Three poems from the Daodejing
The government—teaches Berenice—
should oppose conquest by force of arms.
Such methods swiftly rebound.
Thorns and brambles where troops assemble;
armies raised to the future’s scorched earth.
Rather, the leader pursues his purpose
then halts—will not overstep advantage.
Achieves his aims but does not glory in them.
Does not boast, admire, decorate himself.
Pursues his mission if it can’t be avoided,
yet secures it not through use of force.
Vigour of that kind swiftly sinks to decay.
Violence—it is not the way . . .
What runs contrary to the way does not last.
Red right hand
Every weapon is
a thing of ill-omen—
no matter how smart
or surgical the strike.
Recall the old days,
in times of peace,
the left hand had
the honourable position.
In war, it’s the other,
the red right hand.
Even in conquest,
don’t admire weapons.
To admire them is
to delight in their power.
To delight in them is
to smile on their purpose
which is the slaughter
of many men . . .
He who smiles on that
will never succeed.
The man who’s ended
a life even once
by grief and mourning.
One who rides home
from battle victorious
must always be
welcomed in that way.
At his moment of birth, man is soft and weak.
In death, he grows stiff and hard.
Plants and trees, the ten thousand things,
while alive are soft and supple—
yet in death they are dry and brittle.
The hard and dry are companions of death.
The soft and weak are companions of life.
Our long dependence on the power of weapons
fails eventually as must ancient trees
with hardest wood—they come tumbling down.
The truth is: the hard, the high, the mighty fall.
The weak, the soft arise.
Martyn Crucefix’s recent original collections include Hurt (Enitharmon, 2010), The Time We Turned (Shearsman, 2014), A Hatfield Mass (Worple Press, 2014) and Things Difficult to Love (due 2015). He has also translated Rilke’s Duino Elegies (Enitharmon, 2006) – shortlisted for the 2007 Popescu Prize for European Poetry Translation – and Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus (Enitharmon, 2012). Twitter @mcrucefix