Of the Nature of Things
[De Rerum Natura]


Titus Lucretius Carus

A metrical translation by William Ellery Leonard

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Table of Contents

Book I

  1. Proem
  2. Substance is Eternal
  3. The Void
  4. Nothing Exists Per Se Except Atoms and the Void
  5. Character of the Atoms
  6. Confutation of Other Philosophers
  7. The Infinity of the Universe

Book II

  1. Proem
  2. Atomic Motions
  3. Atomic Forms and Their Combinations
  4. Absence of Secondary Qualities
  5. Infinite Worlds

Book III

  1. Proem
  2. Nature and Composition of the Mind
  3. The Soul is Mortal
  4. Folly of the Fear of Death

Book IV

  1. Proem
  2. Existence and Character of the Images
  3. The Senses and Mental Pictures
  4. Some Vital Functions
  5. The Passion of Love

Book V

  1. Proem
  2. Argument of the Book and New Proem Against a Teleological Concept
  3. The World is Not Eternal
  4. Formation of the World and Astronomical Questions
  5. Origins of Vegetable and Animal Life
  6. Origins and Savage Period of Mankind
  7. Beginnings of Civilization

Book VI

  1. Proem
  2. Great Meteorological Phenomena, Etc.
  3. Extraordinary and Paradoxical Telluric Phenomena
  4. The Plague Athens

Book I

Proem

Mother of Rome, delight of Gods and men,

Dear Venus that beneath the gliding stars

Makest to teem the many-voyaged main

And fruitful lands — for all of living things

Through thee alone are evermore conceived,

Through thee are risen to visit the great sun —

Before thee, Goddess, and thy coming on,

Flee stormy wind and massy cloud away,

For thee the daedal Earth bears scented flowers,

For thee waters of the unvexed deep

Smile, and the hollows of the serene sky

Glow with diffused radiance for thee!

For soon as comes the springtime face of day,

And procreant gales blow from the West unbarred,

First fowls of air, smit to the heart by thee,

Foretoken thy approach, O thou Divine,

And leap the wild herds round the happy fields

Or swim the bounding torrents. Thus amain,

Seized with the spell, all creatures follow thee

Whithersoever thou walkest forth to lead,

And thence through seas and mountains and swift streams,

Through leafy homes of birds and greening plains,

Kindling the lure of love in every breast,

Thou bringest the eternal generations forth,

Kind after kind. And since ’tis thou alone

Guidest the Cosmos, and without thee naught

Is risen to reach the shining shores of light,

Nor aught of joyful or of lovely born,

Thee do I crave co-partner in that verse

Which I presume on Nature to compose

For Memmius mine, whom thou hast willed to be

Peerless in every grace at every hour —

Wherefore indeed, Divine one, give my words

Immortal charm. Lull to a timely rest

O’er sea and land the savage works of war,

For thou alone hast power with public peace

To aid mortality; since he who rules

The savage works of battle, puissant Mars,

How often to thy bosom flings his strength

O’ermastered by the eternal wound of love —

And there, with eyes and full throat backward thrown,

Gazing, my Goddess, open-mouthed at thee,

Pastures on love his greedy sight, his breath

Hanging upon thy lips. Him thus reclined

Fill with thy holy body, round, above!

Pour from those lips soft syllables to win

Peace for the Romans, glorious Lady, peace!

For in a season troublous to the state

Neither may I attend this task of mine

With thought untroubled, nor mid such events

The illustrious scion of the Memmian house

Neglect the civic cause.

    Whilst human kind

Throughout the lands lay miserably crushed

Before all eyes beneath Religion — who

Would show her head along the region skies,

Glowering on mortals with her hideous face —

A Greek it was who first opposing dared

Raise mortal eyes that terror to withstand,

Whom nor the fame of Gods nor lightning’s stroke

Nor threatening thunder of the ominous sky

Abashed; but rather chafed to angry zest

His dauntless heart to be the first to rend

The crossbars at the gates of Nature old.

And thus his will and hardy wisdom won;

And forward thus he fared afar, beyond

The flaming ramparts of the world, until

He wandered the unmeasurable All.

Whence he to us, a conqueror, reports

What things can rise to being, what cannot,

And by what law to each its scope prescribed,

Its boundary stone that clings so deep in Time.

Wherefore Religion now is under foot,

And us his victory now exalts to heaven.

I know how hard it is in Latian verse

To tell the dark discoveries of the Greeks,

Chiefly because our pauper-speech must find

Strange terms to fit the strangeness of the thing;

Yet worth of thine and the expected joy

Of thy sweet friendship do persuade me on

To bear all toil and wake the clear nights through,

Seeking with what of words and what of song

I may at last most gloriously uncloud

For thee the light beyond, wherewith to view

The core of being at the centre hid.

And for the rest, summon to judgments true,

Unbusied ears and singleness of mind

Withdrawn from cares; lest these my gifts, arranged

For thee with eager service, thou disdain

Before thou comprehendest: since for thee

I prove the supreme law of Gods and sky,

And the primordial germs of things unfold,

Whence Nature all creates, and multiplies

And fosters all, and whither she resolves

Each in the end when each is overthrown.

This ultimate stock we have devised to name

Procreant atoms, matter, seeds of things,

Or primal bodies, as primal to the world.

I fear perhaps thou deemest that we fare

An impious road to realms of thought profane;

But ’tis that same religion oftener far

Hath bred the foul impieties of men:

As once at Aulis, the elected chiefs,

Foremost of heroes, Danaan counsellors,

Defiled Diana’s altar, virgin queen,

With Agamemnon’s daughter, foully slain.

She felt the chaplet round her maiden locks

And fillets, fluttering down on either cheek,

And at the altar marked her grieving sire,

The priests beside him who concealed the knife,

And all the folk in tears at sight of her.

With a dumb terror and a sinking knee

She dropped; nor might avail her now that first

’Twas she who gave the king a father’s name.

They raised her up, they bore the trembling girl

On to the altar — hither led not now

With solemn rites and hymeneal choir,

But sinless woman, sinfully foredone,

A parent felled her on her bridal day,

Making his child a sacrificial beast

To give the ships auspicious winds for Troy:

Such are the crimes to which Religion leads.

And there shall come the time when even thou,

Forced by the soothsayer’s terror-tales, shalt seek

To break from us. Ah, many a dream even now

Can they concoct to rout thy plans of life,

And trouble all thy fortunes with base fears.

I own with reason: for, if men but knew

Some fixed end to ills, they would be strong

By some device unconquered to withstand

Religions and the menacings of seers.

But now nor skill nor instrument is theirs,

Since men must dread eternal pains in death.

For what the soul may be they do not know,

Whether ’tis born, or enter in at birth,

And whether, snatched by death, it die with us,

Or visit the shadows and the vasty caves

Of Orcus, or by some divine decree

Enter the brute herds, as our Ennius sang,

Who first from lovely Helicon brought down

A laurel wreath of bright perennial leaves,

Renowned forever among the Italian clans.

Yet Ennius too in everlasting verse

Proclaims those vaults of Acheron to be,

Though thence, he said, nor souls nor bodies fare,

But only phantom figures, strangely wan,

And tells how once from out those regions rose

Old Homer’s ghost to him and shed salt tears

And with his words unfolded Nature’s source.

Then be it ours with steady mind to clasp

The purport of the skies — the law behind

The wandering courses of the sun and moon;

To scan the powers that speed all life below;

But most to see with reasonable eyes

Of what the mind, of what the soul is made,

And what it is so terrible that breaks

On us asleep, or waking in disease,

Until we seem to mark and hear at hand

Dead men whose bones earth bosomed long ago.

Substance is Eternal

This terror, then, this darkness of the mind,

Not sunrise with its flaring spokes of light,

Nor glittering arrows of morning can disperse,

But only Nature’s aspect and her law,

Which, teaching us, hath this exordium:

Nothing from nothing ever yet was born.

Fear holds dominion over mortality

Only because, seeing in land and sky

So much the cause whereof no wise they know,

Men think Divinities are working there.

Meantime, when once we know from nothing still

Nothing can be create, we shall divine

More clearly what we seek: those elements

From which alone all things created are,

And how accomplished by no tool of Gods.

Suppose all sprang from all things: any kind

Might take its origin from any thing,

No fixed seed required. Men from the sea

Might rise, and from the land the scaly breed,

And, fowl full fledged come bursting from the sky;

The horned cattle, the herds and all the wild

Would haunt with varying offspring tilth and waste;

Nor would the same fruits keep their olden trees,

But each might grow from any stock or limb

By chance and change. Indeed, and were there not

For each its procreant atoms, could things have

Each its unalterable mother old?

But, since produced from fixed seeds are all,

Each birth goes forth upon the shores of light

From its own stuff, from its own primal bodies.

And all from all cannot become, because

In each resides a secret power its own.

Again, why see we lavished o’er the lands

At spring the rose, at summer heat the corn,

The vines that mellow when the autumn lures,

If not because the fixed seeds of things

At their own season must together stream,

And new creations only be revealed

When the due times arrive and pregnant earth

Safely may give unto the shores of light

Her tender progenies? But if from naught

Were their becoming, they would spring abroad

Suddenly, unforeseen, in alien months,

With no primordial germs, to be preserved

From procreant unions at an adverse hour.

Nor on the mingling of the living seeds

Would space be needed for the growth of things

Were life an increment of nothing: then

The tiny babe forthwith would walk a man,

And from the turf would leap a branching tree —

Wonders unheard of; for, by Nature, each

Slowly increases from its lawful seed,

And through that increase shall conserve its kind.

Whence take the proof that things enlarge and feed

From out their proper matter. Thus it comes

That earth, without her seasons of fixed rains,

Could bear no produce such as makes us glad,

And whatsoever lives, if shut from food,

Prolongs its kind and guards its life no more.

Thus easier ’tis to hold that many things

Have primal bodies in common (as we see

The single letters common to many words)

Than aught exists without its origins.

Moreover, why should Nature not prepare

Men of a bulk to ford the seas afoot,

Or rend the mighty mountains with their hands,

Or conquer Time with length of days, if not

Because for all begotten things abides

The changeless stuff, and what from that may spring

Is fixed forevermore? Lastly we see

How far the tilled surpass the fields untilled

And to the labour of our hands return

Their more abounding crops; there are indeed

Within the earth primordial germs of things,

Which, as the ploughshare turns the fruitful clods

And kneads the mould, we quicken into birth.

Else would ye mark, without all toil of ours,

Spontaneous generations, fairer forms.

Confess then, naught from nothing can become,

Since all must have their seeds, wherefrom to grow,

Wherefrom to reach the gentle fields of air.

Hence too it comes that Nature all dissolves

Into their primal bodies again, and naught

Perishes ever to annihilation.

For, were aught mortal in its every part,

Before our eyes it might be snatched away

Unto destruction; since no force were needed

To sunder its members and undo its bands.

Whereas, of truth, because all things exist,

With seed imperishable, Nature allows

Destruction nor collapse of aught, until

Some outward force may shatter by a blow,

Or inward craft, entering its hollow cells,

Dissolve it down. And more than this, if Time,

That wastes with eld the works along the world,

Destroy entire, consuming matter all,

Whence then may Venus back to light of life

Restore the generations kind by kind?

Or how, when thus restored, may daedal Earth

Foster and plenish with her ancient food,

Which, kind by kind, she offers unto each?

Whence may the water-springs, beneath the sea,

Or inland rivers, far and wide away,

Keep the unfathomable ocean full?

And out of what does Ether feed the stars?

For lapsed years and infinite age must else

Have eat all shapes of mortal stock away:

But be it the Long Ago contained those germs,

By which this sum of things recruited lives,

Those same infallibly can never die,

Nor nothing to nothing evermore return.

And, too, the selfsame power might end alike

All things, were they not still together held

By matter eternal, shackled through its parts,

Now more, now less. A touch might be enough

To cause destruction. For the slightest force

Would loose the weft of things wherein no part

Were of imperishable stock. But now

Because the fastenings of primordial parts

Are put together diversely and stuff

Is everlasting, things abide the same

Unhurt and sure, until some power comes on

Strong to destroy the warp and woof of each:

Nothing returns to naught; but all return

At their collapse to primal forms of stuff.

Lo, the rains perish which Ether-father throws

Down to the bosom of Earth-mother; but then

Upsprings the shining grain, and boughs are green

Amid the trees, and trees themselves wax big

And lade themselves with fruits; and hence in turn

The race of man and all the wild are fed;

Hence joyful cities thrive with boys and girls;

And leafy woodlands echo with new birds;

Hence cattle, fat and drowsy, lay their bulk

Along the joyous pastures whilst the drops

Of white ooze trickle from distended bags;

Hence the young scamper on their weakling joints

Along the tender herbs, fresh hearts afrisk

With warm new milk. Thus naught of what so seems

Perishes utterly, since Nature ever

Upbuilds one thing from other, suffering naught

To come to birth but through some other’s death.

. . . . . .

And now, since I have taught that things cannot

Be born from nothing, nor the same, when born,

To nothing be recalled, doubt not my words,

Because our eyes no primal germs perceive;

For mark those bodies which, though known to be

In this our world, are yet invisible:

The winds infuriate lash our face and frame,

Unseen, and swamp huge ships and rend the clouds,

Or, eddying wildly down, bestrew the plains

With mighty trees, or scour the mountain tops

With forest-crackling blasts. Thus on they rave

With uproar shrill and ominous moan. The winds,

’Tis clear, are sightless bodies sweeping through

The sea, the lands, the clouds along the sky,

Vexing and whirling and seizing all amain;

And forth they flow and pile destruction round,

Even as the water’s soft and supple bulk

Becoming a river of abounding floods,

Which a wide downpour from the lofty hills

Swells with big showers, dashes headlong down

Fragments of woodland and whole branching trees;

Nor can the solid bridges bide the shock

As on the waters whelm: the turbulent stream,

Strong with a hundred rains, beats round the piers,

Crashes with havoc, and rolls beneath its waves

Down-toppled masonry and ponderous stone,

Hurling away whatever would oppose.

Even so must move the blasts of all the winds,

Which, when they spread, like to a mighty flood,

Hither or thither, drive things on before

And hurl to ground with still renewed assault,

Or sometimes in their circling vortex seize

And bear in cones of whirlwind down the world:

The winds are sightless bodies and naught else —

Since both in works and ways they rival well

The mighty rivers, the visible in form.

Then too we know the varied smells of things

Yet never to our nostrils see them come;

With eyes we view not burning heats, nor cold,

Nor are we wont men’s voices to behold.

Yet these must be corporeal at the base,

Since thus they smite the senses: naught there is

Save body, having property of touch.

And raiment, hung by surf-beat shore, grows moist,

The same, spread out before the sun, will dry;

Yet no one saw how sank the moisture in,

Nor how by heat off-driven. Thus we know,

That moisture is dispersed about in bits

Too small for eyes to see. Another case:

A ring upon the finger thins away

Along the under side, with years and suns;

The drippings from the eaves will scoop the stone;

The hooked ploughshare, though of iron, wastes

Amid the fields insidiously. We view

The rock-paved highways worn by many feet;

And at the gates the brazen statues show

Their right hands leaner from the frequent touch

Of wayfarers innumerable who greet.

We see how wearing-down hath minished these,

But just what motes depart at any time,

The envious nature of vision bars our sight.

Lastly whatever days and nature add

Little by little, constraining things to grow

In due proportion, no gaze however keen

Of these our eyes hath watched and known. No more

Can we observe what’s lost at any time,

When things wax old with eld and foul decay,

Or when salt seas eat under beetling crags.

Thus Nature ever by unseen bodies works.

The Void

But yet creation’s neither crammed nor blocked

About by body: there’s in things a void —

Which to have known will serve thee many a turn,

Nor will not leave thee wandering in doubt,

Forever searching in the sum of all,

And losing faith in these pronouncements mine.

There’s place intangible, a void and room.

For were it not, things could in nowise move;

Since body’s property to block and check

Would work on all and at an times the same.

Thus naught could evermore push forth and go,

Since naught elsewhere would yield a starting place.

But now through oceans, lands, and heights of heaven,

By divers causes and in divers modes,

Before our eyes we mark how much may move,

Which, finding not a void, would fail deprived

Of stir and motion; nay, would then have been

Nowise begot at all, since matter, then,

Had staid at rest, its parts together crammed.

Then too, however solid objects seem,

They yet are formed of matter mixed with void:

In rocks and caves the watery moisture seeps,

And beady drops stand out like plenteous tears;

And food finds way through every frame that lives;

The trees increase and yield the season’s fruit

Because their food throughout the whole is poured,

Even from the deepest roots, through trunks and boughs;

And voices pass the solid walls and fly

Reverberant through shut doorways of a house;

And stiffening frost seeps inward to our bones.

Which but for voids for bodies to go through

’Tis clear could happen in nowise at all.

Again, why see we among objects some

Of heavier weight, but of no bulkier size?

Indeed, if in a ball of wool there be

As much of body as in lump of lead,

The two should weigh alike, since body tends

To load things downward, while the void abides,

By contrary nature, the imponderable.

Therefore, an object just as large but lighter

Declares infallibly its more of void;

Even as the heavier more of matter shows,

And how much less of vacant room inside.

That which we’re seeking with sagacious quest

Exists, infallibly, commixed with things —

The void, the invisible inane.

    Right here

I am compelled a question to expound,

Forestalling something certain folk suppose,

Lest it avail to lead thee off from truth:

Waters (they say) before the shining breed

Of the swift scaly creatures somehow give,

And straightway open sudden liquid paths,

Because the fishes leave behind them room

To which at once the yielding billows stream.

Thus things among themselves can yet be moved,

And change their place, however full the Sum —

Received opinion, wholly false forsooth.

For where can scaly creatures forward dart,

Save where the waters give them room? Again,

Where can the billows yield a way, so long

As ever the fish are powerless to go?

Thus either all bodies of motion are deprived,

Or things contain admixture of a void

Where each thing gets its start in moving on.

Lastly, where after impact two broad bodies

Suddenly spring apart, the air must crowd

The whole new void between those bodies formed;

But air, however it stream with hastening gusts,

Can yet not fill the gap at once — for first

It makes for one place, ere diffused through all.

And then, if haply any think this comes,

When bodies spring apart, because the air

Somehow condenses, wander they from truth:

For then a void is formed, where none before;

And, too, a void is filled which was before.

Nor can air be condensed in such a wise;

Nor, granting it could, without a void, I hold,

It still could not contract upon itself

And draw its parts together into one.

Wherefore, despite demur and counter-speech,

Confess thou must there is a void in things.

And still I might by many an argument

Here scrape together credence for my words.

But for the keen eye these mere footprints serve,

Whereby thou mayest know the rest thyself.

As dogs full oft with noses on the ground,

Find out the silent lairs, though hid in brush,

Of beasts, the mountain-rangers, when but once

They scent the certain footsteps of the way,

Thus thou thyself in themes like these alone

Can hunt from thought to thought, and keenly wind

Along even onward to the secret places

And drag out truth. But, if thou loiter loth

Or veer, however little, from the point,

This I can promise, Memmius, for a fact:

Such copious drafts my singing tongue shall pour

From the large well-springs of my plenished breast

That much I dread slow age will steal and coil

Along our members, and unloose the gates

Of life within us, ere for thee my verse

Hath put within thine ears the stores of proofs

At hand for one soever question broached.

Nothing Exists Per Se Except Atoms and the Void

But, now again to weave the tale begun,

All nature, then, as self-sustained, consists

Of twain of things: of bodies and of void

In which they’re set, and where they’re moved around.

For common instinct of our race declares

That body of itself exists: unless

This primal faith, deep-founded, fail us not,

Naught will there be whereunto to appeal

On things occult when seeking aught to prove

By reasonings of mind. Again, without

That place and room, which we do call the inane,

Nowhere could bodies then be set, nor go

Hither or thither at all — as shown before.

Besides, there’s naught of which thou canst declare

It lives disjoined from body, shut from void —

A kind of third in nature. For whatever

Exists must be a somewhat; and the same,

If tangible, however fight and slight,

Will yet increase the count of body’s sum,

With its own augmentation big or small;

But, if intangible and powerless ever

To keep a thing from passing through itself

On any side, ’twill be naught else but that

Which we do call the empty, the inane.

