A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with a Single Step - Meaning - Literary Devices (2024)

Meaning of “A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with a Single Step”

This Chinese proverb means that a person must begin his or her journey to reach their goal or destination. It is a motivational proverb that expresses deep insight about determination and avoiding procrastination. It means a first step needs if we intend to finish a task or a thought on time. In other words, this expression tells that the great things commence with simple beginnings.

This proverb also stretches across two paradoxical phrases, ‘thousand miles’ and ‘single step’ while the emphasis is on a ‘single step.’ If an initiative is taken, the rest of the venture falls into place, and the mission starts. It also means that a voyage marked as a milestone starts with a single step. This proverb applies to a wide range of different circ*mstances where action needs to be taken for the completion of a task. Hence, in this saying ‘journey’ means a task/action and that it does not stay limited to traveling only. However, a step is an initiative or a starting point. A ‘thousand miles’ shows the longevity of a journey, while a ‘single step’ is an initial move. In other words, no matter how ambiguous the task is, how long the journey is or laborious the work is, a movement is always required to begin it.

Origin of “A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with a Single Step”

“A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with a Single Step” is a saying by an ancient Chinese philosopher. The original text is “A journey of a thousand li starts beneath one’s feet.” Here li means distance. This quote was first used in Chinese classic text; Tao Te Ching attributed to Lao Tzu, a renowned Chinese philosopher. It was probably written between the 4th or 6th century.

Tzu’s powerful words have always been shadowed by renowned people. American President, John F Kennedy reintroduced this quote “A Journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” in 1963 about the first nuclear test ban agreement.

Examples in Literature

Example #1

The journey of a thousand miles… by Ronnie James Corbin

“I’m pretty drunk right now,
But my thoughts are clear enough to say,
I believe in you.
I believe in your dreams.
I believe you can overcome your flaws.
I believe you could write the masterpiece of our generation.
You could cure cancer, bring world peace, and feed the hungry.
You can show love.
You can breathe your positive presence into the air.
I want you to go forth and shine like the beautiful star that you are.
Together we can demolish our egos.
Start on the path to purity.
They say the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step,
So hold my hand, and follow me,
As I take mine.”

Ronnie James Corbin is an Ohio-based American poet wrote this poem for his sweetheart requesting her to join the poet to defeat every other thing, including cancer. The use of the first person and the second person to counter it balances the poem. The poem is a marriage proposal after the presentation of both figures. It gets clear in the third last line where the long journey is a long life, while the next line shows the invitation as “hold my hand”.

Example #2

There Is No Easy Way (But There Is a Way) by Willie Nelson

Now that we’re back together the battle is half won
We’ll try to save a part of yesterday
I know it won’t be easy but at least we have begun
There is no easy way but there is a way
We both could use some understanding trust would help
And the journey of a thousand miles begins with just one step
And is love not worth the price we’ll have to pay
There is no easy way but there is a way

We both could use some understanding trust would help
And the journey of a thousand miles begins with just one step
And is love not worth the price we’ll have to pay
There is no easy way but there is a way

Willie Nelson, a songwriter and poet, wrote this song to convey his colleague and beloved that they could start the relationship again as there is always a way even if nothing is easy. For this purpose, he has used this proverb as a repetition as well as a refrain in the last two lines of both stanzas.

Example #3

Journey of a Thousand Miles My Story By Lang Lang and David Ritz

This is an autobiography of a Chinese pianist Lang Lang. He co-wrote the book with David Ritz to underline his hard struggle when moving from a western Chinese city to Beijing. It is not just the story of a pianist prodigy, but a family saga. The writer includes his whole family, who supported Lang Lang until his stardom. His father’s tireless struggle to make his song a star goes a long way. Therefore, the title of the biography shows the courage and sacrifice that a father has demonstrated to make his son a star.

Examples in Sentences as Literary Devices

Example #1: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step and is finally covered after a time.” Here the proverb shows the journey that is covered only when a step is taken.

Example #2: “He is an epitome of a journey of a thousand miles beings with a single step as he always takes a small step to do everything and completes it on time.” Here the proverb has been used as a metaphor as it shows the person as the model.

Example #3: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step is like a task that has many parts, and if a small part is done, it means the big task will be done too.” The proverb has been used as a simile as the use of “like” shows.

Example #4: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step forward or ends with a single step back.” This proverb also shows the use of a paradox a journey is of thousand miles, but it starts with a single step.

Example #5: “A journey as long as a thousand mile begins with a single step” shows its use as a simile as it compares the longevity of a journey with a thousand miles. However, the proverb has been twisted a bit with the words “as long as”.

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