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(Originally published December 2008)

 

Laozi 55

1 含德之厚者比於赤子。

2 蜂蠆虺蛇不螫,

3 猛獸不據,攫鳥不摶。

4 骨弱筋柔而握固。

5 未知牝牡之合而全作,

6 精之至也。

7 終日號而不嗄,

8 和之至也。

1 One who harbours De’s fullness can be compared with a newborn infant.
2 Wasps, scorpions and poisonous snakes do not sting or bite it,
3 Fierce beasts do not seize it, nor do birds of prey pounce upon it.
4 Its bones are fragile and muscles are soft, yet its grasp is firm.
5 It does not know about the sexual union of male and female, and yet it can be aroused,
6 Such is the height of its potent essence (virility).
7 It can cry a whole day and yet does not get hoarse,
8 Such is the height of its harmony.

Lines two and three seem to be hyperbole, intending to suggest the pacifying “power” an infant can possess. In the Zuozhuan, De is said to “pacify, comfort” (Sui 綏) the feudal lords, “comfort” (Fu 撫) the people and “harmonize” (He 和) the people. The infant does this, not by “dispensing benefits” (Shi Hui 施惠), but by it’s demeanour of non-contention and calm (and innocence). Or, I am wondering, can two and three be referring back to “the one who harbours De‘s fullness” rather than the infant? If he or she can be like an infant, described next (lines 4 to 8), they will have a pacifying power.