Again, whate’er exists, as of itself,

Must either act or suffer action on it,

Or else be that wherein things move and be:

Naught, saving body, acts, is acted on;

Naught but the inane can furnish room. And thus,

Beside the inane and bodies, is no third

Nature amid the number of all things —

Remainder none to fall at any time

Under our senses, nor be seized and seen

By any man through reasonings of mind.

Name o’er creation with what names thou wilt,

Thou’lt find but properties of those first twain,

Or see but accidents those twain produce.

A property is that which not at all

Can be disjoined and severed from a thing

Without a fatal dissolution: such,

Weight to the rocks, heat to the fire, and flow

To the wide waters, touch to corporal things,

Intangibility to the viewless void.

But state of slavery, pauperhood, and wealth,

Freedom, and war, and concord, and all else

Which come and go whilst nature stands the same,

We’re wont, and rightly, to call accidents.

Even time exists not of itself; but sense

Reads out of things what happened long ago,

What presses now, and what shall follow after:

No man, we must admit, feels time itself,

Disjoined from motion and repose of things.

Thus, when they say there “is” the ravishment

Of Princess Helen, “is” the siege and sack

Of Trojan Town, look out, they force us not

To admit these acts existent by themselves,

Merely because those races of mankind

(Of whom these acts were accidents) long since

Irrevocable age has borne away:

For all past actions may be said to be

But accidents, in one way, of mankind —

In other, of some region of the world.

Add, too, had been no matter, and no room

Wherein all things go on, the fire of love

Upblown by that fair form, the glowing coal

Under the Phrygian Alexander’s breast,

Had ne’er enkindled that renowned strife

Of savage war, nor had the wooden horse

Involved in flames old Pergama, by a birth

At midnight of a brood of the Hellenes.

And thus thou canst remark that every act

At bottom exists not of itself, nor is

As body is, nor has like name with void;

But rather of sort more fitly to be called

An accident of body, and of place

Wherein all things go on.

Character of the Atoms

    Bodies, again,

Are partly primal germs of things, and partly

Unions deriving from the primal germs.

And those which are the primal germs of things

No power can quench; for in the end they conquer

By their own solidness; though hard it be

To think that aught in things has solid frame;

For lightnings pass, no less than voice and shout,

Through hedging walls of houses, and the iron

White-dazzles in the fire, and rocks will burn

With exhalations fierce and burst asunder.

Totters the rigid gold dissolved in heat;

The ice of bronze melts conquered in the flame;

Warmth and the piercing cold through silver seep,

Since, with the cups held rightly in the hand,

We oft feel both, as from above is poured

The dew of waters between their shining sides:

So true it is no solid form is found.

But yet because true reason and nature of things

Constrain us, come, whilst in few verses now

I disentangle how there still exist

Bodies of solid, everlasting frame —

The seeds of things, the primal germs we teach,

Whence all creation around us came to be.

First since we know a twofold nature exists,

Of things, both twain and utterly unlike —

Body, and place in which an things go on —

Then each must be both for and through itself,

And all unmixed: where’er be empty space,

There body’s not; and so where body bides,

There not at all exists the void inane.

Thus primal bodies are solid, without a void.

But since there’s void in all begotten things,

All solid matter must be round the same;

Nor, by true reason canst thou prove aught hides

And holds a void within its body, unless

Thou grant what holds it be a solid. Know,

That which can hold a void of things within

Can be naught else than matter in union knit.

Thus matter, consisting of a solid frame,

Hath power to be eternal, though all else,

Though all creation, be dissolved away.

Again, were naught of empty and inane,

The world were then a solid; as, without

Some certain bodies to fill the places held,

The world that is were but a vacant void.

And so, infallibly, alternate-wise

Body and void are still distinguished,

Since nature knows no wholly full nor void.

There are, then, certain bodies, possessed of power

To vary forever the empty and the full;

And these can nor be sundered from without

By beats and blows, nor from within be torn

By penetration, nor be overthrown

By any assault soever through the world —

For without void, naught can be crushed, it seems,

Nor broken, nor severed by a cut in twain,

Nor can it take the damp, or seeping cold

Or piercing fire, those old destroyers three;

But the more void within a thing, the more

Entirely it totters at their sure assault.

Thus if first bodies be, as I have taught,

Solid, without a void, they must be then

Eternal; and, if matter ne’er had been

Eternal, long ere now had all things gone

Back into nothing utterly, and all

We see around from nothing had been born —

But since I taught above that naught can be

From naught created, nor the once begotten

To naught be summoned back, these primal germs

Must have an immortality of frame.

And into these must each thing be resolved,

When comes its supreme hour, that thus there be

At hand the stuff for plenishing the world.

. . . . . .

So primal germs have solid singleness

Nor otherwise could they have been conserved

Through aeons and infinity of time

For the replenishment of wasted worlds.

Once more, if nature had given a scope for things

To be forever broken more and more,

By now the bodies of matter would have been

So far reduced by breakings in old days

That from them nothing could, at season fixed,

Be born, and arrive its prime and top of life.

For, lo, each thing is quicker marred than made;

And so whate’er the long infinitude

Of days and all fore-passed time would now

By this have broken and ruined and dissolved,

That same could ne’er in all remaining time

Be builded up for plenishing the world.

But mark: infallibly a fixed bound

Remaineth stablished ‘gainst their breaking down;

Since we behold each thing soever renewed,

And unto all, their seasons, after their kind,

Wherein they arrive the flower of their age.

Again, if bounds have not been set against

The breaking down of this corporeal world,

Yet must all bodies of whatever things

Have still endured from everlasting time

Unto this present, as not yet assailed

By shocks of peril. But because the same

Are, to thy thinking, of a nature frail,

It ill accords that thus they could remain

(As thus they do) through everlasting time,

Vexed through the ages (as indeed they are)

By the innumerable blows of chance.

So in our programme of creation, mark

How ’tis that, though the bodies of all stuff

Are solid to the core, we yet explain

The ways whereby some things are fashioned soft —

Air, water, earth, and fiery exhalations —

And by what force they function and go on:

The fact is founded in the void of things.

But if the primal germs themselves be soft,

Reason cannot be brought to bear to show

The ways whereby may be created these

Great crags of basalt and the during iron;

For their whole nature will profoundly lack

The first foundations of a solid frame.

But powerful in old simplicity,

Abide the solid, the primeval germs;

And by their combinations more condensed,

All objects can be tightly knit and bound

And made to show unconquerable strength.

Again, since all things kind by kind obtain

Fixed bounds of growing and conserving life;

Since Nature hath inviolably decreed

What each can do, what each can never do;

Since naught is changed, but all things so abide

That ever the variegated birds reveal

The spots or stripes peculiar to their kind,

Spring after spring: thus surely all that is

Must be composed of matter immutable.

For if the primal germs in any wise

Were open to conquest and to change, ‘twould be

Uncertain also what could come to birth

And what could not, and by what law to each

Its scope prescribed, its boundary stone that clings

So deep in Time. Nor could the generations

Kind after kind so often reproduce

The nature, habits, motions, ways of life,

Of their progenitors.

    And then again,

Since there is ever an extreme bounding point

. . . . . .

Of that first body which our senses now

Cannot perceive: That bounding point indeed

Exists without all parts, a minimum

Of nature, nor was e’er a thing apart,

As of itself — nor shall hereafter be,

Since ’tis itself still parcel of another,

A first and single part, whence other parts

And others similar in order lie

In a packed phalanx, filling to the full

The nature of first body: being thus

Not self-existent, they must cleave to that

From which in nowise they can sundered be.

So primal germs have solid singleness,

Which tightly packed and closely joined cohere

By virtue of their minim particles —

No compound by mere union of the same;

But strong in their eternal singleness,

Nature, reserving them as seeds for things,

Permitteth naught of rupture or decrease.

Moreover, were there not a minimum,

The smallest bodies would have infinites,

Since then a half-of-half could still be halved,

With limitless division less and less.

Then what the difference ‘twixt the sum and least?

None: for however infinite the sum,

Yet even the smallest would consist the same

Of infinite parts. But since true reason here

Protests, denying that the mind can think it,

Convinced thou must confess such things there are

As have no parts, the minimums of nature.

And since these are, likewise confess thou must

That primal bodies are solid and eterne.

Again, if Nature, creatress of all things,

Were wont to force all things to be resolved

Unto least parts, then would she not avail

To reproduce from out them anything;

Because whate’er is not endowed with parts

Cannot possess those properties required

Of generative stuff — divers connections,

Weights, blows, encounters, motions, whereby things

Forevermore have being and go on.

Confutation of Other Philosophers

And on such grounds it is that those who held

The stuff of things is fire, and out of fire

Alone the cosmic sum is formed, are seen

Mightily from true reason to have lapsed.

Of whom, chief leader to do battle, comes

That Heraclitus, famous for dark speech

Among the silly, not the serious Greeks

Who search for truth. For dolts are ever prone

That to bewonder and adore which hides

Beneath distorted words, holding that true

Which sweetly tickles in their stupid ears,

Or which is rouged in finely finished phrase.

For how, I ask, can things so varied be,

If formed of fire, single and pure? No whit

‘Twould help for fire to be condensed or thinned,

If all the parts of fire did still preserve

But fire’s own nature, seen before in gross.

The heat were keener with the parts compressed,

Milder, again, when severed or dispersed —

And more than this thou canst conceive of naught

That from such causes could become; much less

Might earth’s variety of things be born

From any fires soever, dense or rare.

This too: if they suppose a void in things,

Then fires can be condensed and still left rare;

But since they see such opposites of thought

Rising against them, and are loath to leave

An unmixed void in things, they fear the steep

And lose the road of truth. Nor do they see,

That, if from things we take away the void,

All things are then condensed, and out of all

One body made, which has no power to dart

Swiftly from out itself not anything —

As throws the fire its light and warmth around,

Giving thee proof its parts are not compact.

But if perhaps they think, in other wise,

Fires through their combinations can be quenched

And change their substance, very well: behold,

If fire shall spare to do so in no part,

Then heat will perish utterly and all,

And out of nothing would the world be formed.

For change in anything from out its bounds

Means instant death of that which was before;

And thus a somewhat must persist unharmed

Amid the world, lest all return to naught,

And, born from naught, abundance thrive anew.

Now since indeed there are those surest bodies

Which keep their nature evermore the same,

Upon whose going out and coming in

And changed order things their nature change,

And all corporeal substances transformed,

’Tis thine to know those primal bodies, then,

Are not of fire. For ’twere of no avail

Should some depart and go away, and some

Be added new, and some be changed in order,

If still all kept their nature of old heat:

For whatsoever they created then

Would still in any case be only fire.

The truth, I fancy, this: bodies there are

Whose clashings, motions, order, posture, shapes

Produce the fire and which, by order changed,

Do change the nature of the thing produced,

And are thereafter nothing like to fire

Nor whatso else has power to send its bodies

With impact touching on the senses’ touch.

Again, to say that all things are but fire

And no true thing in number of all things

Exists but fire, as this same fellow says,

Seems crazed folly. For the man himself

Against the senses by the senses fights,

And hews at that through which is all belief,

Through which indeed unto himself is known

The thing he calls the fire. For, though he thinks

The senses truly can perceive the fire,

He thinks they cannot as regards all else,

Which still are palpably as clear to sense —

To me a thought inept and crazy too.

For whither shall we make appeal? for what

More certain than our senses can there be

Whereby to mark asunder error and truth?

Besides, why rather do away with all,

And wish to allow heat only, then deny

The fire and still allow all else to be? —

Alike the madness either way it seems.

Thus whosoe’er have held the stuff of things

To be but fire, and out of fire the sum,

And whosoever have constituted air

As first beginning of begotten things,

And all whoever have held that of itself

Water alone contrives things, or that earth

Createth all and changes things anew

To divers natures, mightily they seem

A long way to have wandered from the truth.

Add, too, whoever make the primal stuff

Twofold, by joining air to fire, and earth

To water; add who deem that things can grow

Out of the four — fire, earth, and breath, and rain;

As first Empedocles of Acragas,

Whom that three-cornered isle of all the lands

Bore on her coasts, around which flows and flows

In mighty bend and bay the Ionic seas,

Splashing the brine from off their gray-green waves.

Here, billowing onward through the narrow straits,

Swift ocean cuts her boundaries from the shores

Of the Italic mainland. Here the waste

Charybdis; and here Aetna rumbles threats

To gather anew such furies of its flames

As with its force anew to vomit fires,

Belched from its throat, and skyward bear anew

Its lightnings’ flash. And though for much she seem

The mighty and the wondrous isle to men,

Most rich in all good things, and fortified

With generous strength of heroes, she hath ne’er

Possessed within her aught of more renown,

Nor aught more holy, wonderful, and dear

Than this true man. Nay, ever so far and pure

The lofty music of his breast divine

Lifts up its voice and tells of glories found,

That scarce he seems of human stock create.

Yet he and those forementioned (known to be

So far beneath him, less than he in all),

Though, as discoverers of much goodly truth,

They gave, as ’twere from out of the heart’s own shrine,

Responses holier and soundlier based

Than ever the Pythia pronounced for men

From out the tripod and the Delphian laurel,

Have still in matter of first-elements

Made ruin of themselves, and, great men, great

Indeed and heavy there for them the fall:

First, because, banishing the void from things,

They yet assign them motion, and allow

Things soft and loosely textured to exist,

As air, dew, fire, earth, animals, and grains,

Without admixture of void amid their frame.

Next, because, thinking there can be no end

In cutting bodies down to less and less

Nor pause established to their breaking up,

They hold there is no minimum in things;

Albeit we see the boundary point of aught

Is that which to our senses seems its least,

Whereby thou mayst conjecture, that, because

The things thou canst not mark have boundary points,

They surely have their minimums. Then, too,

Since these philosophers ascribe to things

Soft primal germs, which we behold to be

Of birth and body mortal, thus, throughout,

The sum of things must be returned to naught,

And, born from naught, abundance thrive anew —

Thou seest how far each doctrine stands from truth.

And, next, these bodies are among themselves

In many ways poisons and foes to each,

Wherefore their congress will destroy them quite

Or drive asunder as we see in storms

Rains, winds, and lightnings all asunder fly.

Thus too, if all things are create of four,

And all again dissolved into the four,

How can the four be called the primal germs

Of things, more than all things themselves be thought,

By retroversion, primal germs of them?

For ever alternately are both begot,

With interchange of nature and aspect

From immemorial time. But if percase

Thou think’st the frame of fire and earth, the air,

The dew of water can in such wise meet

As not by mingling to resign their nature,

From them for thee no world can be create —

No thing of breath, no stock or stalk of tree:

In the wild congress of this varied heap

Each thing its proper nature will display,

And air will palpably be seen mixed up

With earth together, unquenched heat with water.

But primal germs in bringing things to birth

Must have a latent, unseen quality,

Lest some outstanding alien element

Confuse and minish in the thing create

Its proper being.

    But these men begin

From heaven, and from its fires; and first they feign

That fire will turn into the winds of air,

Next, that from air the rain begotten is,

And earth created out of rain, and then

That all, reversely, are returned from earth —

The moisture first, then air thereafter heat —

And that these same ne’er cease in interchange,

To go their ways from heaven to earth, from earth

Unto the stars of the aethereal world —

Which in no wise at all the germs can do.

Since an immutable somewhat still must be,

Lest all things utterly be sped to naught;

For change in anything from out its bounds

Means instant death of that which was before.

Wherefore, since those things, mentioned heretofore,

Suffer a changed state, they must derive

From others ever unconvertible,

Lest an things utterly return to naught.

Then why not rather presuppose there be

Bodies with such a nature furnished forth

That, if perchance they have created fire,

Can still (by virtue of a few withdrawn,

Or added few, and motion and order changed)

Fashion the winds of air, and thus all things

Forevermore be interchanged with all?

“But facts in proof are manifest,” thou sayest,

“That all things grow into the winds of air

And forth from earth are nourished, and unless

The season favour at propitious hour

With rains enough to set the trees a-reel

Under the soak of bulking thunderheads,

And sun, for its share, foster and give heat,

No grains, nor trees, nor breathing things can grow.”

True — and unless hard food and moisture soft

Recruited man, his frame would waste away,

And life dissolve from out his thews and bones;

For out of doubt recruited and fed are we

By certain things, as other things by others.

Because in many ways the many germs

Common to many things are mixed in things,

No wonder ’tis that therefore divers things

By divers things are nourished. And, again,

Often it matters vastly with what others,

In what positions the primordial germs

Are bound together, and what motions, too,

They give and get among themselves; for these

Same germs do put together sky, sea, lands,

Rivers, and sun, grains, trees, and breathing things,

But yet commixed they are in divers modes

With divers things, forever as they move.

Nay, thou beholdest in our verses here

Elements many, common to many worlds,

Albeit thou must confess each verse, each word

From one another differs both in sense

And ring of sound — so much the elements

Can bring about by change of order alone.

But those which are the primal germs of things

Have power to work more combinations still,

Whence divers things can be produced in turn.

Now let us also take for scrutiny

The homeomeria of Anaxagoras,

So called by Greeks, for which our pauper-speech

Yieldeth no name in the Italian tongue,

Although the thing itself is not o’erhard

For explanation. First, then, when he speaks

Of this homeomeria of things, he thinks

Bones to be sprung from littlest bones minute,

And from minute and littlest flesh all flesh,

And blood created out of drops of blood,

Conceiving gold compact of grains of gold,

And earth concreted out of bits of earth,

Fire made of fires, and water out of waters,

Feigning the like with all the rest of stuff.

Yet he concedes not any void in things,

Nor any limit to cutting bodies down.

Wherefore to me he seems on both accounts

To err no less than those we named before.

Add too: these germs he feigns are far too frail —

If they be germs primordial furnished forth

With but same nature as the things themselves,

And travail and perish equally with those,

And no rein curbs them from annihilation.

For which will last against the grip and crush

Under the teeth of death? the fire? the moist?

Or else the air? which then? the blood? the bones?

No one, methinks, when every thing will be

At bottom as mortal as whate’er we mark

To perish by force before our gazing eyes.

But my appeal is to the proofs above

That things cannot fall back to naught, nor yet

From naught increase. And now again, since food

Augments and nourishes the human frame,

’Tis thine to know our veins and blood and bones

And thews are formed of particles unlike

To them in kind; or if they say all foods

Are of mixed substance having in themselves

Small bodies of thews, and bones, and also veins

And particles of blood, then every food,

Solid or liquid, must itself be thought

As made and mixed of things unlike in kind —

Of bones, of thews, of ichor and of blood.

Again, if all the bodies which upgrow

From earth, are first within the earth, then earth

Must be compound of alien substances

Which spring and bloom abroad from out the earth.

Transfer the argument, and thou may’st use

The selfsame words: if flame and smoke and ash

Still lurk unseen within the wood, the wood

Must be compound of alien substances

Which spring from out the wood.

    Right here remains

A certain slender means to skulk from truth,

Which Anaxagoras takes unto himself,

Who holds that all things lurk commixed with all

While that one only comes to view, of which

The bodies exceed in number all the rest,

And lie more close to hand and at the fore —

A notion banished from true reason far.

For then ’twere meet that kernels of the grains

Should oft, when crunched between the might of stones,

Give forth a sign of blood, or of aught else

Which in our human frame is fed; and that

Rock rubbed on rock should yield a gory ooze.

Likewise the herbs ought oft to give forth drops

Of sweet milk, flavoured like the uddered sheep’s;

Indeed we ought to find, when crumbling up

The earthy clods, there herbs, and grains, and leaves,

All sorts dispersed minutely in the soil;

Lastly we ought to find in cloven wood

Ashes and smoke and bits of fire there hid.

But since fact teaches this is not the case,

’Tis thine to know things are not mixed with things

Thuswise; but seeds, common to many things,

Commixed in many ways, must lurk in things.

“But often it happens on skiey hills” thou sayest,

“That neighbouring tops of lofty trees are rubbed

One against other, smote by the blustering south,

Till all ablaze with bursting flower of flame.”

Good sooth — yet fire is not ingraft in wood,

But many are the seeds of heat, and when

Rubbing together they together flow,

They start the conflagrations in the forests.

