2017 papers

Name: Livia Kohn

“Songs of Laozi”: Expressing the Daode jing in Poetry and Blues


The “Songs of Laozi” is a collection of 13 chapters of the Daode jing, notably focusing on meditative experience and social skills, in the translation by the American poet Witter Bynner (1881-1968), set to blues music composed by the educator and corporate trainer Stephen Josephs (b. 1945) in 1987. Witter Bynner’s rendition is the only version of the text created by an active poet and, while not always completely true to the original, provides a strong spiritual reading of the work. Seeing Dao as the perfect way of life, he undertook his translation during World War II in order to inspire democracy and resistance to tyranny. Stephen Josephs’s musical work opens a powerful rendition of this version, using modern forms such as jazz and blues. The “Songs” were recorded in the voice of Paula Dudley (1955-2008), then Josephs’s girlfriend, with instrumentals by a group of their mutual friends in Cambridge, Mass. Josephs has since continued to use the Daode jing in his life’s work, the training of high-level corporate executives to greater levels of personal integrity, social awareness, and universal love.