Last night I started to read Lao Tsu’s Tao Te Ching courtesy of a good friend of mine and, after reading part ONE of the book, I was immediately reminded of a poem I had read over a year ago by a modern Iranian poet Yadollah Roya’i: Mother’s Becoming.
ONE by Lao Tsu
The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth.
The named is the mother of ten thousand things.
Ever desireless, one can see the mystery.
Ever desiring, one can see the manifestations.
These two spring from the same source but differ in name;
This appears as darkness.
Darkness within darkness.
The gate to all mystery
Mother’s Becoming by Yadollah Roya’i
She had a thousand-paged bosom
She gave the thousand-paged bosom
To the shadow
And the shadow that drew her
Had a thousand mirrors
A thousand-paged bosom in a thousand mirrors
She became a finite being
She became infinite beings
Yadollah Roya’i was born in 1932 in Damqan, Iran. The beauty of his poems rests in the form, image, and movement of the images within the reality of the poem. By creating imaginative leaps, he alludes to an alternate reality. Similarly, ONE alludes to an alternate or objective Reality that can barely be understood given the great mystery that surrounds it. ONE also nicely illustrates the founding principle of Taoism, which is the basic eternal principle that transcends our subjective empirical notion of reality and is the source of being, non-being and change.
Some of the parallels that I find interesting between the ecstatic poem ONE and Mother’s Becoming by Yadollah is the Mother: The named is the mother of ten thousand things.
What and Who is the Mother?
There is also the reference to numbers in both poems:
“The named is the mother of ten thousand things.” (Lao Tsu)
“A thousand-paged bosom in a thousand mirrors.” (Yadollah Roya’i)
The number 10 000 is interesting in Lao Tsu’s work because it’s a large arbitrary number yet a finite number and reminds me of the temporary nature of our surroundings. We are also reminded of the finite and infinite in Yadollah Roya’i’s poem in the verse A thousand-paged bosom in a thousand mirrors, depending on how the mirrors are aligned, one could display an infinite number of thousand-paged bosoms.
Furthermore, I found the darkness and mystery that thrives in both poems to be quite interesting.
“Darkness within darkness.
The gate to all mystery.” (Lao Tsu)
“She gave the thousand-paged bosom
To the shadow” (Yadollah Roya’i)
The darkness and shadow in both verses point out our inability to fully comprehend the nature of Reality and the mystery that surrounds it. Needless to say, I find both poems evoke an alternate Reality that can scarcely be defined or imagined by words.
“The named is the mother of ten thousand things”
Going back to the question: What and Who is the Mother in both poems? I believe the Mother refers to the metaphysical foundation of everything that makes up the world we live in. You have a better idea of this interpretation when you put this verse in the context of Lao Tsu’s other work, such as in part TWO.
TWO by Lao Tsu
Under heaven all can see beauty as beauty only because there is ugliness.
All can know good as good only because there is evil.
Therefore having and not having arise together.
Difficult and easy compliment each other.
Long and short contrast each other;
High and low rest upon each other;
Voice and sound harmonize each other;
Front and back follow one another.
Therefore the sage goes about doing nothing, teaching no-talking.
The ten thousand things rise and fall without cease,
Creating, yet not possessing,
Working yet not taking credit.
Work is done, then forgotten.
Therefore it lasts forever.