Whereas if flame, already fashioned, lay

Stored up within the forests, then the fires

Could not for any time be kept unseen,

But would be laying all the wildwood waste

And burning all the boscage. Now dost see

(Even as we said a little space above)

How mightily it matters with what others,

In what positions these same primal germs

Are bound together? And what motions, too,

They give and get among themselves? how, hence,

The same, if altered ‘mongst themselves, can body

Both igneous and ligneous objects forth —

Precisely as these words themselves are made

By somewhat altering their elements,

Although we mark with name indeed distinct

The igneous from the ligneous. Once again,

If thou suppose whatever thou beholdest,

Among all visible objects, cannot be,

Unless thou feign bodies of matter endowed

With a like nature — by thy vain device

For thee will perish all the germs of things:

’Twill come to pass they’ll laugh aloud, like men,

Shaken asunder by a spasm of mirth,

Or moisten with salty tear-drops cheeks and chins.

The Infinity of the Universe

Now learn of what remains! More keenly hear!

And for myself, my mind is not deceived

How dark it is: But the large hope of praise

Hath strook with pointed thyrsus through my heart;

On the same hour hath strook into my breast

Sweet love of the Muses, wherewith now instinct,

I wander afield, thriving in sturdy thought,

Through unpathed haunts of the Pierides,

Trodden by step of none before. I joy

To come on undefiled fountains there,

To drain them deep; I joy to pluck new flowers,

To seek for this my head a signal crown

From regions where the Muses never yet

Have garlanded the temples of a man:

First, since I teach concerning mighty things,

And go right on to loose from round the mind

The tightened coils of dread religion;

Next, since, concerning themes so dark, I frame

Songs so pellucid, touching all throughout

Even with the Muses’ charm — which, as ‘twould seem,

Is not without a reasonable ground:

But as physicians, when they seek to give

Young boys the nauseous wormwood, first do touch

The brim around the cup with the sweet juice

And yellow of the honey, in order that

The thoughtless age of boyhood be cajoled

As far as the lips, and meanwhile swallow down

The wormwood’s bitter draught, and, though befooled,

Be yet not merely duped, but rather thus

Grow strong again with recreated health:

So now I too (since this my doctrine seems

In general somewhat woeful unto those

Who’ve had it not in hand, and since the crowd

Starts back from it in horror) have desired

To expound our doctrine unto thee in song

Soft-speaking and Pierian, and, as ’twere,

To touch it with sweet honey of the Muse —

If by such method haply I might hold

The mind of thee upon these lines of ours,

Till thou see through the nature of all things,

And how exists the interwoven frame.

But since I’ve taught that bodies of matter, made

Completely solid, hither and thither fly

Forevermore unconquered through all time,

Now come, and whether to the sum of them

There be a limit or be none, for thee

Let us unfold; likewise what has been found

To be the wide inane, or room, or space

Wherein all things soever do go on,

Let us examine if it finite be

All and entire, or reach unmeasured round

And downward an illimitable profound.

Thus, then, the All that is is limited

In no one region of its onward paths,

For then ‘tmust have forever its beyond.

And a beyond ’tis seen can never be

For aught, unless still further on there be

A somewhat somewhere that may bound the same —

So that the thing be seen still on to where

The nature of sensation of that thing

Can follow it no longer. Now because

Confess we must there’s naught beside the sum,

There’s no beyond, and so it lacks all end.

It matters nothing where thou post thyself,

In whatsoever regions of the same;

Even any place a man has set him down

Still leaves about him the unbounded all

Outward in all directions; or, supposing

A moment the all of space finite to be,

If some one farthest traveller runs forth

Unto the extreme coasts and throws ahead

A flying spear, is’t then thy wish to think

It goes, hurled off amain, to where ’twas sent

And shoots afar, or that some object there

Can thwart and stop it? For the one or other

Thou must admit and take. Either of which

Shuts off escape for thee, and does compel

That thou concede the all spreads everywhere,

Owning no confines. Since whether there be

Aught that may block and check it so it comes

Not where ’twas sent, nor lodges in its goal,

Or whether borne along, in either view

‘Thas started not from any end. And so

I’ll follow on, and whereso’er thou set

The extreme coasts, I’ll query, “what becomes

Thereafter of thy spear?” ’Twill come to pass

That nowhere can a world’s-end be, and that

The chance for further flight prolongs forever

The flight itself. Besides, were all the space

Of the totality and sum shut in

With fixed coasts, and bounded everywhere,

Then would the abundance of world’s matter flow

Together by solid weight from everywhere

Still downward to the bottom of the world,

Nor aught could happen under cope of sky,

Nor could there be a sky at all or sun —

Indeed, where matter all one heap would lie,

By having settled during infinite time.

But in reality, repose is given

Unto no bodies ‘mongst the elements,

Because there is no bottom whereunto

They might, as ’twere, together flow, and where

They might take up their undisturbed abodes.

In endless motion everything goes on

Forevermore; out of all regions, even

Out of the pit below, from forth the vast,

Are hurtled bodies evermore supplied.

The nature of room, the space of the abyss

Is such that even the flashing thunderbolts

Can neither speed upon their courses through,

Gliding across eternal tracts of time,

Nor, further, bring to pass, as on they run,

That they may bate their journeying one whit:

Such huge abundance spreads for things around —

Room off to every quarter, without end.

Lastly, before our very eyes is seen

Thing to bound thing: air hedges hill from hill,

And mountain walls hedge air; land ends the sea,

And sea in turn all lands; but for the All

Truly is nothing which outside may bound.

That, too, the sum of things itself may not

Have power to fix a measure of its own,

Great nature guards, she who compels the void

To bound all body, as body all the void,

Thus rendering by these alternates the whole

An infinite; or else the one or other,

Being unbounded by the other, spreads,

Even by its single nature, ne’ertheless

Immeasurably forth. . . .

Nor sea, nor earth, nor shining vaults of sky,

Nor breed of mortals, nor holy limbs of gods

Could keep their place least portion of an hour:

For, driven apart from out its meetings fit,

The stock of stuff, dissolved, would be borne

Along the illimitable inane afar,

Or rather, in fact, would ne’er have once combined

And given a birth to aught, since, scattered wide,

It could not be united. For of truth

Neither by counsel did the primal germs

‘Stablish themselves, as by keen act of mind,

Each in its proper place; nor did they make,

Forsooth, a compact how each germ should move;

But since, being many and changed in many modes

Along the All, they’re driven abroad and vexed

By blow on blow, even from all time of old,

They thus at last, after attempting all

The kinds of motion and conjoining, come

Into those great arrangements out of which

This sum of things established is create,

By which, moreover, through the mighty years,

It is preserved, when once it has been thrown

Into the proper motions, bringing to pass

That ever the streams refresh the greedy main

With river-waves abounding, and that earth,

Lapped in warm exhalations of the sun,

Renews her broods, and that the lusty race

Of breathing creatures bears and blooms, and that

The gliding fires of ether are alive —

What still the primal germs nowise could do,

Unless from out the infinite of space

Could come supply of matter, whence in season

They’re wont whatever losses to repair.

For as the nature of breathing creatures wastes,

Losing its body, when deprived of food:

So all things have to be dissolved as soon

As matter, diverted by what means soever

From off its course, shall fail to be on hand.

Nor can the blows from outward still conserve,

On every side, whatever sum of a world

Has been united in a whole. They can

Indeed, by frequent beating, check a part,

Till others arriving may fulfil the sum;

But meanwhile often are they forced to spring

Rebounding back, and, as they spring, to yield,

Unto those elements whence a world derives,

Room and a time for flight, permitting them

To be from off the massy union borne

Free and afar. Wherefore, again, again:

Needs must there come a many for supply;

And also, that the blows themselves shall be

Unfailing ever, must there ever be

An infinite force of matter all sides round.

And in these problems, shrink, my Memmius, far

From yielding faith to that notorious talk:

That all things inward to the centre press;

And thus the nature of the world stands firm

With never blows from outward, nor can be

Nowhere disparted — since all height and depth

Have always inward to the centre pressed

(If thou art ready to believe that aught

Itself can rest upon itself ); or that

The ponderous bodies which be under earth

Do all press upwards and do come to rest

Upon the earth, in some way upside down,

Like to those images of things we see

At present through the waters. They contend,

With like procedure, that all breathing things

Head downward roam about, and yet cannot

Tumble from earth to realms of sky below,

No more than these our bodies wing away

Spontaneously to vaults of sky above;

That, when those creatures look upon the sun,

We view the constellations of the night;

And that with us the seasons of the sky

They thus alternately divide, and thus

Do pass the night coequal to our days,

But a vain error has given these dreams to fools,

Which they’ve embraced with reasoning perverse

For centre none can be where world is still

Boundless, nor yet, if now a centre were,

Could aught take there a fixed position more

Than for some other cause ‘tmight be dislodged.

For all of room and space we call the void

Must both through centre and non-centre yield

Alike to weights where’er their motions tend.

Nor is there any place, where, when they’ve come,

Bodies can be at standstill in the void,

Deprived of force of weight; nor yet may void

Furnish support to any — nay, it must,

True to its bent of nature, still give way.

Thus in such manner not at all can things

Be held in union, as if overcome

By craving for a centre.

    But besides,

Seeing they feign that not all bodies press

To centre inward, rather only those

Of earth and water (liquid of the sea,

And the big billows from the mountain slopes,

And whatsoever are encased, as ’twere,

In earthen body), contrariwise, they teach

How the thin air, and with it the hot fire,

Is borne asunder from the centre, and how,

For this all ether quivers with bright stars,

And the sun’s flame along the blue is fed

(Because the heat, from out the centre flying,

All gathers there), and how, again, the boughs

Upon the tree-tops could not sprout their leaves,

Unless, little by little, from out the earth

For each were nutriment . . .

. . . . . .

Lest, after the manner of the winged flames,

The ramparts of the world should flee away,

Dissolved amain throughout the mighty void,

And lest all else should likewise follow after,

Aye, lest the thundering vaults of heaven should burst

And splinter upward, and the earth forthwith

Withdraw from under our feet, and all its bulk,

Among its mingled wrecks and those of heaven,

With slipping asunder of the primal seeds,

Should pass, along the immeasurable inane,

Away forever, and, that instant, naught

Of wrack and remnant would be left, beside

The desolate space, and germs invisible.

For on whatever side thou deemest first

The primal bodies lacking, lo, that side

Will be for things the very door of death:

Wherethrough the throng of matter all will dash,

Out and abroad.

    These points, if thou wilt ponder,

Then, with but paltry trouble led along . . .

. . . . . .

For one thing after other will grow clear,

Nor shall the blind night rob thee of the road,

To hinder thy gaze on nature’s Farthest-forth.

Thus things for things shall kindle torches new.

Book II

Proem

’Tis sweet, when, down the mighty main, the winds

Roll up its waste of waters, from the land

To watch another’s labouring anguish far,

Not that we joyously delight that man

Should thus be smitten, but because ’tis sweet

To mark what evils we ourselves be spared;

’Tis sweet, again, to view the mighty strife

Of armies embattled yonder o’er the plains,

Ourselves no sharers in the peril; but naught

There is more goodly than to hold the high

Serene plateaus, well fortressed by the wise,

Whence thou may’st look below on other men

And see them ev’rywhere wand’ring, all dispersed

In their lone seeking for the road of life;

Rivals in genius, or emulous in rank,

Pressing through days and nights with hugest toil

For summits of power and mastery of the world.

O wretched minds of men! O blinded hearts!

In how great perils, in what darks of life

Are spent the human years, however brief! —

O not to see that nature for herself

Barks after nothing, save that pain keep off,

Disjoined from the body, and that mind enjoy

Delightsome feeling, far from care and fear!

Therefore we see that our corporeal life

Needs little, altogether, and only such

As takes the pain away, and can besides

Strew underneath some number of delights.

More grateful ’tis at times (for nature craves

No artifice nor luxury), if forsooth

There be no golden images of boys

Along the halls, with right hands holding out

The lamps ablaze, the lights for evening feasts,

And if the house doth glitter not with gold

Nor gleam with silver, and to the lyre resound

No fretted and gilded ceilings overhead,

Yet still to lounge with friends in the soft grass

Beside a river of water, underneath

A big tree’s boughs, and merrily to refresh

Our frames, with no vast outlay — most of all

If the weather is laughing and the times of the year

Besprinkle the green of the grass around with flowers.

Nor yet the quicker will hot fevers go,

If on a pictured tapestry thou toss,

Or purple robe, than if ’tis thine to lie

Upon the poor man’s bedding. Wherefore, since

Treasure, nor rank, nor glory of a reign

Avail us naught for this our body, thus

Reckon them likewise nothing for the mind:

Save then perchance, when thou beholdest forth

Thy legions swarming round the Field of Mars,

Rousing a mimic warfare — either side

Strengthened with large auxiliaries and horse,

Alike equipped with arms, alike inspired;

Or save when also thou beholdest forth

Thy fleets to swarm, deploying down the sea:

For then, by such bright circumstance abashed,

Religion pales and flees thy mind; O then

The fears of death leave heart so free of care.

But if we note how all this pomp at last

Is but a drollery and a mocking sport,

And of a truth man’s dread, with cares at heels,

Dreads not these sounds of arms, these savage swords

But among kings and lords of all the world

Mingles undaunted, nor is overawed

By gleam of gold nor by the splendour bright

Of purple robe, canst thou then doubt that this

Is aught, but power of thinking? — when, besides

The whole of life but labours in the dark.

For just as children tremble and fear all

In the viewless dark, so even we at times

Dread in the light so many things that be

No whit more fearsome than what children feign,

Shuddering, will be upon them in the dark.

This terror then, this darkness of the mind,

Not sunrise with its flaring spokes of light,

Nor glittering arrows of morning can disperse,

But only nature’s aspect and her law.

Atomic Motions

Now come: I will untangle for thy steps

Now by what motions the begetting bodies

Of the world-stuff beget the varied world,

And then forever resolve it when begot,

And by what force they are constrained to this,

And what the speed appointed unto them

Wherewith to travel down the vast inane:

Do thou remember to yield thee to my words.

For truly matter coheres not, crowds not tight,

Since we behold each thing to wane away,

And we observe how all flows on and off,

As ’twere, with age-old time, and from our eyes

How eld withdraws each object at the end,

Albeit the sum is seen to bide the same,

Unharmed, because these motes that leave each thing

Diminish what they part from, but endow

With increase those to which in turn they come,

Constraining these to wither in old age,

And those to flower at the prime (and yet

Biding not long among them). Thus the sum

Forever is replenished, and we live

As mortals by eternal give and take.

The nations wax, the nations wane away;

In a brief space the generations pass,

And like to runners hand the lamp of life

One unto other.

    But if thou believe

That the primordial germs of things can stop,

And in their stopping give new motions birth,

Afar thou wanderest from the road of truth.

For since they wander through the void inane,

All the primordial germs of things must needs

Be borne along, either by weight their own,

Or haply by another’s blow without.

For, when, in their incessancy so oft

They meet and clash, it comes to pass amain

They leap asunder, face to face: not strange —

Being most hard, and solid in their weights,

And naught opposing motion, from behind.

And that more clearly thou perceive how all

These mites of matter are darted round about,

Recall to mind how nowhere in the sum

Of All exists a bottom — nowhere is

A realm of rest for primal bodies; since

(As amply shown and proved by reason sure)

Space has no bound nor measure, and extends

Unmetered forth in all directions round.

Since this stands certain, thus ’tis out of doubt

No rest is rendered to the primal bodies

Along the unfathomable inane; but rather,

Inveterately plied by motions mixed,

Some, at their jamming, bound aback and leave

Huge gaps between, and some from off the blow

Are hurried about with spaces small between.

And all which, brought together with slight gaps,

In more condensed union bound aback,

Linked by their own all inter-tangled shapes —

These form the irrefragable roots of rocks

And the brute bulks of iron, and what else

Is of their kind . . .

The rest leap far asunder, far recoil,

Leaving huge gaps between: and these supply

For us thin air and splendour-lights of the sun.

And many besides wander the mighty void —

Cast back from unions of existing things,

Nowhere accepted in the universe,

And nowise linked in motions to the rest.

And of this fact (as I record it here)

An image, a type goes on before our eyes

Present each moment; for behold whenever

The sun’s light and the rays, let in, pour down

Across dark halls of houses: thou wilt see

The many mites in many a manner mixed

Amid a void in the very light of the rays,

And battling on, as in eternal strife,

And in battalions contending without halt,

In meetings, partings, harried up and down.

From this thou mayest conjecture of what sort

The ceaseless tossing of primordial seeds

Amid the mightier void — at least so far

As small affair can for a vaster serve,

And by example put thee on the spoor

Of knowledge. For this reason too ’tis fit

Thou turn thy mind the more unto these bodies

Which here are witnessed tumbling in the light:

Namely, because such tumblings are a sign

That motions also of the primal stuff

Secret and viewless lurk beneath, behind.

For thou wilt mark here many a speck, impelled

By viewless blows, to change its little course,

And beaten backwards to return again,

Hither and thither in all directions round.

Lo, all their shifting movement is of old,

From the primeval atoms; for the same

Primordial seeds of things first move of self,

And then those bodies built of unions small

And nearest, as it were, unto the powers

Of the primeval atoms, are stirred up

By impulse of those atoms’ unseen blows,

And these thereafter goad the next in size:

Thus motion ascends from the primevals on,

And stage by stage emerges to our sense,

Until those objects also move which we

Can mark in sunbeams, though it not appears

What blows do urge them.

    Herein wonder not

How ’tis that, while the seeds of things are all

Moving forever, the sum yet seems to stand

Supremely still, except in cases where

A thing shows motion of its frame as whole.

For far beneath the ken of senses lies

The nature of those ultimates of the world;

And so, since those themselves thou canst not see,

Their motion also must they veil from men —

For mark, indeed, how things we can see, oft

Yet hide their motions, when afar from us

Along the distant landscape. Often thus,

Upon a hillside will the woolly flocks

Be cropping their goodly food and creeping about

Whither the summons of the grass, begemmed

With the fresh dew, is calling, and the lambs,

Well filled, are frisking, locking horns in sport:

Yet all for us seem blurred and blent afar —

A glint of white at rest on a green hill.

Again, when mighty legions, marching round,

Fill all the quarters of the plains below,

Rousing a mimic warfare, there the sheen

Shoots up the sky, and all the fields about

Glitter with brass, and from beneath, a sound

Goes forth from feet of stalwart soldiery,

And mountain walls, smote by the shouting, send

The voices onward to the stars of heaven,

And hither and thither darts the cavalry,

And of a sudden down the midmost fields

Charges with onset stout enough to rock

The solid earth: and yet some post there is

Up the high mountains, viewed from which they seem

To stand — a gleam at rest along the plains.

Now what the speed to matter’s atoms given

Thou mayest in few, my Memmius, learn from this:

When first the dawn is sprinkling with new light

The lands, and all the breed of birds abroad

Flit round the trackless forests, with liquid notes

Filling the regions along the mellow air,

We see ’tis forthwith manifest to man

How suddenly the risen sun is wont

At such an hour to overspread and clothe

The whole with its own splendour; but the sun’s

Warm exhalations and this serene light

Travel not down an empty void; and thus

They are compelled more slowly to advance,

Whilst, as it were, they cleave the waves of air;

Nor one by one travel these particles

Of the warm exhalations, but are all

Entangled and enmassed, whereby at once

Each is restrained by each, and from without

Checked, till compelled more slowly to advance.

But the primordial atoms with their old

Simple solidity, when forth they travel

Along the empty void, all undelayed

By aught outside them there, and they, each one

Being one unit from nature of its parts,

Are borne to that one place on which they strive

Still to lay hold, must then, beyond a doubt,

Outstrip in speed, and be more swiftly borne

Than light of sun, and over regions rush,

Of space much vaster, in the self-same time

The sun’s effulgence widens round the sky.

. . . . . .

Nor to pursue the atoms one by one,

To see the law whereby each thing goes on.

But some men, ignorant of matter, think,

Opposing this, that not without the gods,

In such adjustment to our human ways,

Can nature change the seasons of the years,

And bring to birth the grains and all of else

To which divine Delight, the guide of life,

Persuades mortality and leads it on,

That, through her artful blandishments of love,

It propagate the generations still,

Lest humankind should perish. When they feign

That gods have stablished all things but for man,

They seem in all ways mightily to lapse

From reason’s truth: for ev’n if ne’er I knew

What seeds primordial are, yet would I dare

This to affirm, ev’n from deep judgment based

Upon the ways and conduct of the skies —

This to maintain by many a fact besides —

That in no wise the nature of the world

For us was builded by a power divine —

So great the faults it stands encumbered with:

The which, my Memmius, later on, for thee

We will clear up. Now as to what remains

Concerning motions we’ll unfold our thought.

