“If the sign of life is in your face…”

by Bob Schwartz

If the sign of life is in your face
He who responds to it 
Will feel secure and fit 
As when, in a friendly place, 
Sure of hearty care, 
A traveler gladly waits. 
Though it may not taste like food
And he may not see the fare
Or hear a sound of plates, 
How endless it is and how good!

The Way of Life According to Lao Tzu by Witter Bynner

The Tao Te Ching, a foundational text of Taoism, is a very brief book—81 verses—that is one of the most translated and read in the world. And one of the most valuable.

Witter Bynner (1881-1968), a poet and translator, created an English language version in 1944 that is more a poetic interpretation than translation. It was the first version I read though (a dozen more since), and so its elegance has stuck with me for a lifetime.

The image he uses of “the sign of life in your face” does not appear in any other translation of the verse. He took poetic liberties. Yet once you read it, you are sure to look for that sign of life in your face or in the faces you meet.