Learning Objects: Teach Me Goodness: Ursula K. Le Guin’s Tau Te Ching

Ursula Le Guin is an American author of novels, children’s books, and short stories. In 2016, The New York Times described her as “America’s greatest living science fiction writer” (although she has said she would prefer to be known as an “American novelist”) (“Ursula K. Le Guin”) and in 2000 the Library of Congress declared Le Guin as a “Living Legend” (Phillips).

The Tao Te Ching was probably written about twenty-five hundred years ago, perhaps by a man called Lao Tzu, who may have lived at about the same time as Confucius. Nothing about it is certain except that it’s Chinese, and very old, and speaks to people everywhere as if it had been written yesterday (Lao-tzu, Le Guin, and Seaton).

The first Tao Te Ching that Ursula Le Guin had ever saw was the Paul Carus edition of  1898 and her father read it often. Since her twenties, Le Guin has been working on her poetic interpretation of the text, every decade or so completing another chapter (Le Guin).  She states briefly why in her introduction:

The Tao Te Ching is partly in prose, partly in verse; but as we define poetry now, not by rhyme and meter but as a patterned intensity of language, the whole thing is poetry. I wanted to catch that poetry, its terse, strange beauty. Most translations have caught meanings in their net, but prosily, letting the beauty slip through. And in poetry, beauty is no ornament; it is the meaning. It is the truth. We have that on good authority.

Perhaps you might find inspiration from the Tau Te Ching as so many others have before, such as “John Cage (who wove it into his pioneering musical aesthetic), Franz Kafka (who considered it the clearest view of reality), Bruce Lee (who anchored his famous metaphor for resilience in it), Alan Watts (who placed it at the center of his philosophy), and Leo Tolstoy (who leaned on it in his proto-blog about the meaning of life)”(Popova).


Lao-tzu, Ursula K Le Guin, and Jerome P Seaton. Tao Te Ching: A Book about the Way and the Power of the Way. Boston: Shambhala, 1997. Print.

Le Guin, Ursula K. The Feminine and the Tao: An Interview with Ursula K. LeGuin.
Phillips, Julie. “Out of Bounds. ” New Yorker 92.33 (2016): 38–45. Print.

Popova, Maria. “A Small Dark Light: Ursula K. Le Guin on the Legacy of the Tao Te Ching and What It Continues to Teach Us About Personal and Political Power 2,500 Years Later. ” Brain Pickings. N.p., 21 Oct. 2016. Web. 30 Nov. 2016.

“Ursula K. Le Guin”. Wikipedia 23 Nov. 2016. Wikipedia. Web. 30 Nov. 2016.