Now is the place, meseems, in these affairs

To prove for thee this too: nothing corporeal

Of its own force can e’er be upward borne,

Or upward go — nor let the bodies of flames

Deceive thee here: for they engendered are

With urge to upwards, taking thus increase,

Whereby grow upwards shining grains and trees,

Though all the weight within them downward bears.

Nor, when the fires will leap from under round

The roofs of houses, and swift flame laps up

Timber and beam, ’tis then to be supposed

They act of own accord, no force beneath

To urge them up. ’Tis thus that blood, discharged

From out our bodies, spurts its jets aloft

And spatters gore. And hast thou never marked

With what a force the water will disgorge

Timber and beam? The deeper, straight and down,

We push them in, and, many though we be,

The more we press with main and toil, the more

The water vomits up and flings them back,

That, more than half their length, they there emerge,

Rebounding. Yet we never doubt, meseems,

That all the weight within them downward bears

Through empty void. Well, in like manner, flames

Ought also to be able, when pressed out,

Through winds of air to rise aloft, even though

The weight within them strive to draw them down.

Hast thou not seen, sweeping so far and high,

The meteors, midnight flambeaus of the sky,

How after them they draw long trails of flame

Wherever Nature gives a thoroughfare?

How stars and constellations drop to earth,

Seest not? Nay, too, the sun from peak of heaven

Sheds round to every quarter its large heat,

And sows the new-ploughed intervales with light:

Thus also sun’s heat downward tends to earth.

Athwart the rain thou seest the lightning fly;

Now here, now there, bursting from out the clouds,

The fires dash zig-zag — and that flaming power

Falls likewise down to earth.

    In these affairs

We wish thee also well aware of this:

The atoms, as their own weight bears them down

Plumb through the void, at scarce determined times,

In scarce determined places, from their course

Decline a little — call it, so to speak,

Mere changed trend. For were it not their wont

Thuswise to swerve, down would they fall, each one,

Like drops of rain, through the unbottomed void;

And then collisions ne’er could be nor blows

Among the primal elements; and thus

Nature would never have created aught.

But, if perchance be any that believe

The heavier bodies, as more swiftly borne

Plumb down the void, are able from above

To strike the lighter, thus engendering blows

Able to cause those procreant motions, far

From highways of true reason they retire.

For whatsoever through the waters fall,

Or through thin air, must quicken their descent,

Each after its weight — on this account, because

Both bulk of water and the subtle air

By no means can retard each thing alike,

But give more quick before the heavier weight;

But contrariwise the empty void cannot,

On any side, at any time, to aught

Oppose resistance, but will ever yield,

True to its bent of nature. Wherefore all,

With equal speed, though equal not in weight,

Must rush, borne downward through the still inane.

Thus ne’er at all have heavier from above

Been swift to strike the lighter, gendering strokes

Which cause those divers motions, by whose means

Nature transacts her work. And so I say,

The atoms must a little swerve at times —

But only the least, lest we should seem to feign

Motions oblique, and fact refute us there.

For this we see forthwith is manifest:

Whatever the weight, it can’t obliquely go,

Down on its headlong journey from above,

At least so far as thou canst mark; but who

Is there can mark by sense that naught can swerve

At all aside from off its road’s straight line?

Again, if ev’r all motions are co-linked,

And from the old ever arise the new

In fixed order, and primordial seeds

Produce not by their swerving some new start

Of motion to sunder the covenants of fate,

That cause succeed not cause from everlasting,

Whence this free will for creatures o’er the lands,

Whence is it wrested from the fates — this will

Whereby we step right forward where desire

Leads each man on, whereby the same we swerve

In motions, not as at some fixed time,

Nor at some fixed line of space, but where

The mind itself has urged? For out of doubt

In these affairs ’tis each man’s will itself

That gives the start, and hence throughout our limbs

Incipient motions are diffused. Again,

Dost thou not see, when, at a point of time,

The bars are opened, how the eager strength

Of horses cannot forward break as soon

As pants their mind to do? For it behooves

That all the stock of matter, through the frame,

Be roused, in order that, through every joint,

Aroused, it press and follow mind’s desire;

So thus thou seest initial motion’s gendered

From out the heart, aye, verily, proceeds

First from the spirit’s will, whence at the last

’Tis given forth through joints and body entire.

Quite otherwise it is, when forth we move,

Impelled by a blow of another’s mighty powers

And mighty urge; for then ’tis clear enough

All matter of our total body goes,

Hurried along, against our own desire —

Until the will has pulled upon the reins

And checked it back, throughout our members all;

At whose arbitrament indeed sometimes

The stock of matter’s forced to change its path,

Throughout our members and throughout our joints,

And, after being forward cast, to be

Reined up, whereat it settles back again.

So seest thou not, how, though external force

Drive men before, and often make them move,

Onward against desire, and headlong snatched,

Yet is there something in these breasts of ours

Strong to combat, strong to withstand the same? —

Wherefore no less within the primal seeds

Thou must admit, besides all blows and weight,

Some other cause of motion, whence derives

This power in us inborn, of some free act. —

Since naught from nothing can become, we see.

For weight prevents all things should come to pass

Through blows, as ’twere, by some external force;

But that man’s mind itself in all it does

Hath not a fixed necessity within,

Nor is not, like a conquered thing, compelled

To bear and suffer — this state comes to man

From that slight swervement of the elements

In no fixed line of space, in no fixed time.

Nor ever was the stock of stuff more crammed,

Nor ever, again, sundered by bigger gaps:

For naught gives increase and naught takes away;

On which account, just as they move to-day,

The elemental bodies moved of old

And shall the same hereafter evermore.

And what was wont to be begot of old

Shall be begotten under selfsame terms

And grow and thrive in power, so far as given

To each by Nature’s changeless, old decrees.

The sum of things there is no power can change,

For naught exists outside, to which can flee

Out of the world matter of any kind,

Nor forth from which a fresh supply can spring,

Break in upon the founded world, and change

Whole nature of things, and turn their motions about.

Atomic Forms and Their Combinations

Now come, and next hereafter apprehend

What sorts, how vastly different in form,

How varied in multitudinous shapes they are —

These old beginnings of the universe;

Not in the sense that only few are furnished

With one like form, but rather not at all

In general have they likeness each with each,

No marvel: since the stock of them’s so great

That there’s no end (as I have taught) nor sum,

They must indeed not one and all be marked

By equal outline and by shape the same.

. . . . . .

Moreover, humankind, and the mute flocks

Of scaly creatures swimming in the streams,

And joyous herds around, and all the wild,

And all the breeds of birds — both those that teem

In gladsome regions of the water-haunts,

About the river-banks and springs and pools,

And those that throng, flitting from tree to tree,

Through trackless woods — Go, take which one thou wilt,

In any kind: thou wilt discover still

Each from the other still unlike in shape.

Nor in no other wise could offspring know

Mother, nor mother offspring — which we see

They yet can do, distinguished one from other,

No less than human beings, by clear signs.

Thus oft before fair temples of the gods,

Beside the incense-burning altars slain,

Drops down the yearling calf, from out its breast

Breathing warm streams of blood; the orphaned mother,

Ranging meanwhile green woodland pastures round,

Knows well the footprints, pressed by cloven hoofs,

With eyes regarding every spot about,

For sight somewhere of youngling gone from her;

And, stopping short, filleth the leafy lanes

With her complaints; and oft she seeks again

Within the stall, pierced by her yearning still.

Nor tender willows, nor dew-quickened grass,

Nor the loved streams that glide along low banks,

Can lure her mind and turn the sudden pain;

Nor other shapes of calves that graze thereby

Distract her mind or lighten pain the least —

So keen her search for something known and hers.

Moreover, tender kids with bleating throats

Do know their horned dams, and butting lambs

The flocks of sheep, and thus they patter on,

Unfailingly each to its proper teat,

As nature intends. Lastly, with any grain,

Thou’lt see that no one kernel in one kind

Is so far like another, that there still

Is not in shapes some difference running through.

By a like law we see how earth is pied

With shells and conchs, where, with soft waves, the sea

Beats on the thirsty sands of curving shores.

Wherefore again, again, since seeds of things

Exist by nature, nor were wrought with hands

After a fixed pattern of one other,

They needs must flitter to and fro with shapes

In types dissimilar to one another.

. . . . . .

Easy enough by thought of mind to solve

Why fires of lightning more can penetrate

Than these of ours from pitch-pine born on earth.

For thou canst say lightning’s celestial fire,

So subtle, is formed of figures finer far,

And passes thus through holes which this our fire,

Born from the wood, created from the pine,

Cannot. Again, light passes through the horn

On the lantern’s side, while rain is dashed away.

And why? — unless those bodies of light should be

Finer than those of water’s genial showers.

We see how quickly through a colander

The wines will flow; how, on the other hand,

The sluggish olive-oil delays: no doubt,

Because ’tis wrought of elements more large,

Or else more crook’d and intertangled. Thus

It comes that the primordials cannot be

So suddenly sundered one from other, and seep,

One through each several hole of anything.

And note, besides, that liquor of honey or milk

Yields in the mouth agreeable taste to tongue,

Whilst nauseous wormwood, pungent centaury,

With their foul flavour set the lips awry;

Thus simple ’tis to see that whatsoever

Can touch the senses pleasingly are made

Of smooth and rounded elements, whilst those

Which seem the bitter and the sharp, are held

Entwined by elements more crook’d, and so

Are wont to tear their ways into our senses,

And rend our body as they enter in.

In short all good to sense, all bad to touch,

Being up-built of figures so unlike,

Are mutually at strife — lest thou suppose

That the shrill rasping of a squeaking saw

Consists of elements as smooth as song

Which, waked by nimble fingers, on the strings

The sweet musicians fashion; or suppose

That same-shaped atoms through men’s nostrils pierce

When foul cadavers burn, as when the stage

Is with Cilician saffron sprinkled fresh,

And the altar near exhales Panchaean scent;

Or hold as of like seed the goodly hues

Of things which feast our eyes, as those which sting

Against the smarting pupil and draw tears,

Or show, with gruesome aspect, grim and vile.

For never a shape which charms our sense was made

Without some elemental smoothness; whilst

Whate’er is harsh and irksome has been framed

Still with some roughness in its elements.

Some, too, there are which justly are supposed

To be nor smooth nor altogether hooked,

With bended barbs, but slightly angled-out,

To tickle rather than to wound the sense —

And of which sort is the salt tartar of wine

And flavours of the gummed elecampane.

Again, that glowing fire and icy rime

Are fanged with teeth unlike whereby to sting

Our body’s sense, the touch of each gives proof.

For touch — by sacred majesties of Gods! —

Touch is indeed the body’s only sense —

Be’t that something in-from-outward works,

Be’t that something in the body born

Wounds, or delighteth as it passes out

Along the procreant paths of Aphrodite;

Or be’t the seeds by some collision whirl

Disordered in the body and confound

By tumult and confusion all the sense —

As thou mayst find, if haply with the hand

Thyself thou strike thy body’s any part.

On which account, the elemental forms

Must differ widely, as enabled thus

To cause diverse sensations.

    And, again,

What seems to us the hardened and condensed

Must be of atoms among themselves more hooked,

Be held compacted deep within, as ’twere

By branch-like atoms — of which sort the chief

Are diamond stones, despisers of all blows,

And stalwart flint and strength of solid iron,

And brazen bars, which, budging hard in locks,

Do grate and scream. But what are liquid, formed

Of fluid body, they indeed must be

Of elements more smooth and round — because

Their globules severally will not cohere:

To suck the poppy-seeds from palm of hand

Is quite as easy as drinking water down,

And they, once struck, roll like unto the same.

But that thou seest among the things that flow

Some bitter, as the brine of ocean is,

Is not the least a marvel . . .

For since ’tis fluid, smooth its atoms are

And round, with painful rough ones mixed therein;

Yet need not these be held together hooked:

In fact, though rough, they’re globular besides,

Able at once to roll, and rasp the sense.

And that the more thou mayst believe me here,

That with smooth elements are mixed the rough

(Whence Neptune’s salt astringent body comes),

There is a means to separate the twain,

And thereupon dividedly to see

How the sweet water, after filtering through

So often underground, flows freshened forth

Into some hollow; for it leaves above

The primal germs of nauseating brine,

Since cling the rough more readily in earth.

Lastly, whatso thou markest to disperse

Upon the instant — smoke, and cloud, and flame —

Must not (even though not all of smooth and round)

Be yet co-linked with atoms intertwined,

That thus they can, without together cleaving,

So pierce our body and so bore the rocks.

Whatever we see . . .

Given to senses, that thou must perceive

They’re not from linked but pointed elements.

The which now having taught, I will go on

To bind thereto a fact to this allied

And drawing from this its proof: these primal germs

Vary, yet only with finite tale of shapes.

For were these shapes quite infinite, some seeds

Would have a body of infinite increase.

For in one seed, in one small frame of any,

The shapes can’t vary from one another much.

Assume, we’ll say, that of three minim parts

Consist the primal bodies, or add a few:

When, now, by placing all these parts of one

At top and bottom, changing lefts and rights,

Thou hast with every kind of shift found out

What the aspect of shape of its whole body

Each new arrangement gives, for what remains,

If thou percase wouldst vary its old shapes,

New parts must then be added; follows next,

If thou percase wouldst vary still its shapes,

That by like logic each arrangement still

Requires its increment of other parts.

Ergo, an augmentation of its frame

Follows upon each novelty of forms.

Wherefore, it cannot be thou’lt undertake

That seeds have infinite differences in form,

Lest thus thou forcest some indeed to be

Of an immeasurable immensity —

Which I have taught above cannot be proved.

. . . . . .

And now for thee barbaric robes, and gleam

Of Meliboean purple, touched with dye

Of the Thessalian shell . . .

The peacock’s golden generations, stained

With spotted gaieties, would lie o’erthrown

By some new colour of new things more bright;

The odour of myrrh and savours of honey despised;

The swan’s old lyric, and Apollo’s hymns,

Once modulated on the many chords,

Would likewise sink o’ermastered and be mute:

For, lo, a somewhat, finer than the rest,

Would be arising evermore. So, too,

Into some baser part might all retire,

Even as we said to better might they come:

For, lo, a somewhat, loathlier than the rest

To nostrils, ears, and eyes, and taste of tongue,

Would then, by reasoning reversed, be there.

Since ’tis not so, but unto things are given

Their fixed limitations which do bound

Their sum on either side, ‘tmust be confessed

That matter, too, by finite tale of shapes

Does differ. Again, from earth’s midsummer heats

Unto the icy hoar-frosts of the year

The forward path is fixed, and by like law

O’ertravelled backwards at the dawn of spring.

For each degree of hot, and each of cold,

And the half-warm, all filling up the sum

In due progression, lie, my Memmius, there

Betwixt the two extremes: the things create

Must differ, therefore, by a finite change,

Since at each end marked off they ever are

By fixed point — on one side plagued by flames

And on the other by congealing frosts.

The which now having taught, I will go on

To bind thereto a fact to this allied

And drawing from this its proof: those primal germs

Which have been fashioned all of one like shape

Are infinite in tale; for, since the forms

Themselves are finite in divergences,

Then those which are alike will have to be

Infinite, else the sum of stuff remains

A finite — what I’ve proved is not the fact,

Showing in verse how corpuscles of stuff,

From everlasting and to-day the same,

Uphold the sum of things, all sides around

By old succession of unending blows.

For though thou view’st some beasts to be more rare,

And mark’st in them a less prolific stock,

Yet in another region, in lands remote,

That kind abounding may make up the count;

Even as we mark among the four-foot kind

Snake-handed elephants, whose thousands wall

With ivory ramparts India about,

That her interiors cannot entered be —

So big her count of brutes of which we see

Such few examples. Or suppose, besides,

We feign some thing, one of its kind and sole

With body born, to which is nothing like

In all the lands: yet now unless shall be

An infinite count of matter out of which

Thus to conceive and bring it forth to life,

It cannot be created and — what’s more —

It cannot take its food and get increase.

Yea, if through all the world in finite tale

Be tossed the procreant bodies of one thing,

Whence, then, and where in what mode, by what power,

Shall they to meeting come together there,

In such vast ocean of matter and tumult strange? —

No means they have of joining into one.

But, just as, after mighty ship-wrecks piled,

The mighty main is wont to scatter wide

The rowers’ banks, the ribs, the yards, the prow,

The masts and swimming oars, so that afar

Along all shores of lands are seen afloat

The carven fragments of the rended poop,

Giving a lesson to mortality

To shun the ambush of the faithless main,

The violence and the guile, and trust it not

At any hour, however much may smile

The crafty enticements of the placid deep:

Exactly thus, if once thou holdest true

That certain seeds are finite in their tale,

The various tides of matter, then, must needs

Scatter them flung throughout the ages all,

So that not ever can they join, as driven

Together into union, nor remain

In union, nor with increment can grow —

But facts in proof are manifest for each:

Things can be both begotten and increase.

’Tis therefore manifest that primal germs,

Are infinite in any class thou wilt —

From whence is furnished matter for all things.

Nor can those motions that bring death prevail

Forever, nor eternally entomb

The welfare of the world; nor, further, can

Those motions that give birth to things and growth

Keep them forever when created there.

Thus the long war, from everlasting waged,

With equal strife among the elements

Goes on and on. Now here, now there, prevail

The vital forces of the world — or fall.

Mixed with the funeral is the wildered wail

Of infants coming to the shores of light:

No night a day, no dawn a night hath followed

That heard not, mingling with the small birth-cries,

The wild laments, companions old of death

And the black rites.

    This, too, in these affairs

’Tis fit thou hold well sealed, and keep consigned

With no forgetting brain: nothing there is

Whose nature is apparent out of hand

That of one kind of elements consists —

Nothing there is that’s not of mixed seed.

And whatsoe’er possesses in itself

More largely many powers and properties

Shows thus that here within itself there are

The largest number of kinds and differing shapes

Of elements. And, chief of all, the earth

Hath in herself first bodies whence the springs,

Rolling chill waters, renew forevermore

The unmeasured main; hath whence the fires arise —

For burns in many a spot her flamed crust,

Whilst the impetuous Aetna raves indeed

From more profounder fires — and she, again,

Hath in herself the seed whence she can raise

The shining grains and gladsome trees for men;

Whence, also, rivers, fronds, and gladsome pastures

Can she supply for mountain-roaming beasts.

Wherefore great mother of gods, and mother of beasts,

And parent of man hath she alone been named.

Her hymned the old and learned bards of Greece

. . . . . .

Seated in chariot o’er the realms of air

To drive her team of lions, teaching thus

That the great earth hangs poised and cannot lie

Resting on other earth. Unto her car

They’ve yoked the wild beasts, since a progeny,

However savage, must be tamed and chid

By care of parents. They have girt about

With turret-crown the summit of her head,

Since, fortressed in her goodly strongholds high,

’Tis she sustains the cities; now, adorned

With that same token, to-day is carried forth,

With solemn awe through many a mighty land,

The image of that mother, the divine.

Her the wide nations, after antique rite,

Do name Idaean Mother, giving her

Escort of Phrygian bands, since first, they say,

From out those regions ’twas that grain began

Through all the world. To her do they assign

The Galli, the emasculate, since thus

They wish to show that men who violate

The majesty of the mother and have proved

Ingrate to parents are to be adjudged

Unfit to give unto the shores of light

A living progeny. The Galli come:

And hollow cymbals, tight-skinned tambourines

Resound around to bangings of their hands;

The fierce horns threaten with a raucous bray;

The tubed pipe excites their maddened minds

In Phrygian measures; they bear before them knives,

Wild emblems of their frenzy, which have power

The rabble’s ingrate heads and impious hearts

To panic with terror of the goddess’ might.

And so, when through the mighty cities borne,

She blesses man with salutations mute,

They strew the highway of her journeyings

With coin of brass and silver, gifting her

With alms and largesse, and shower her and shade

With flowers of roses falling like the snow

Upon the Mother and her companion-bands.

