to govern,
is to begin naming;
when names proliferate
it’s time to stop.
If you know when to stop
you’re in no danger.
The Way in the world
is as a stream to a valley,
a river to the sea.
Le Guin’s commentary:
The second verse connects the uncut, the uncarved, the unusable, to the idea of the unnamed presented in the first chapter: “name’s the mother of the ten thousand things.” You have to make order, you have to make distinctions, but you also have to know when to stop before you’ve lost the whole in the multiplicity of parts. The simplicity or singleness of the Way is that of water, which always rejoins itself.
Be like water, my friend. A billions parts of water is still water. A flood is just one thing: water. Though, in reality, it’s billions upon billions of bits of water.
It’s an interesting idea here. To find order but to remain simple. To create names, but not too many. Again, I’m reminded of the world we live in today, though I won’t go too much into this. But everyone demands a specific type or category for themselves, which is their right, but I’m not sure policing language in this way is effective or even productive.
Especially because the good intentions that created the proliferation of identities has also weakened language to the point that Nazis now call themselves the much less offensive term alt-right, which, oddly, is also their right. They can call themselves what they like, and while we say it’s good manners to call category X and Y and Z by their preferred nomenclature, we find it unutterable to do the same for these fascists.
I don’t think that’s wrong. I just find it interesting, and this poem reminds me of it.
Strive for simplicity, my friends. In all things.