Carving and polishing stones, cutting and grinding gems


It took me a lot longer than I had initially expected, but I have finally completed the review of my translation of Book 1 of the Analects.

Even though this was my third revision (at least) of the translation, I found the process very much like, to use the words from the Book of Songs (詩經/shījīng) that Zigong quotes in Chapter 15 of the Book, “carving and polishing stones” and “cutting and grinding gems”.

It wasn’t so much that any of my previous translations were particularly “wrong”; it was more of a case of trying to ensure that the words, syntax, and sentence structure that I settled on were as close to the original Chinese as possible and captured the intended meaning of the speaker (or the anonymous editor who added it to the collection).

I’m not sure I even want to think about how many hours and brain cycles I spent agonizing over what translations to adopt for such notoriously tricky terms as 君子/jūnzǐ (leader) and 禮/lǐ (the rites); but as arduous as the process was it definitely helped me to come to a much closer understanding and appreciation of the key principles and ideas that Confucius promoted in his teachings.

Even now there are moments when I’m not entirely sure I have chosen correctly, but I don’t plan on making any further changes to them unless someone can present me with a hugely compelling argument to do so. Now that the text has been carved, polished, cut, and ground into shape, my priority is to make it shine so brightly that as many people as possible can admire its wisdom and beauty.

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