Here is an armed troop, the which by Greeks

Are called the Phrygian Curetes. Since

Haply among themselves they use to play

In games of arms and leap in measure round

With bloody mirth and by their nodding shake

The terrorizing crests upon their heads,

This is the armed troop that represents

The arm’d Dictaean Curetes, who, in Crete,

As runs the story, whilom did out-drown

That infant cry of Zeus, what time their band,

Young boys, in a swift dance around the boy,

To measured step beat with the brass on brass,

That Saturn might not get him for his jaws,

And give its mother an eternal wound

Along her heart. And ’tis on this account

That armed they escort the mighty Mother,

Or else because they signify by this

That she, the goddess, teaches men to be

Eager with armed valour to defend

Their motherland, and ready to stand forth,

The guard and glory of their parents’ years.

A tale, however beautifully wrought,

That’s wide of reason by a long remove:

For all the gods must of themselves enjoy

Immortal aeons and supreme repose,

Withdrawn from our affairs, detached, afar:

Immune from peril and immune from pain,

Themselves abounding in riches of their own,

Needing not us, they are not touched by wrath

They are not taken by service or by gift.

Truly is earth insensate for all time;

But, by obtaining germs of many things,

In many a way she brings the many forth

Into the light of sun. And here, whoso

Decides to call the ocean Neptune, or

The grain-crop Ceres, and prefers to abuse

The name of Bacchus rather than pronounce

The liquor’s proper designation, him

Let us permit to go on calling earth

Mother of Gods, if only he will spare

To taint his soul with foul religion.

So, too, the wooly flocks, and horned kine,

And brood of battle-eager horses, grazing

Often together along one grassy plain,

Under the cope of one blue sky, and slaking

From out one stream of water each its thirst,

All live their lives with face and form unlike,

Keeping the parents’ nature, parents’ habits,

Which, kind by kind, through ages they repeat.

So great in any sort of herb thou wilt,

So great again in any river of earth

Are the distinct diversities of matter.

Hence, further, every creature — any one

From out them all — compounded is the same

Of bones, blood, veins, heat, moisture, flesh, and thews —

All differing vastly in their forms, and built

Of elements dissimilar in shape.

Again, all things by fire consumed ablaze,

Within their frame lay up, if naught besides,

At least those atoms whence derives their power

To throw forth fire and send out light from under,

To shoot the sparks and scatter embers wide.

If, with like reasoning of mind, all else

Thou traverse through, thou wilt discover thus

That in their frame the seeds of many things

They hide, and divers shapes of seeds contain.

Further, thou markest much, to which are given

Along together colour and flavour and smell,

Among which, chief, are most burnt offerings.

. . . . . .

Thus must they be of divers shapes composed.

A smell of scorching enters in our frame

Where the bright colour from the dye goes not;

And colour in one way, flavour in quite another

Works inward to our senses — so mayst see

They differ too in elemental shapes.

Thus unlike forms into one mass combine,

And things exist by intermixed seed.

But still ‘tmust not be thought that in all ways

All things can be conjoined; for then wouldst view

Portents begot about thee every side:

Hulks of mankind half brute astarting up,

At times big branches sprouting from man’s trunk,

Limbs of a sea-beast to a land-beast knit,

And nature along the all-producing earth

Feeding those dire Chimaeras breathing flame

From hideous jaws — Of which ’tis simple fact

That none have been begot; because we see

All are from fixed seed and fixed dam

Engendered and so function as to keep

Throughout their growth their own ancestral type.

This happens surely by a fixed law:

For from all food-stuff, when once eaten down,

Go sundered atoms, suited to each creature,

Throughout their bodies, and, conjoining there,

Produce the proper motions; but we see

How, contrariwise, nature upon the ground

Throws off those foreign to their frame; and many

With viewless bodies from their bodies fly,

By blows impelled — those impotent to join

To any part, or, when inside, to accord

And to take on the vital motions there.

But think not, haply, living forms alone

Are bound by these laws: they distinguished all.

. . . . . .

For just as all things of creation are,

In their whole nature, each to each unlike,

So must their atoms be in shape unlike —

Not since few only are fashioned of like form,

But since they all, as general rule, are not

The same as all. Nay, here in these our verses,

Elements many, common to many words,

Thou seest, though yet ’tis needful to confess

The words and verses differ, each from each,

Compounded out of different elements —

Not since few only, as common letters, run

Through all the words, or no two words are made,

One and the other, from all like elements,

But since they all, as general rule, are not

The same as all. Thus, too, in other things,

Whilst many germs common to many things

There are, yet they, combined among themselves,

Can form new wholes to others quite unlike.

Thus fairly one may say that humankind,

The grains, the gladsome trees, are all made up

Of different atoms. Further, since the seeds

Are different, difference must there also be

In intervening spaces, thoroughfares,

Connections, weights, blows, clashings, motions, all

Which not alone distinguish living forms,

But sunder earth’s whole ocean from the lands,

And hold all heaven from the lands away.

Absence of Secondary Qualities

Now come, this wisdom by my sweet toil sought

Look thou perceive, lest haply thou shouldst guess

That the white objects shining to thine eyes

Are gendered of white atoms, or the black

Of a black seed; or yet believe that aught

That’s steeped in any hue should take its dye

From bits of matter tinct with hue the same.

For matter’s bodies own no hue the least —

Or like to objects or, again, unlike.

But, if percase it seem to thee that mind

Itself can dart no influence of its own

Into these bodies, wide thou wand’rest off.

For since the blind-born, who have ne’er surveyed

The light of sun, yet recognise by touch

Things that from birth had ne’er a hue for them,

’Tis thine to know that bodies can be brought

No less unto the ken of our minds too,

Though yet those bodies with no dye be smeared.

Again, ourselves whatever in the dark

We touch, the same we do not find to be

Tinctured with any colour.

    Now that here

I win the argument, I next will teach

. . . . . .

Now, every colour changes, none except,

And every . . .

Which the primordials ought nowise to do.

Since an immutable somewhat must remain,

Lest all things utterly be brought to naught.

For change of anything from out its bounds

Means instant death of that which was before.

Wherefore be mindful not to stain with colour

The seeds of things, lest things return for thee

All utterly to naught.

    But now, if seeds

Receive no property of colour, and yet

Be still endowed with variable forms

From which all kinds of colours they beget

And vary (by reason that ever it matters much

With what seeds, and in what positions joined,

And what the motions that they give and get),

Forthwith most easily thou mayst devise

Why what was black of hue an hour ago

Can of a sudden like the marble gleam —

As ocean, when the high winds have upheaved

Its level plains, is changed to hoary waves

Of marble whiteness: for, thou mayst declare,

That, when the thing we often see as black

Is in its matter then commixed anew,

Some atoms rearranged, and some withdrawn,

And added some, ’tis seen forthwith to turn

Glowing and white. But if of azure seeds

Consist the level waters of the deep,

They could in nowise whiten: for however

Thou shakest azure seeds, the same can never

Pass into marble hue. But, if the seeds —

Which thus produce the ocean’s one pure sheen —

Be now with one hue, now another dyed,

As oft from alien forms and divers shapes

A cube’s produced all uniform in shape,

‘Twould be but natural, even as in the cube

We see the forms to be dissimilar,

That thus we’d see in brightness of the deep

(Or in whatever one pure sheen thou wilt)

Colours diverse and all dissimilar.

Besides, the unlike shapes don’t thwart the least

The whole in being externally a cube;

But differing hues of things do block and keep

The whole from being of one resultant hue.

Then, too, the reason which entices us

At times to attribute colours to the seeds

Falls quite to pieces, since white things are not

Create from white things, nor are black from black,

But evermore they are create from things

Of divers colours. Verily, the white

Will rise more readily, is sooner born

Out of no colour, than of black or aught

Which stands in hostile opposition thus.

Besides, since colours cannot be, sans light,

And the primordials come not forth to light,

’Tis thine to know they are not clothed with colour —

Truly, what kind of colour could there be

In the viewless dark? Nay, in the light itself

A colour changes, gleaming variedly,

When smote by vertical or slanting ray.

Thus in the sunlight shows the down of doves

That circles, garlanding, the nape and throat:

Now it is ruddy with a bright gold-bronze,

Now, by a strange sensation it becomes

Green-emerald blended with the coral-red.

The peacock’s tail, filled with the copious light,

Changes its colours likewise, when it turns.

Wherefore, since by some blow of light begot,

Without such blow these colours can’t become.

And since the pupil of the eye receives

Within itself one kind of blow, when said

To feel a white hue, then another kind,

When feeling a black or any other hue,

And since it matters nothing with what hue

The things thou touchest be perchance endowed,

But rather with what sort of shape equipped,

’Tis thine to know the atoms need not colour,

But render forth sensations, as of touch,

That vary with their varied forms.

    Besides,

Since special shapes have not a special colour,

And all formations of the primal germs

Can be of any sheen thou wilt, why, then,

Are not those objects which are of them made

Suffused, each kind with colours of every kind?

For then ’twere meet that ravens, as they fly,

Should dartle from white pinions a white sheen,

Or swans turn black from seed of black, or be

Of any single varied dye thou wilt.

Again, the more an object’s rent to bits,

The more thou see its colour fade away

Little by little till ’tis quite extinct;

As happens when the gaudy linen’s picked

Shred after shred away: the purple there,

Phoenician red, most brilliant of all dyes,

Is lost asunder, ravelled thread by thread;

Hence canst perceive the fragments die away

From out their colour, long ere they depart

Back to the old primordials of things.

And, last, since thou concedest not all bodies

Send out a voice or smell, it happens thus

That not to all thou givest sounds and smells.

So, too, since we behold not all with eyes,

’Tis thine to know some things there are as much

Orphaned of colour, as others without smell,

And reft of sound; and those the mind alert

No less can apprehend than it can mark

The things that lack some other qualities.

But think not haply that the primal bodies

Remain despoiled alone of colour: so,

Are they from warmth dissevered and from cold

And from hot exhalations; and they move,

Both sterile of sound and dry of juice; and throw

Not any odour from their proper bodies.

Just as, when undertaking to prepare

A liquid balm of myrrh and marjoram,

And flower of nard, which to our nostrils breathes

Odour of nectar, first of all behooves

Thou seek, as far as find thou may and can,

The inodorous olive-oil (which never sends

One whiff of scent to nostrils), that it may

The least debauch and ruin with sharp tang

The odorous essence with its body mixed

And in it seethed. And on the same account

The primal germs of things must not be thought

To furnish colour in begetting things,

Nor sound, since pow’rless they to send forth aught

From out themselves, nor any flavour, too,

Nor cold, nor exhalation hot or warm.

. . . . . .

The rest; yet since these things are mortal all —

The pliant mortal, with a body soft;

The brittle mortal, with a crumbling frame;

The hollow with a porous-all must be

Disjoined from the primal elements,

If still we wish under the world to lay

Immortal ground-works, whereupon may rest

The sum of weal and safety, lest for thee

All things return to nothing utterly.

Now, too: whate’er we see possessing sense

Must yet confessedly be stablished all

From elements insensate. And those signs,

So clear to all and witnessed out of hand,

Do not refute this dictum nor oppose;

But rather themselves do lead us by the hand,

Compelling belief that living things are born

Of elements insensate, as I say.

Sooth, we may see from out the stinking dung

Live worms spring up, when, after soaking rains,

The drenched earth rots; and all things change the same:

Lo, change the rivers, the fronds, the gladsome pastures

Into the cattle, the cattle their nature change

Into our bodies, and from our body, oft

Grow strong the powers and bodies of wild beasts

And mighty-winged birds. Thus nature changes

All foods to living frames, and procreates

From them the senses of live creatures all,

In manner about as she uncoils in flames

Dry logs of wood and turns them all to fire.

And seest not, therefore, how it matters much

After what order are set the primal germs,

And with what other germs they all are mixed,

And what the motions that they give and get?

But now, what is’t that strikes thy sceptic mind,

Constraining thee to sundry arguments

Against belief that from insensate germs

The sensible is gendered? — Verily,

’Tis this: that liquids, earth, and wood, though mixed,

Are yet unable to gender vital sense.

And, therefore, ’twill be well in these affairs

This to remember: that I have not said

Senses are born, under conditions all,

From all things absolutely which create

Objects that feel; but much it matters here

Firstly, how small the seeds which thus compose

The feeling thing, then, with what shapes endowed,

And lastly what they in positions be,

In motions, in arrangements. Of which facts

Naught we perceive in logs of wood and clods;

And yet even these, when sodden by the rains,

Give birth to wormy grubs, because the bodies

Of matter, from their old arrangements stirred

By the new factor, then combine anew

In such a way as genders living things.

Next, they who deem that feeling objects can

From feeling objects be create, and these,

In turn, from others that are wont to feel

. . . . . .

When soft they make them; for all sense is linked

With flesh, and thews, and veins — and such, we see,

Are fashioned soft and of a mortal frame.

Yet be’t that these can last forever on:

They’ll have the sense that’s proper to a part,

Or else be judged to have a sense the same

As that within live creatures as a whole.

But of themselves those parts can never feel,

For all the sense in every member back

To something else refers — a severed hand,

Or any other member of our frame,

Itself alone cannot support sensation.

It thus remains they must resemble, then,

Live creatures as a whole, to have the power

Of feeling sensation concordant in each part

With the vital sense; and so they’re bound to feel

The things we feel exactly as do we.

If such the case, how, then, can they be named

The primal germs of things, and how avoid

The highways of destruction? — since they be

Mere living things and living things be all

One and the same with mortal. Grant they could,

Yet by their meetings and their unions all,

Naught would result, indeed, besides a throng

And hurly-burly all of living things —

Precisely as men, and cattle, and wild beasts,

By mere conglomeration each with each

Can still beget not anything of new.

But if by chance they lose, inside a body,

Their own sense and another sense take on,

What, then, avails it to assign them that

Which is withdrawn thereafter? And besides,

To touch on proof that we pronounced before,

Just as we see the eggs of feathered fowls

To change to living chicks, and swarming worms

To bubble forth when from the soaking rains

The earth is sodden, sure, sensations all

Can out of non-sensations be begot.

But if one say that sense can so far rise

From non-sense by mutation, or because

Brought forth as by a certain sort of birth,

’Twill serve to render plain to him and prove

There is no birth, unless there be before

Some formed union of the elements,

Nor any change, unless they be unite.

In first place, senses can’t in body be

Before its living nature’s been begot —

Since all its stuff, in faith, is held dispersed

About through rivers, air, and earth, and all

That is from earth created, nor has met

In combination, and, in proper mode,

Conjoined into those vital motions which

Kindle the all-perceiving senses — they

That keep and guard each living thing soever.

Again, a blow beyond its nature’s strength

Shatters forthwith each living thing soe’er,

And on it goes confounding all the sense

Of body and mind. For of the primal germs

Are loosed their old arrangements, and, throughout,

The vital motions blocked — until the stuff,

Shaken profoundly through the frame entire,

Undoes the vital knots of soul from body

And throws that soul, to outward wide-dispersed,

Through all the pores. For what may we surmise

A blow inflicted can achieve besides

Shaking asunder and loosening all apart?

It happens also, when less sharp the blow,

The vital motions which are left are wont

Oft to win out — win out, and stop and still

The uncouth tumults gendered by the blow,

And call each part to its own courses back,

And shake away the motion of death which now

Begins its own dominion in the body,

And kindle anew the senses almost gone.

For by what other means could they the more

Collect their powers of thought and turn again

From very doorways of destruction

Back unto life, rather than pass whereto

They be already well-nigh sped and so

Pass quite away?

    Again, since pain is there

Where bodies of matter, by some force stirred up,

Through vitals and through joints, within their seats

Quiver and quake inside, but soft delight,

When they remove unto their place again:

’Tis thine to know the primal germs can be

Assaulted by no pain, nor from themselves

Take no delight; because indeed they are

Not made of any bodies of first things,

Under whose strange new motions they might ache

Or pluck the fruit of any dear new sweet.

And so they must be furnished with no sense.

Once more, if thus, that every living thing

May have sensation, needful ’tis to assign

Sense also to its elements, what then

Of those fixed elements from which mankind

Hath been, by their peculiar virtue, formed?

Of verity, they’ll laugh aloud, like men,

Shaken asunder by a spasm of mirth,

Or sprinkle with dewy tear-drops cheeks and chins,

And have the cunning hardihood to say

Much on the composition of the world,

And in their turn inquire what elements

They have themselves — since, thus the same in kind

As a whole mortal creature, even they

Must also be from other elements,

And then those others from others evermore —

So that thou darest nowhere make a stop.

Oho, I’ll follow thee until thou grant

The seed (which here thou say’st speaks, laughs, and thinks)

Is yet derived out of other seeds

Which in their turn are doing just the same.

But if we see what raving nonsense this,

And that a man may laugh, though not, forsooth,

Compounded out of laughing elements,

And think and utter reason with learn’d speech,

Though not himself compounded, for a fact,

Of sapient seeds and eloquent, why, then,

Cannot those things which we perceive to have

Their own sensation be composed as well

Of intermixed seeds quite void of sense?

Infinite Worlds

Once more, we all from seed celestial spring,

To all is that same father, from whom earth,

The fostering mother, as she takes the drops

Of liquid moisture, pregnant bears her broods —

The shining grains, and gladsome shrubs and trees,

And bears the human race and of the wild

The generations all, the while she yields

The foods wherewith all feed their frames and lead

The genial life and propagate their kind;

Wherefore she owneth that maternal name,

By old desert. What was before from earth,

The same in earth sinks back, and what was sent

From shores of ether, that, returning home,

The vaults of sky receive. Nor thus doth death

So far annihilate things that she destroys

The bodies of matter; but she dissipates

Their combinations, and conjoins anew

One element with others; and contrives

That all things vary forms and change their colours

And get sensations and straight give them o’er.

And thus may’st know it matters with what others

And in what structure the primordial germs

Are held together, and what motions they

Among themselves do give and get; nor think

That aught we see hither and thither afloat

Upon the crest of things, and now a birth

And straightway now a ruin, inheres at rest

Deep in the eternal atoms of the world.

Why, even in these our very verses here

It matters much with what and in what order

Each element is set: the same denote

Sky, and the ocean, lands, and streams, and sun;

The same, the grains, and trees, and living things.

And if not all alike, at least the most —

But what distinctions by positions wrought!

And thus no less in things themselves, when once

Around are changed the intervals between,

The paths of matter, its connections, weights,

Blows, clashings, motions, order, structure, shapes,

The things themselves must likewise changed be.

Now to true reason give thy mind for us.

Since here strange truth is putting forth its might

To hit thee in thine ears, a new aspect

Of things to show its front. Yet naught there is

So easy that it standeth not at first

More hard to credit than it after is;

And naught soe’er that’s great to such degree,

Nor wonderful so far, but all mankind

Little by little abandon their surprise.

Look upward yonder at the bright clear sky

And what it holds — the stars that wander o’er,

The moon, the radiance of the splendour-sun:

Yet all, if now they first for mortals were,

If unforeseen now first asudden shown,

What might there be more wonderful to tell,

What that the nations would before have dared

Less to believe might be? — I fancy, naught —

So strange had been the marvel of that sight.

The which o’erwearied to behold, to-day

None deigns look upward to those lucent realms.

Then, spew not reason from thy mind away,

Beside thyself because the matter’s new,

But rather with keen judgment nicely weigh;

And if to thee it then appeareth true,

Render thy hands, or, if ’tis false at last,

Gird thee to combat. For my mind-of-man

Now seeks the nature of the vast Beyond

There on the other side, that boundless sum

Which lies without the ramparts of the world,

Toward which the spirit longs to peer afar,

Toward which indeed the swift elan of thought

Flies unencumbered forth.

    Firstly, we find,

Off to all regions round, on either side,

Above, beneath, throughout the universe

End is there none — as I have taught, as too

The very thing of itself declares aloud,

And as from nature of the unbottomed deep

Shines clearly forth. Nor can we once suppose

In any way ’tis likely, (seeing that space

To all sides stretches infinite and free,

And seeds, innumerable in number, in sum

Bottomless, there in many a manner fly,

Bestirred in everlasting motion there),

That only this one earth and sky of ours

Hath been create and that those bodies of stuff,

So many, perform no work outside the same;

Seeing, moreover, this world too hath been

By nature fashioned, even as seeds of things

By innate motion chanced to clash and cling —

After they’d been in many a manner driven

Together at random, without design, in vain —

And as at last those seeds together dwelt,

Which, when together of a sudden thrown,

Should alway furnish the commencements fit

Of mighty things — the earth, the sea, the sky,

And race of living creatures. Thus, I say,

Again, again, ‘tmust be confessed there are

Such congregations of matter otherwhere,

Like this our world which vasty ether holds

In huge embrace.

    Besides, when matter abundant

Is ready there, when space on hand, nor object

Nor any cause retards, no marvel ’tis

That things are carried on and made complete,

Perforce. And now, if store of seeds there is

So great that not whole life-times of the living

Can count the tale . . .

And if their force and nature abide the same,

Able to throw the seeds of things together

Into their places, even as here are thrown

The seeds together in this world of ours,

‘Tmust be confessed in other realms there are

Still other worlds, still other breeds of men,

And other generations of the wild.

Hence too it happens in the sum there is

No one thing single of its kind in birth,

And single and sole in growth, but rather it is

One member of some generated race,

Among full many others of like kind.

First, cast thy mind abroad upon the living:

Thou’lt find the race of mountain-ranging wild

Even thus to be, and thus the scions of men

To be begot, and lastly the mute flocks

Of scaled fish, and winged frames of birds.

Wherefore confess we must on grounds the same

That earth, sun, moon, and ocean, and all else,

Exist not sole and single — rather in number

Exceeding number. Since that deeply set

Old boundary stone of life remains for them

No less, and theirs a body of mortal birth

No less, than every kind which here on earth

Is so abundant in its members found.

Which well perceived if thou hold in mind,

Then Nature, delivered from every haughty lord,

And forthwith free, is seen to do all things

Herself and through herself of own accord,

Rid of all gods. For — by their holy hearts

Which pass in long tranquillity of peace

Untroubled ages and a serene life! —

Who hath the power (I ask), who hath the power

To rule the sum of the immeasurable,

To hold with steady hand the giant reins

Of the unfathomed deep? Who hath the power

At once to rule a multitude of skies,

At once to heat with fires ethereal all

The fruitful lands of multitudes of worlds,

To be at all times in all places near,

To stablish darkness by his clouds, to shake

The serene spaces of the sky with sound,

And hurl his lightnings — ha, and whelm how oft

In ruins his own temples, and to rave,

Retiring to the wildernesses, there

At practice with that thunderbolt of his,

Which yet how often shoots the guilty by,

And slays the honourable blameless ones!

Ere since the birth-time of the world, ere since

The risen first-born day of sea, earth, sun,

Have many germs been added from outside,

Have many seeds been added round about,

Which the great All, the while it flung them on,

Brought hither, that from them the sea and lands

Could grow more big, and that the house of heaven

Might get more room and raise its lofty roofs

Far over earth, and air arise around.

For bodies all, from out all regions, are

Divided by blows, each to its proper thing,

And all retire to their own proper kinds:

The moist to moist retires; earth gets increase

From earthy body; and fires, as on a forge,

Beat out new fire; and ether forges ether;

Till nature, author and ender of the world,

Hath led all things to extreme bound of growth:

As haps when that which hath been poured inside

The vital veins of life is now no more

Than that which ebbs within them and runs off.

This is the point where life for each thing ends;

This is the point where nature with her powers

Curbs all increase. For whatsoe’er thou seest

Grow big with glad increase, and step by step

Climb upward to ripe age, these to themselves

Take in more bodies than they send from selves,

Whilst still the food is easily infused

Through all the veins, and whilst the things are not

So far expanded that they cast away

Such numerous atoms as to cause a waste

Greater than nutriment whereby they wax.

For ‘tmust be granted, truly, that from things

Many a body ebbeth and runs off;

But yet still more must come, until the things

Have touched development’s top pinnacle;

Then old age breaks their powers and ripe strength

And falls away into a worser part.

For ever the ampler and more wide a thing,

As soon as ever its augmentation ends,

It scatters abroad forthwith to all sides round

More bodies, sending them from out itself.

Nor easily now is food disseminate

Through all its veins; nor is that food enough

To equal with a new supply on hand

Those plenteous exhalations it gives off.

Thus, fairly, all things perish, when with ebbing

They’re made less dense and when from blows without

They are laid low; since food at last will fail

Extremest eld, and bodies from outside

Cease not with thumping to undo a thing

And overmaster by infesting blows.

Thus, too, the ramparts of the mighty world

On all sides round shall taken be by storm,

And tumble to wrack and shivered fragments down.

For food it is must keep things whole, renewing;

’Tis food must prop and give support to all —

But to no purpose, since nor veins suffice

To hold enough, nor nature ministers

As much as needful. And even now ’tis thus:

Its age is broken and the earth, outworn

With many parturitions, scarce creates

The little lives — she who created erst

All generations and gave forth at birth

Enormous bodies of wild beasts of old.

For never, I fancy, did a golden cord

From off the firmament above let down

The mortal generations to the fields;

Nor sea, nor breakers pounding on the rocks

Created them; but earth it was who bore —

The same to-day who feeds them from herself.

Besides, herself of own accord, she first

The shining grains and vineyards of all joy

Created for mortality; herself

Gave the sweet fruitage and the pastures glad,

Which now to-day yet scarcely wax in size,

Even when aided by our toiling arms.

We break the ox, and wear away the strength

Of sturdy farm-hands; iron tools to-day

Barely avail for tilling of the fields,

So niggardly they grudge our harvestings,

So much increase our labour. Now to-day

The aged ploughman, shaking of his head,

Sighs o’er and o’er that labours of his hands

Have fallen out in vain, and, as he thinks

How present times are not as times of old,

Often he praises the fortunes of his sire,

And crackles, prating, how the ancient race,

Fulfilled with piety, supported life

With simple comfort in a narrow plot,

Since, man for man, the measure of each field

Was smaller far i’ the old days. And, again,

The gloomy planter of the withered vine

Rails at the season’s change and wearies heaven,

Nor grasps that all of things by sure degrees

Are wasting away and going to the tomb,

Outworn by venerable length of life.

Book III

Proem

O thou who first uplifted in such dark

So clear a torch aloft, who first shed light

Upon the profitable ends of man,

O thee I follow, glory of the Greeks,

And set my footsteps squarely planted now

Even in the impress and the marks of thine —

Less like one eager to dispute the palm,

More as one craving out of very love

That I may copy thee! — for how should swallow

Contend with swans or what compare could be

In a race between young kids with tumbling legs

And the strong might of the horse? Our father thou,

And finder-out of truth, and thou to us

Suppliest a father’s precepts; and from out

Those scriven leaves of thine, renowned soul

(Like bees that sip of all in flowery wolds),

We feed upon thy golden sayings all —

Golden, and ever worthiest endless life.

For soon as ever thy planning thought that sprang

From god-like mind begins its loud proclaim

Of nature’s courses, terrors of the brain

Asunder flee, the ramparts of the world

Dispart away, and through the void entire

I see the movements of the universe.

Rises to vision the majesty of gods,

And their abodes of everlasting calm

Which neither wind may shake nor rain-cloud splash,

Nor snow, congealed by sharp frosts, may harm

With its white downfall: ever, unclouded sky

O’er roofs, and laughs with far-diffused light.

And nature gives to them their all, nor aught

May ever pluck their peace of mind away.

But nowhere to my vision rise no more

The vaults of Acheron, though the broad earth

Bars me no more from gazing down o’er all

Which under our feet is going on below

Along the void. O, here in these affairs

Some new divine delight and trembling awe

Takes hold through me, that thus by power of thine

Nature, so plain and manifest at last,

Hath been on every side laid bare to man!

And since I’ve taught already of what sort

The seeds of all things are, and how, distinct

In divers forms, they flit of own accord,

Stirred with a motion everlasting on,

And in what mode things be from them create,

Now, after such matters, should my verse, meseems,

Make clear the nature of the mind and soul,

And drive that dread of Acheron without,

Headlong, which so confounds our human life

Unto its deeps, pouring o’er all that is

The black of death, nor leaves not anything

To prosper — a liquid and unsullied joy.

For as to what men sometimes will affirm:

That more than Tartarus (the realm of death)

They fear diseases and a life of shame,

And know the substance of the soul is blood,

Or rather wind (if haply thus their whim),

And so need naught of this our science, then

Thou well may’st note from what’s to follow now

That more for glory do they braggart forth

Than for belief. For mark these very same:

Exiles from country, fugitives afar

From sight of men, with charges foul attaint,

Abased with every wretchedness, they yet

Live, and where’er the wretches come, they yet

Make the ancestral sacrifices there,

Butcher the black sheep, and to gods below

Offer the honours, and in bitter case

Turn much more keenly to religion.

Wherefore, it’s surer testing of a man

In doubtful perils — mark him as he is

Amid adversities; for then alone

Are the true voices conjured from his breast,

The mask off-stripped, reality behind.

And greed, again, and the blind lust of honours

Which force poor wretches past the bounds of law,

And, oft allies and ministers of crime,

To push through nights and days with hugest toil

To rise untrammelled to the peaks of power —

These wounds of life in no mean part are kept

Festering and open by this fright of death.

For ever we see fierce Want and foul Disgrace

Dislodged afar from secure life and sweet,

Like huddling Shapes before the doors of death.

And whilst, from these, men wish to scape afar,

Driven by false terror, and afar remove,

With civic blood a fortune they amass,

They double their riches, greedy, heapers-up

Of corpse on corpse they have a cruel laugh

For the sad burial of a brother-born,

And hatred and fear of tables of their kin.

Likewise, through this same terror, envy oft

Makes them to peak because before their eyes

That man is lordly, that man gazed upon

Who walks begirt with honour glorious,

Whilst they in filth and darkness roll around;

Some perish away for statues and a name,

And oft to that degree, from fright of death,

Will hate of living and beholding light

Take hold on humankind that they inflict

Their own destruction with a gloomy heart —

Forgetful that this fear is font of cares,

This fear the plague upon their sense of shame,

And this that breaks the ties of comradry

And oversets all reverence and faith,

Mid direst slaughter. For long ere to-day

Often were traitors to country and dear parents

Through quest to shun the realms of Acheron.

For just as children tremble and fear all

In the viewless dark, so even we at times

Dread in the light so many things that be

No whit more fearsome than what children feign,

Shuddering, will be upon them in the dark.

This terror, then, this darkness of the mind,

Not sunrise with its flaring spokes of light,

Nor glittering arrows of morning sun disperse,

But only nature’s aspect and her law.

Nature and Composition of the Mind

First, then, I say, the mind which oft we call

The intellect, wherein is seated life’s

Counsel and regimen, is part no less

Of man than hand and foot and eyes are parts

Of one whole breathing creature. [But some hold]

That sense of mind is in no fixed part seated,

But is of body some one vital state —

Named “harmony” by Greeks, because thereby

We live with sense, though intellect be not

In any part: as oft the body is said

To have good health (when health, however, ‘s not

One part of him who has it), so they place

The sense of mind in no fixed part of man.

Mightily, diversly, meseems they err.

Often the body palpable and seen

Sickens, while yet in some invisible part

We feel a pleasure; oft the other way,

A miserable in mind feels pleasure still

Throughout his body — quite the same as when

A foot may pain without a pain in head.

Besides, when these our limbs are given o’er

To gentle sleep and lies the burdened frame

At random void of sense, a something else

Is yet within us, which upon that time

Bestirs itself in many a wise, receiving

All motions of joy and phantom cares of heart.

Now, for to see that in man’s members dwells

Also the soul, and body ne’er is wont

To feel sensation by a “harmony”

Take this in chief: the fact that life remains

Oft in our limbs, when much of body’s gone;

Yet that same life, when particles of heat,

Though few, have scattered been, and through the mouth

Air has been given forth abroad, forthwith

Forever deserts the veins, and leaves the bones.

Thus mayst thou know that not all particles

Perform like parts, nor in like manner all

Are props of weal and safety: rather those —

The seeds of wind and exhalations warm —

Take care that in our members life remains.

Therefore a vital heat and wind there is

Within the very body, which at death

Deserts our frames. And so, since nature of mind

And even of soul is found to be, as ’twere,

A part of man, give over “harmony”—

Name to musicians brought from Helicon —

Unless themselves they filched it otherwise,

To serve for what was lacking name till then.

Whate’er it be, they’re welcome to it — thou,

Hearken my other maxims.

    Mind and soul,

I say, are held conjoined one with other,

And form one single nature of themselves;

But chief and regnant through the frame entire

Is still that counsel which we call the mind,

And that cleaves seated in the midmost breast.

Here leap dismay and terror; round these haunts

Be blandishments of joys; and therefore here

The intellect, the mind. The rest of soul,

Throughout the body scattered, but obeys —

Moved by the nod and motion of the mind.

This, for itself, sole through itself, hath thought;

This for itself hath mirth, even when the thing

That moves it, moves nor soul nor body at all.

And as, when head or eye in us is smit

By assailing pain, we are not tortured then

Through all the body, so the mind alone

Is sometimes smitten, or livens with a joy,

Whilst yet the soul’s remainder through the limbs

And through the frame is stirred by nothing new.

But when the mind is moved by shock more fierce,

We mark the whole soul suffering all at once

Along man’s members: sweats and pallors spread

Over the body, and the tongue is broken,

And fails the voice away, and ring the ears,

Mists blind the eyeballs, and the joints collapse —

Aye, men drop dead from terror of the mind.

Hence, whoso will can readily remark

That soul conjoined is with mind, and, when

’Tis strook by influence of the mind, forthwith

In turn it hits and drives the body too.

And this same argument establisheth

That nature of mind and soul corporeal is:

For when ’tis seen to drive the members on,

To snatch from sleep the body, and to change

The countenance, and the whole state of man

To rule and turn — what yet could never be

Sans contact, and sans body contact fails —

Must we not grant that mind and soul consist

Of a corporeal nature? — And besides

Thou markst that likewise with this body of ours

Suffers the mind and with our body feels.

If the dire speed of spear that cleaves the bones

And bares the inner thews hits not the life,

Yet follows a fainting and a foul collapse,

And, on the ground, dazed tumult in the mind,

And whiles a wavering will to rise afoot.

So nature of mind must be corporeal, since

From stroke and spear corporeal ’tis in throes.

Now, of what body, what components formed

Is this same mind I will go on to tell.

First, I aver, ’tis superfine, composed

Of tiniest particles — that such the fact

Thou canst perceive, if thou attend, from this:

Nothing is seen to happen with such speed

As what the mind proposes and begins;

Therefore the same bestirs itself more swiftly

Than aught whose nature’s palpable to eyes.

But what’s so agile must of seeds consist

Most round, most tiny, that they may be moved,

When hit by impulse slight. So water moves,

In waves along, at impulse just the least —

Being create of little shapes that roll;

But, contrariwise, the quality of honey

More stable is, its liquids more inert,

More tardy its flow; for all its stock of matter

Cleaves more together, since, indeed, ’tis made

Of atoms not so smooth, so fine, and round.

For the light breeze that hovers yet can blow

High heaps of poppy-seed away for thee

Downward from off the top; but, contrariwise,

A pile of stones or spiny ears of wheat

It can’t at all. Thus, in so far as bodies

Are small and smooth, is their mobility;

But, contrariwise, the heavier and more rough,

The more immovable they prove. Now, then,

Since nature of mind is movable so much,

Consist it must of seeds exceeding small

And smooth and round. Which fact once known to thee,

Good friend, will serve thee opportune in else.

This also shows the nature of the same,

How nice its texture, in how small a space

‘Twould go, if once compacted as a pellet:

When death’s unvexed repose gets hold on man

And mind and soul retire, thou markest there

From the whole body nothing ta’en in form,

Nothing in weight. Death grants ye everything,

But vital sense and exhalation hot.

Thus soul entire must be of smallmost seeds,

Twined through the veins, the vitals, and the thews,

Seeing that, when ’tis from whole body gone,

The outward figuration of the limbs

Is unimpaired and weight fails not a whit.

Just so, when vanished the bouquet of wine,

Or when an unguent’s perfume delicate

Into the winds away departs, or when

From any body savour’s gone, yet still

The thing itself seems minished naught to eyes,

Thereby, nor aught abstracted from its weight —

No marvel, because seeds many and minute

Produce the savours and the redolence

In the whole body of the things. And so,

Again, again, nature of mind and soul

’Tis thine to know created is of seeds

The tiniest ever, since at flying-forth

It beareth nothing of the weight away.

Yet fancy not its nature simple so.

For an impalpable aura, mixed with heat,

Deserts the dying, and heat draws off the air;

And heat there’s none, unless commixed with air:

For, since the nature of all heat is rare,

Athrough it many seeds of air must move.

Thus nature of mind is triple; yet those all

Suffice not for creating sense — since mind

Accepteth not that aught of these can cause

Sense-bearing motions, and much less the thoughts

A man revolves in mind. So unto these

Must added be a somewhat, and a fourth;

That somewhat’s altogether void of name;

Than which existeth naught more mobile, naught

More an impalpable, of elements

More small and smooth and round. That first transmits

Sense-bearing motions through the frame, for that

Is roused the first, composed of little shapes;

Thence heat and viewless force of wind take up

The motions, and thence air, and thence all things

Are put in motion; the blood is strook, and then

The vitals all begin to feel, and last

To bones and marrow the sensation comes —

Pleasure or torment. Nor will pain for naught

Enter so far, nor a sharp ill seep through,

But all things be perturbed to that degree

That room for life will fail, and parts of soul

Will scatter through the body’s every pore.

Yet as a rule, almost upon the skin

These motion aIl are stopped, and this is why

We have the power to retain our life.

Now in my eagerness to tell thee how

They are commixed, through what unions fit

They function so, my country’s pauper-speech

Constrains me sadly. As I can, however,

I’ll touch some points and pass. In such a wise

Course these primordials ‘mongst one another

With inter-motions that no one can be

From other sundered, nor its agency

Perform, if once divided by a space;

Like many powers in one body they work.

As in the flesh of any creature still

Is odour and savour and a certain warmth,

And yet from all of these one bulk of body

Is made complete, so, viewless force of wind

And warmth and air, commingled, do create

One nature, by that mobile energy

Assisted which from out itself to them

Imparts initial motion, whereby first

Sense-bearing motion along the vitals springs.

For lurks this essence far and deep and under,

Nor in our body is aught more shut from view,

And ’tis the very soul of all the soul.

And as within our members and whole frame

The energy of mind and power of soul

Is mixed and latent, since create it is

Of bodies small and few, so lurks this fourth,

This essence void of name, composed of small,

And seems the very soul of all the soul,

And holds dominion o’er the body all.

And by like reason wind and air and heat

Must function so, commingled through the frame,

And now the one subside and now another

In interchange of dominance, that thus

From all of them one nature be produced,

Lest heat and wind apart, and air apart,

Make sense to perish, by disseverment.

There is indeed in mind that heat it gets

When seething in rage, and flashes from the eyes

More swiftly fire; there is, again, that wind,

Much, and so cold, companion of all dread,

Which rouses the shudder in the shaken frame;

There is no less that state of air composed,

Making the tranquil breast, the serene face.

But more of hot have they whose restive hearts,

Whose minds of passion quickly seethe in rage —

Of which kind chief are fierce abounding lions,

Who often with roaring burst the breast o’erwrought,

Unable to hold the surging wrath within;

But the cold mind of stags has more of wind,

And speedier through their inwards rouses up

The icy currents which make their members quake.

But more the oxen live by tranquil air,

Nor e’er doth smoky torch of wrath applied,

O’erspreading with shadows of a darkling murk,

Rouse them too far; nor will they stiffen stark,

Pierced through by icy javelins of fear;

But have their place half-way between the two —

Stags and fierce lions. Thus the race of men:

Though training make them equally refined,

It leaves those pristine vestiges behind

Of each mind’s nature. Nor may we suppose

Evil can e’er be rooted up so far

That one man’s not more given to fits of wrath,

Another’s not more quickly touched by fear,

A third not more long-suffering than he should.

And needs must differ in many things besides

The varied natures and resulting habits

Of humankind — of which not now can I

Expound the hidden causes, nor find names

Enough for all the divers shapes of those

Primordials whence this variation springs.

But this meseems I’m able to declare:

Those vestiges of natures left behind

Which reason cannot quite expel from us

Are still so slight that naught prevents a man

From living a life even worthy of the gods.

So then this soul is kept by all the body,

Itself the body’s guard, and source of weal:

For they with common roots cleave each to each,

Nor can be torn asunder without death.

Not easy ’tis from lumps of frankincense

To tear their fragrance forth, without its nature

Perishing likewise: so, not easy ’tis

From all the body nature of mind and soul

To draw away, without the whole dissolved.

With seeds so intertwined even from birth,

They’re dowered conjointly with a partner-life;

No energy of body or mind, apart,

Each of itself without the other’s power,

Can have sensation; but our sense, enkindled

Along the vitals, to flame is blown by both

With mutual motions. Besides the body alone

Is nor begot nor grows, nor after death

Seen to endure. For not as water at times

Gives off the alien heat, nor is thereby

Itself destroyed, but unimpaired remains —

Not thus, I say, can the deserted frame

Bear the dissevering of its joined soul,

But, rent and ruined, moulders all away.

Thus the joint contact of the body and soul

Learns from their earliest age the vital motions,

Even when still buried in the mother’s womb;

So no dissevering can hap to them,

Without their bane and ill. And thence mayst see

That, as conjoined is their source of weal,

Conjoined also must their nature be.

If one, moreover, denies that body feel,

And holds that soul, through all the body mixed,

Takes on this motion which we title “sense,”

He battles in vain indubitable facts:

For who’ll explain what body’s feeling is,

Except by what the public fact itself

Has given and taught us? “But when soul is parted,

Body’s without all sense.” True! — loses what

Was even in its life-time not its own;

And much beside it loses, when soul’s driven

Forth from that life-time. Or, to say that eyes

Themselves can see no thing, but through the same

The mind looks forth, as out of opened doors,

Is — a hard saying; since the feel in eyes

Says the reverse. For this itself draws on

And forces into the pupils of our eyes

Our consciousness. And note the case when often

We lack the power to see refulgent things,

Because our eyes are hampered by their light —

With a mere doorway this would happen not;

For, since it is our very selves that see,

No open portals undertake the toil.

Besides, if eyes of ours but act as doors,

Methinks that, were our sight removed, the mind

Ought then still better to behold a thing —

When even the door-posts have been cleared away.

Herein in these affairs nowise take up

What honoured sage, Democritus, lays down —

That proposition, that primordials

Of body and mind, each super-posed on each,

Vary alternately and interweave

The fabric of our members. For not only

Are the soul-elements smaller far than those

Which this our body and inward parts compose,

But also are they in their number less,

And scattered sparsely through our frame. And thus

This canst thou guarantee: soul’s primal germs

Maintain between them intervals as large

At least as are the smallest bodies, which,

When thrown against us, in our body rouse

Sense-bearing motions. Hence it comes that we

Sometimes don’t feel alighting on our frames

The clinging dust, or chalk that settles soft;

Nor mists of night, nor spider’s gossamer

We feel against us, when, upon our road,

Its net entangles us, nor on our head

The dropping of its withered garmentings;

Nor bird-feathers, nor vegetable down,

Flying about, so light they barely fall;

Nor feel the steps of every crawling thing,

Nor each of all those footprints on our skin

Of midges and the like. To that degree

Must many primal germs be stirred in us

Ere once the seeds of soul that through our frame

Are intermingled ‘gin to feel that those

Primordials of the body have been strook,

And ere, in pounding with such gaps between,

They clash, combine and leap apart in turn.

But mind is more the keeper of the gates,

Hath more dominion over life than soul.

For without intellect and mind there’s not

One part of soul can rest within our frame

Least part of time; companioning, it goes

With mind into the winds away, and leaves

The icy members in the cold of death.

But he whose mind and intellect abide

Himself abides in life. However much

The trunk be mangled, with the limbs lopped off,

The soul withdrawn and taken from the limbs,

Still lives the trunk and draws the vital air.

Even when deprived of all but all the soul,

Yet will it linger on and cleave to life —

Just as the power of vision still is strong,

If but the pupil shall abide unharmed,

Even when the eye around it’s sorely rent —

Provided only thou destroyest not

Wholly the ball, but, cutting round the pupil,

Leavest that pupil by itself behind —

For more would ruin sight. But if that centre,

That tiny part of eye, be eaten through,

Forthwith the vision fails and darkness comes,

Though in all else the unblemished ball be clear.

’Tis by like compact that the soul and mind

Are each to other bound forevermore.

The Soul is Mortal

Now come: that thou mayst able be to know

That minds and the light souls of all that live

Have mortal birth and death, I will go on

Verses to build meet for thy rule of life,

Sought after long, discovered with sweet toil.

But under one name I’d have thee yoke them both;

And when, for instance, I shall speak of soul,

Teaching the same to be but mortal, think

Thereby I’m speaking also of the mind —

Since both are one, a substance inter-joined.

First, then, since I have taught how soul exists

A subtle fabric, of particles minute,

Made up from atoms smaller much than those

Of water’s liquid damp, or fog, or smoke,

So in mobility it far excels,

More prone to move, though strook by lighter cause

Even moved by images of smoke or fog —

As where we view, when in our sleeps we’re lulled,

The altars exhaling steam and smoke aloft —

For, beyond doubt, these apparitions come

To us from outward. Now, then, since thou seest,

Their liquids depart, their waters flow away,

When jars are shivered, and since fog and smoke

Depart into the winds away, believe

The soul no less is shed abroad and dies

More quickly far, more quickly is dissolved

Back to its primal bodies, when withdrawn

From out man’s members it has gone away.

For, sure, if body (container of the same

Like as a jar), when shivered from some cause,

And rarefied by loss of blood from veins,

Cannot for longer hold the soul, how then

Thinkst thou it can be held by any air —

A stuff much rarer than our bodies be?

Besides we feel that mind to being comes

Along with body, with body grows and ages.

For just as children totter round about

With frames infirm and tender, so there follows

A weakling wisdom in their minds; and then,

Where years have ripened into robust powers,

Counsel is also greater, more increased

The power of mind; thereafter, where already

The body’s shattered by master-powers of eld,

And fallen the frame with its enfeebled powers,

Thought hobbles, tongue wanders, and the mind gives way;

All fails, all’s lacking at the selfsame time.

Therefore it suits that even the soul’s dissolved,

Like smoke, into the lofty winds of air;

Since we behold the same to being come

Along with body and grow, and, as I’ve taught,

Crumble and crack, therewith outworn by eld.

Then, too, we see, that, just as body takes

Monstrous diseases and the dreadful pain,

So mind its bitter cares, the grief, the fear;

Wherefore it tallies that the mind no less

Partaker is of death; for pain and disease

Are both artificers of death — as well

We’ve learned by the passing of many a man ere now.

Nay, too, in diseases of body, often the mind

Wanders afield; for ’tis beside itself,

And crazed it speaks, or many a time it sinks,

With eyelids closing and a drooping nod,

In heavy drowse, on to eternal sleep;

From whence nor hears it any voices more,

Nor able is to know the faces here

Of those about him standing with wet cheeks

Who vainly call him back to light and life.

Wherefore mind too, confess we must, dissolves,

Seeing, indeed, contagions of disease

Enter into the same. Again, O why,

When the strong wine has entered into man,

And its diffused fire gone round the veins,

Why follows then a heaviness of limbs,

A tangle of the legs as round he reels,

A stuttering tongue, an intellect besoaked,

Eyes all aswim, and hiccups, shouts, and brawls,

And whatso else is of that ilk? — Why this? —

If not that violent and impetuous wine

Is wont to confound the soul within the body?

But whatso can confounded be and balked,

Gives proof, that if a hardier cause got in,

‘Twould hap that it would perish then, bereaved

Of any life thereafter. And, moreover,

Often will some one in a sudden fit,

As if by stroke of lightning, tumble down

Before our eyes, and sputter foam, and grunt,

Blither, and twist about with sinews taut,

Gasp up in starts, and weary out his limbs

With tossing round. No marvel, since distract

Through frame by violence of disease.

. . . . . .

Confounds, he foams, as if to vomit soul,

As on the salt sea boil the billows round

Under the master might of winds. And now

A groan’s forced out, because his limbs are griped,

But, in the main, because the seeds of voice

Are driven forth and carried in a mass

Outwards by mouth, where they are wont to go,

And have a builded highway. He becomes

Mere fool, since energy of mind and soul

Confounded is, and, as I’ve shown, to-riven,

Asunder thrown, and torn to pieces all

By the same venom. But, again, where cause

Of that disease has faced about, and back

Retreats sharp poison of corrupted frame

Into its shadowy lairs, the man at first

Arises reeling, and gradually comes back

To all his senses and recovers soul.

Thus, since within the body itself of man

The mind and soul are by such great diseases

Shaken, so miserably in labour distraught,

Why, then, believe that in the open air,

Without a body, they can pass their life,

Immortal, battling with the master winds?

And, since we mark the mind itself is cured,

Like the sick body, and restored can be

By medicine, this is forewarning too

That mortal lives the mind. For proper it is

That whosoe’er begins and undertakes

To alter the mind, or meditates to change

Any another nature soever, should add

New parts, or readjust the order given,

Or from the sum remove at least a bit.

But what’s immortal willeth for itself

Its parts be nor increased, nor rearranged,

Nor any bit soever flow away:

For change of anything from out its bounds

Means instant death of that which was before.

Ergo, the mind, whether in sickness fallen,

Or by the medicine restored, gives signs,

As I have taught, of its mortality.

So surely will a fact of truth make head

‘Gainst errors’ theories all, and so shut off

All refuge from the adversary, and rout

Error by two-edged confutation.

And since the mind is of a man one part,

Which in one fixed place remains, like ears,

And eyes, and every sense which pilots life;

And just as hand, or eye, or nose, apart,

Severed from us, can neither feel nor be,

But in the least of time is left to rot,

Thus mind alone can never be, without

The body and the man himself, which seems,

As ’twere the vessel of the same — or aught

Whate’er thou’lt feign as yet more closely joined:

Since body cleaves to mind by surest bonds.

Again, the body’s and the mind’s live powers

Only in union prosper and enjoy;

For neither can nature of mind, alone of self

Sans body, give the vital motions forth;

Nor, then, can body, wanting soul, endure

And use the senses. Verily, as the eye,

Alone, up-rended from its roots, apart

From all the body, can peer about at naught,

So soul and mind it seems are nothing able,

When by themselves. No marvel, because, commixed

Through veins and inwards, and through bones and thews,

Their elements primordial are confined

By all the body, and own no power free

To bound around through interspaces big,

Thus, shut within these confines, they take on

Motions of sense, which, after death, thrown out

Beyond the body to the winds of air,

Take on they cannot — and on this account,

Because no more in such a way confined.

For air will be a body, be alive,

If in that air the soul can keep itself,

And in that air enclose those motions all

Which in the thews and in the body itself

A while ago ’twas making. So for this,

Again, again, I say confess we must,

That, when the body’s wrappings are unwound,

And when the vital breath is forced without,

The soul, the senses of the mind dissolve —

Since for the twain the cause and ground of life

Is in the fact of their conjoined estate.

Once more, since body’s unable to sustain

Division from the soul, without decay

And obscene stench, how canst thou doubt but that

The soul, uprisen from the body’s deeps,

Has filtered away, wide-drifted like a smoke,

Or that the changed body crumbling fell

With ruin so entire, because, indeed,

Its deep foundations have been moved from place,

The soul out-filtering even through the frame,

And through the body’s every winding way

And orifice? And so by many means

Thou’rt free to learn that nature of the soul

Hath passed in fragments out along the frame,

And that ’twas shivered in the very body

Ere ever it slipped abroad and swam away

Into the winds of air. For never a man

Dying appears to feel the soul go forth

As one sure whole from all his body at once,

Nor first come up the throat and into mouth;

But feels it failing in a certain spot,

Even as he knows the senses too dissolve

Each in its own location in the frame.

But were this mind of ours immortal mind,

Dying ‘twould scarce bewail a dissolution,

But rather the going, the leaving of its coat,

Like to a snake. Wherefore, when once the body

Hath passed away, admit we must that soul,

Shivered in all that body, perished too.

Nay, even when moving in the bounds of life,

Often the soul, now tottering from some cause,

Craves to go out, and from the frame entire

Loosened to be; the countenance becomes

Flaccid, as if the supreme hour were there;

And flabbily collapse the members all

Against the bloodless trunk — the kind of case

We see when we remark in common phrase,

“That man’s quite gone,” or “fainted dead away”;

And where there’s now a bustle of alarm,

And all are eager to get some hold upon

The man’s last link of life. For then the mind

And all the power of soul are shook so sore,

And these so totter along with all the frame,

That any cause a little stronger might

Dissolve them altogether. — Why, then, doubt

That soul, when once without the body thrust,

There in the open, an enfeebled thing,

Its wrappings stripped away, cannot endure

Not only through no everlasting age,

But even, indeed, through not the least of time?

Then, too, why never is the intellect,

The counselling mind, begotten in the head,

The feet, the hands, instead of cleaving still

To one sole seat, to one fixed haunt, the breast,

If not that fixed places be assigned

For each thing’s birth, where each, when ’tis create,

Is able to endure, and that our frames

Have such complex adjustments that no shift

In order of our members may appear?

To that degree effect succeeds to cause,

Nor is the flame once wont to be create

In flowing streams, nor cold begot in fire.

Besides, if nature of soul immortal be,

And able to feel, when from our frame disjoined,

The same, I fancy, must be thought to be

Endowed with senses five — nor is there way

But this whereby to image to ourselves

How under-souls may roam in Acheron.

Thus painters and the elder race of bards

Have pictured souls with senses so endowed.

But neither eyes, nor nose, nor hand, alone

Apart from body can exist for soul,

Nor tongue nor ears apart. And hence indeed

Alone by self they can nor feel nor be.

And since we mark the vital sense to be

In the whole body, all one living thing,

If of a sudden a force with rapid stroke

Should slice it down the middle and cleave in twain,

Beyond a doubt likewise the soul itself,

Divided, dissevered, asunder will be flung

Along with body. But what severed is

And into sundry parts divides, indeed

Admits it owns no everlasting nature.

We hear how chariots of war, areek

With hurly slaughter, lop with flashing scythes

The limbs away so suddenly that there,

Fallen from the trunk, they quiver on the earth,

The while the mind and powers of the man

Can feel no pain, for swiftness of his hurt,

And sheer abandon in the zest of battle:

With the remainder of his frame he seeks

Anew the battle and the slaughter, nor marks

How the swift wheels and scythes of ravin have dragged

Off with the horses his left arm and shield;

Nor other how his right has dropped away,

Mounting again and on. A third attempts

With leg dismembered to arise and stand,

Whilst, on the ground hard by, the dying foot

Twitches its spreading toes. And even the head,

When from the warm and living trunk lopped off,

Keeps on the ground the vital countenance

And open eyes, until ‘t has rendered up

All remnants of the soul. Nay, once again:

If, when a serpent’s darting forth its tongue,

And lashing its tail, thou gettest chance to hew

With axe its length of trunk to many parts,

Thou’lt see each severed fragment writhing round

With its fresh wound, and spattering up the sod,

And there the fore-part seeking with the jaws

After the hinder, with bite to stop the pain.

So shall we say that these be souls entire

In all those fractions? — but from that ‘twould follow

One creature’d have in body many souls.

Therefore, the soul, which was indeed but one,

Has been divided with the body too:

Each is but mortal, since alike is each

Hewn into many parts. Again, how often

We view our fellow going by degrees,

And losing limb by limb the vital sense;

First nails and fingers of the feet turn blue,

Next die the feet and legs, then o’er the rest

Slow crawl the certain footsteps of cold death.

And since this nature of the soul is torn,

Nor mounts away, as at one time, entire,

We needs must hold it mortal. But perchance

If thou supposest that the soul itself

Can inward draw along the frame, and bring

Its parts together to one place, and so

From all the members draw the sense away,

Why, then, that place in which such stock of soul

Collected is, should greater seem in sense.

But since such place is nowhere, for a fact,

As said before, ’tis rent and scattered forth,

And so goes under. Or again, if now

I please to grant the false, and say that soul

Can thus be lumped within the frames of those

Who leave the sunshine, dying bit by bit,

Still must the soul as mortal be confessed;

Nor aught it matters whether to wrack it go,

Dispersed in the winds, or, gathered in a mass

From all its parts, sink down to brutish death,

Since more and more in every region sense

Fails the whole man, and less and less of life

In every region lingers.

    And besides,

If soul immortal is, and winds its way

Into the body at the birth of man,

Why can we not remember something, then,

Of life-time spent before? why keep we not

Some footprints of the things we did of, old?

But if so changed hath been the power of mind,

That every recollection of things done

Is fallen away, at no o’erlong remove

Is that, I trow, from what we mean by death.

Wherefore ’tis sure that what hath been before

Hath died, and what now is is now create.

Moreover, if after the body hath been built

Our mind’s live powers are wont to be put in,

Just at the moment that we come to birth,

And cross the sills of life, ‘twould scarcely fit

For them to live as if they seemed to grow

Along with limbs and frame, even in the blood,

But rather as in a cavern all alone.

(Yet all the body duly throngs with sense.)

But public fact declares against all this:

For soul is so entwined through the veins,

The flesh, the thews, the bones, that even the teeth

Share in sensation, as proven by dull ache,

By twinge from icy water, or grating crunch

Upon a stone that got in mouth with bread.

Wherefore, again, again, souls must be thought

Nor void of birth, nor free from law of death;

Nor, if, from outward, in they wound their way,

Could they be thought as able so to cleave

To these our frames, nor, since so interwove,

Appears it that they’re able to go forth

Unhurt and whole and loose themselves unscathed

From all the thews, articulations, bones.

But, if perchance thou thinkest that the soul,

From outward winding in its way, is wont

To seep and soak along these members ours,

Then all the more ’twill perish, being thus

With body fused — for what will seep and soak

Will be dissolved and will therefore die.

For just as food, dispersed through all the pores

Of body, and passed through limbs and all the frame,

Perishes, supplying from itself the stuff

For other nature, thus the soul and mind,

Though whole and new into a body going,

Are yet, by seeping in, dissolved away,

Whilst, as through pores, to all the frame there pass

Those particles from which created is

This nature of mind, now ruler of our body,

Born from that soul which perished, when divided

Along the frame. Wherefore it seems that soul

Hath both a natal and funeral hour.

Besides are seeds of soul there left behind

In the breathless body, or not? If there they are,

It cannot justly be immortal deemed,

Since, shorn of some parts lost, ‘thas gone away:

But if, borne off with members uncorrupt,

‘Thas fled so absolutely all away

It leaves not one remainder of itself

Behind in body, whence do cadavers, then,

From out their putrid flesh exhale the worms,

And whence does such a mass of living things,

Boneless and bloodless, o’er the bloated frame

Bubble and swarm? But if perchance thou thinkest

That souls from outward into worms can wind,

And each into a separate body come,

And reckonest not why many thousand souls

Collect where only one has gone away,

Here is a point, in sooth, that seems to need

Inquiry and a putting to the test:

Whether the souls go on a hunt for seeds

Of worms wherewith to build their dwelling places,

Or enter bodies ready-made, as ’twere.

But why themselves they thus should do and toil

’Tis hard to say, since, being free of body,

They flit around, harassed by no disease,

Nor cold nor famine; for the body labours

By more of kinship to these flaws of life,

And mind by contact with that body suffers

So many ills. But grant it be for them

However useful to construct a body

To which to enter in, ’tis plain they can’t.

Then, souls for self no frames nor bodies make,

Nor is there how they once might enter in

To bodies ready-made — for they cannot

Be nicely interwoven with the same,

And there’ll be formed no interplay of sense

Common to each.

    Again, why is’t there goes

Impetuous rage with lion’s breed morose,

And cunning with foxes, and to deer why given

The ancestral fear and tendency to flee,

And why in short do all the rest of traits

Engender from the very start of life

In the members and mentality, if not

Because one certain power of mind that came

From its own seed and breed waxes the same

Along with all the body? But were mind

Immortal, were it wont to change its bodies,

How topsy-turvy would earth’s creatures act!

The Hyrcan hound would flee the onset oft

Of antlered stag, the scurrying hawk would quake

Along the winds of air at the coming dove,

And men would dote, and savage beasts be wise;

For false the reasoning of those that say

Immortal mind is changed by change of body —

For what is changed dissolves, and therefore dies.

For parts are re-disposed and leave their order;

Wherefore they must be also capable

Of dissolution through the frame at last,

That they along with body perish all.

But should some say that always souls of men

Go into human bodies, I will ask:

How can a wise become a dullard soul?

And why is never a child’s a prudent soul?

And the mare’s filly why not trained so well

As sturdy strength of steed? We may be sure

They’ll take their refuge in the thought that mind

Becomes a weakling in a weakling frame.

Yet be this so, ’tis needful to confess

The soul but mortal, since, so altered now

Throughout the frame, it loses the life and sense

It had before. Or how can mind wax strong

Coequally with body and attain

The craved flower of life, unless it be

The body’s colleague in its origins?

Or what’s the purport of its going forth

From aged limbs? — fears it, perhaps, to stay,

Pent in a crumbled body? Or lest its house,

Outworn by venerable length of days,

May topple down upon it? But indeed

For an immortal perils are there none.

Again, at parturitions of the wild

And at the rites of Love, that souls should stand

Ready hard by seems ludicrous enough —

Immortals waiting for their mortal limbs

In numbers innumerable, contending madly

Which shall be first and chief to enter in! —

Unless perchance among the souls there be

Such treaties stablished that the first to come

Flying along, shall enter in the first,

And that they make no rivalries of strength!

Again, in ether can’t exist a tree,

Nor clouds in ocean deeps, nor in the fields

Can fishes live, nor blood in timber be,

Nor sap in boulders: fixed and arranged

Where everything may grow and have its place.

Thus nature of mind cannot arise alone

Without the body, nor exist afar

From thews and blood. But if ’twere possible,

Much rather might this very power of mind

Be in the head, the shoulders or the heels,

And, born in any part soever, yet

In the same man, in the same vessel abide.

But since within this body even of ours

Stands fixed and appears arranged sure

Where soul and mind can each exist and grow,

Deny we must the more that they can have

Duration and birth, wholly outside the frame.

For, verily, the mortal to conjoin

With the eternal, and to feign they feel

Together, and can function each with each,

Is but to dote: for what can be conceived

Of more unlike, discrepant, ill-assorted,

Than something mortal in a union joined

With an immortal and a secular

To bear the outrageous tempests?

    Then, again,

Whatever abides eternal must indeed

Either repel all strokes, because ’tis made

Of solid body, and permit no entrance

Of aught with power to sunder from within

The parts compact — as are those seeds of stuff

Whose nature we’ve exhibited before;

Or else be able to endure through time

For this: because they are from blows exempt,

As is the void, the which abides untouched,

Unsmit by any stroke; or else because

There is no room around, whereto things can,

As ’twere, depart in dissolution all —

Even as the sum of sums eternal is,

Without or place beyond whereto things may

Asunder fly, or bodies which can smite,

And thus dissolve them by the blows of might.

But if perchance the soul’s to be adjudged

Immortal, mainly on ground ’tis kept secure

In vital forces — either because there come

Never at all things hostile to its weal,

Or else because what come somehow retire,

Repelled or ere we feel the harm they work,

. . . . . .

For, lo, besides that, when the frame’s diseased,

Soul sickens too, there cometh, many a time,

That which torments it with the things to be,

Keeps it in dread, and wearies it with cares;

And even when evil acts are of the past,

Still gnaw the old transgressions bitterly.

Add, too, that frenzy, peculiar to the mind,

And that oblivion of the things that were;

Add its submergence in the murky waves

Of drowse and torpor.

Folly of the Fear of Death

    Therefore death to us

Is nothing, nor concerns us in the least,

Since nature of mind is mortal evermore.

And just as in the ages gone before

We felt no touch of ill, when all sides round

To battle came the Carthaginian host,

And the times, shaken by tumultuous war,

Under the aery coasts of arching heaven

Shuddered and trembled, and all humankind

Doubted to which the empery should fall

By land and sea, thus when we are no more,

When comes that sundering of our body and soul

Through which we’re fashioned to a single state,

Verily naught to us, us then no more,

Can come to pass, naught move our senses then —

No, not if earth confounded were with sea,

And sea with heaven. But if indeed do feel

The nature of mind and energy of soul,

After their severance from this body of ours,

Yet nothing ’tis to us who in the bonds

And wedlock of the soul and body live,

Through which we’re fashioned to a single state.

And, even if time collected after death

The matter of our frames and set it all

Again in place as now, and if again

To us the light of life were given, O yet

That process too would not concern us aught,

When once the self-succession of our sense

Has been asunder broken. And now and here,

Little enough we’re busied with the selves

We were aforetime, nor, concerning them,

Suffer a sore distress. For shouldst thou gaze

Backwards across all yesterdays of time

The immeasurable, thinking how manifold

The motions of matter are, then couldst thou well

Credit this too: often these very seeds

(From which we are to-day) of old were set

In the same order as they are to-day —

Yet this we can’t to consciousness recall

Through the remembering mind. For there hath been

An interposed pause of life, and wide

Have all the motions wandered everywhere

From these our senses. For if woe and ail

Perchance are toward, then the man to whom

The bane can happen must himself be there

At that same time. But death precludeth this,

Forbidding life to him on whom might crowd

Such irk and care; and granted ’tis to know:

Nothing for us there is to dread in death,

No wretchedness for him who is no more,

The same estate as if ne’er born before,

When death immortal hath ta’en the mortal life.

Hence, where thou seest a man to grieve because

When dead he rots with body laid away,

Or perishes in flames or jaws of beasts,

Know well: he rings not true, and that beneath

Still works an unseen sting upon his heart,

However he deny that he believes.

His shall be aught of feeling after death.

For he, I fancy, grants not what he says,

Nor what that presupposes, and he fails

To pluck himself with all his roots from life

And cast that self away, quite unawares

Feigning that some remainder’s left behind.

For when in life one pictures to oneself

His body dead by beasts and vultures torn,

He pities his state, dividing not himself

Therefrom, removing not the self enough

From the body flung away, imagining

Himself that body, and projecting there

His own sense, as he stands beside it: hence

He grieves that he is mortal born, nor marks

That in true death there is no second self

Alive and able to sorrow for self destroyed,

Or stand lamenting that the self lies there

Mangled or burning. For if it an evil is

Dead to be jerked about by jaw and fang

Of the wild brutes, I see not why ’twere not

Bitter to lie on fires and roast in flames,

Or suffocate in honey, and, reclined

On the smooth oblong of an icy slab,

Grow stiff in cold, or sink with load of earth

Down-crushing from above.

    “Thee now no more

The joyful house and best of wives shall welcome,

Nor little sons run up to snatch their kisses

And touch with silent happiness thy heart.

Thou shalt not speed in undertakings more,

Nor be the warder of thine own no more.

Poor wretch,” they say, “one hostile hour hath ta’en

Wretchedly from thee all life’s many guerdons,”

But add not, “yet no longer unto thee

Remains a remnant of desire for them”

If this they only well perceived with mind

And followed up with maxims, they would free

Their state of man from anguish and from fear.

“O even as here thou art, aslumber in death,

So shalt thou slumber down the rest of time,

Released from every harrying pang. But we,

We have bewept thee with insatiate woe,

Standing beside whilst on the awful pyre

Thou wert made ashes; and no day shall take

For us the eternal sorrow from the breast.”

But ask the mourner what’s the bitterness

That man should waste in an eternal grief,

If, after all, the thing’s but sleep and rest?

For when the soul and frame together are sunk

In slumber, no one then demands his self

Or being. Well, this sleep may be forever,

Without desire of any selfhood more,

For all it matters unto us asleep.

Yet not at all do those primordial germs

Roam round our members, at that time, afar

From their own motions that produce our senses —

Since, when he’s startled from his sleep, a man

Collects his senses. Death is, then, to us

Much less — if there can be a less than that

Which is itself a nothing: for there comes

Hard upon death a scattering more great

Of the throng of matter, and no man wakes up

On whom once falls the icy pause of life.

This too, O often from the soul men say,

Along their couches holding of the cups,

With faces shaded by fresh wreaths awry:

“Brief is this fruit of joy to paltry man,

Soon, soon departed, and thereafter, no,

It may not be recalled.”— As if, forsooth,

It were their prime of evils in great death

To parch, poor tongues, with thirst and arid drought,

Or chafe for any lack.

    Once more, if Nature

Should of a sudden send a voice abroad,

And her own self inveigh against us so:

“Mortal, what hast thou of such grave concern

That thou indulgest in too sickly plaints?

Why this bemoaning and beweeping death?

For if thy life aforetime and behind

To thee was grateful, and not all thy good

Was heaped as in sieve to flow away

And perish unavailingly, why not,

Even like a banqueter, depart the halls,

Laden with life? why not with mind content

Take now, thou fool, thy unafflicted rest?

But if whatever thou enjoyed hath been

Lavished and lost, and life is now offence,

Why seekest more to add — which in its turn

Will perish foully and fall out in vain?

O why not rather make an end of life,

Of labour? For all I may devise or find

To pleasure thee is nothing: all things are

The same forever. Though not yet thy body

Wrinkles with years, nor yet the frame exhausts

Outworn, still things abide the same, even if

Thou goest on to conquer all of time

With length of days, yea, if thou never diest”—

What were our answer, but that Nature here

Urges just suit and in her words lays down

True cause of action? Yet should one complain,

Riper in years and elder, and lament,

Poor devil, his death more sorely than is fit,

Then would she not, with greater right, on him

Cry out, inveighing with a voice more shrill:

“Off with thy tears, and choke thy whines, buffoon!

Thou wrinklest — after thou hast had the sum

Of the guerdons of life; yet, since thou cravest ever

What’s not at hand, contemning present good,

That life has slipped away, unperfected

And unavailing unto thee. And now,

Or ere thou guessed it, death beside thy head

Stands — and before thou canst be going home

Sated and laden with the goodly feast.

But now yield all that’s alien to thine age —

Up, with good grace! make room for sons: thou must.”

Justly, I fancy, would she reason thus,

Justly inveigh and gird: since ever the old

Outcrowded by the new gives way, and ever

The one thing from the others is repaired.

Nor no man is consigned to the abyss

Of Tartarus, the black. For stuff must be,

That thus the after-generations grow —

Though these, their life completed, follow thee;

And thus like thee are generations all —

Already fallen, or some time to fall.

So one thing from another rises ever;

And in fee-simple life is given to none,

But unto all mere usufruct.

    Look back:

Nothing to us was all fore-passed eld

Of time the eternal, ere we had a birth.

And Nature holds this like a mirror up

Of time-to-be when we are dead and gone.

And what is there so horrible appears?

Now what is there so sad about it all?

Is’t not serener far than any sleep?

And, verily, those tortures said to be

In Acheron, the deep, they all are ours

Here in this life. No Tantalus, benumbed

With baseless terror, as the fables tell,

Fears the huge boulder hanging in the air:

But, rather, in life an empty dread of Gods

Urges mortality, and each one fears

Such fall of fortune as may chance to him.

Nor eat the vultures into Tityus

Prostrate in Acheron, nor can they find,

Forsooth, throughout eternal ages, aught

To pry around for in that mighty breast.

However hugely he extend his bulk —

Who hath for outspread limbs not acres nine,

But the whole earth — he shall not able be

To bear eternal pain nor furnish food

From his own frame forever. But for us

A Tityus is he whom vultures rend

Prostrate in love, whom anxious anguish eats,

Whom troubles of any unappeased desires

Asunder rip. We have before our eyes

Here in this life also a Sisyphus

In him who seeketh of the populace

The rods, the axes fell, and evermore

Retires a beaten and a gloomy man.

For to seek after power — an empty name,

Nor given at all — and ever in the search

To endure a world of toil, O this it is

To shove with shoulder up the hill a stone

Which yet comes rolling back from off the top,

And headlong makes for levels of the plain.

Then to be always feeding an ingrate mind,

Filling with good things, satisfying never —

As do the seasons of the year for us,

When they return and bring their progenies

And varied charms, and we are never filled

With the fruits of life — O this, I fancy, ’tis

To pour, like those young virgins in the tale,

Waters into a sieve, unfilled forever.

. . . . . .

Cerberus and Furies, and that Lack of Light

. . . . . .

Tartarus, out-belching from his mouth the surge

Of horrible heat — the which are nowhere, nor

Indeed can be: but in this life is fear

Of retributions just and expiations

For evil acts: the dungeon and the leap

From that dread rock of infamy, the stripes,

The executioners, the oaken rack,

The iron plates, bitumen, and the torch.

And even though these are absent, yet the mind,

With a fore-fearing conscience, plies its goads

And burns beneath the lash, nor sees meanwhile

What terminus of ills, what end of pine

Can ever be, and feareth lest the same

But grow more heavy after death. Of truth,

The life of fools is Acheron on earth.

This also to thy very self sometimes

Repeat thou mayst: “Lo, even good Ancus left

The sunshine with his eyes, in divers things

A better man than thou, O worthless hind;

And many other kings and lords of rule

Thereafter have gone under, once who swayed

O’er mighty peoples. And he also, he —

Who whilom paved a highway down the sea,

And gave his legionaries thoroughfare

Along the deep, and taught them how to cross

The pools of brine afoot, and did contemn,

Trampling upon it with his cavalry,

The bellowings of ocean — poured his soul

From dying body, as his light was ta’en.

And Scipio’s son, the thunderbolt of war,

Horror of Carthage, gave his bones to earth,

Like to the lowliest villein in the house.

Add finders-out of sciences and arts;

Add comrades of the Heliconian dames,

Among whom Homer, sceptered o’er them all,

Now lies in slumber sunken with the rest.

Then, too, Democritus, when ripened eld

Admonished him his memory waned away,

Of own accord offered his head to death.

Even Epicurus went, his light of life

Run out, the man in genius who o’er-topped

The human race, extinguishing all others,

As sun, in ether arisen, all the stars.

Wilt thou, then, dally, thou complain to go? —

For whom already life’s as good as dead,

Whilst yet thou livest and lookest? — who in sleep

Wastest thy life — time’s major part, and snorest

Even when awake, and ceasest not to see

The stuff of dreams, and bearest a mind beset

By baseless terror, nor discoverest oft

What’s wrong with thee, when, like a sotted wretch,

Thou’rt jostled along by many crowding cares,

And wanderest reeling round, with mind aswim.”

If men, in that same way as on the mind

They feel the load that wearies with its weight,

Could also know the causes whence it comes,

And why so great the heap of ill on heart,

O not in this sort would they live their life,

As now so much we see them, knowing not

What ’tis they want, and seeking ever and ever

A change of place, as if to drop the burden.

The man who sickens of his home goes out,

Forth from his splendid halls, and straight — returns,

Feeling i’faith no better off abroad.

He races, driving his Gallic ponies along,

Down to his villa, madly — as in haste

To hurry help to a house afire. — At once

He yawns, as soon as foot has touched the threshold,

Or drowsily goes off in sleep and seeks

Forgetfulness, or maybe bustles about

And makes for town again. In such a way

Each human flees himself — a self in sooth,

As happens, he by no means can escape;

And willy-nilly he cleaves to it and loathes,

Sick, sick, and guessing not the cause of ail.

Yet should he see but that, O chiefly then,

Leaving all else, he’d study to divine

The nature of things, since here is in debate

Eternal time and not the single hour,

Mortal’s estate in whatsoever remains

After great death.

    And too, when all is said,

What evil lust of life is this so great

Subdues us to live, so dreadfully distraught

In perils and alarms? one fixed end

Of life abideth for mortality;

Death’s not to shun, and we must go to meet.

Besides we’re busied with the same devices,

Ever and ever, and we are at them ever,

And there’s no new delight that may be forged

By living on. But whilst the thing we long for

Is lacking, that seems good above all else;

Thereafter, when we’ve touched it, something else

We long for; ever one equal thirst of life

Grips us agape. And doubtful ’tis what fortune

The future times may carry, or what be

That chance may bring, or what the issue next

Awaiting us. Nor by prolonging life

Take we the least away from death’s own time,

Nor can we pluck one moment off, whereby

To minish the aeons of our state of death.

Therefore, O man, by living on, fulfil

As many generations as thou may:

Eternal death shall there be waiting still;

And he who died with light of yesterday

Shall be no briefer time in death’s No-more

Than he who perished months or years before.

Book IV

Proem

I wander afield, thriving in sturdy thought,

Through unpathed haunts of the Pierides,

Trodden by step of none before. I joy

To come on undefiled fountains there,

To drain them deep; I joy to pluck new flowers,

To seek for this my head a signal crown

From regions where the Muses never yet

Have garlanded the temples of a man:

First, since I teach concerning mighty things,

And go right on to loose from round the mind

The tightened coils of dread religion;

Next, since, concerning themes so dark, I frame

Song so pellucid, touching all throughout

Even with the Muses’ charm — which, as ‘twould seem,

Is not without a reasonable ground:

For as physicians, when they seek to give

Young boys the nauseous wormwood, first do touch

The brim around the cup with the sweet juice

And yellow of the honey, in order that

The thoughtless age of boyhood be cajoled

As far as the lips, and meanwhile swallow down

The wormwood’s bitter draught, and, though befooled,

Be yet not merely duped, but rather thus

Grow strong again with recreated health:

So now I too (since this my doctrine seems

In general somewhat woeful unto those

Who’ve had it not in hand, and since the crowd

Starts back from it in horror) have desired

To expound our doctrine unto thee in song

Soft-speaking and Pierian, and, as ’twere,

To touch it with sweet honey of the Muse —

If by such method haply I might hold

The mind of thee upon these lines of ours,

Till thou dost learn the nature of all things

And understandest their utility.

Existence and Character of the Images

But since I’ve taught already of what sort

The seeds of all things are, and how distinct

In divers forms they flit of own accord,

Stirred with a motion everlasting on,

And in what mode things be from them create,

And since I’ve taught what the mind’s nature is,

And of what things ’tis with the body knit

And thrives in strength, and by what mode uptorn

That mind returns to its primordials,

Now will I undertake an argument —

One for these matters of supreme concern —

That there exist those somewhats which we call

The images of things: these, like to films

Scaled off the utmost outside of the things,

Flit hither and thither through the atmosphere,

And the same terrify our intellects,

Coming upon us waking or in sleep,

When oft we peer at wonderful strange shapes

And images of people lorn of light,

Which oft have horribly roused us when we lay

In slumber — that haply nevermore may we

Suppose that souls get loose from Acheron,

Or shades go floating in among the living,

Or aught of us is left behind at death,

When body and mind, destroyed together, each

Back to its own primordials goes away.

And thus I say that effigies of things,

And tenuous shapes from off the things are sent,

From off the utmost outside of the things,

Which are like films or may be named a rind,

Because the image bears like look and form

With whatso body has shed it fluttering forth —

A fact thou mayst, however dull thy wits,

Well learn from this: mainly, because we see

Even ‘mongst visible objects many be

That send forth bodies, loosely some diffused —

Like smoke from oaken logs and heat from fires —

And some more interwoven and condensed —

As when the locusts in the summertime

Put off their glossy tunics, or when calves

At birth drop membranes from their body’s surface,

Or when, again, the slippery serpent doffs

Its vestments ‘mongst the thorns — for oft we see

The breres augmented with their flying spoils:

Since such takes place, ’tis likewise certain too

That tenuous images from things are sent,

From off the utmost outside of the things.

For why those kinds should drop and part from things,

Rather than others tenuous and thin,

No power has man to open mouth to tell;

Especially, since on outsides of things

Are bodies many and minute which could,

In the same order which they had before,

And with the figure of their form preserved,

Be thrown abroad, and much more swiftly too,

Being less subject to impediments,

As few in number and placed along the front.

For truly many things we see discharge

Their stuff at large, not only from their cores

Deep-set within, as we have said above,

But from their surfaces at times no less —

Their very colours too. And commonly

The awnings, saffron, red and dusky blue,

Stretched overhead in mighty theatres,

Upon their poles and cross-beams fluttering,

Have such an action quite; for there they dye

And make to undulate with their every hue

The circled throng below, and all the stage,

And rich attire in the patrician seats.

And ever the more the theatre’s dark walls

Around them shut, the more all things within

Laugh in the bright suffusion of strange glints,

The daylight being withdrawn. And therefore, since

The canvas hangings thus discharge their dye

From off their surface, things in general must

Likewise their tenuous effigies discharge,

Because in either case they are off-thrown

From off the surface. So there are indeed

Such certain prints and vestiges of forms

Which flit around, of subtlest texture made,

Invisible, when separate, each and one.

Again, all odour, smoke, and heat, and such

Streams out of things diffusedly, because,

Whilst coming from the deeps of body forth

And rising out, along their bending path

They’re torn asunder, nor have gateways straight

Wherethrough to mass themselves and struggle abroad.

But contrariwise, when such a tenuous film

Of outside colour is thrown off, there’s naught

Can rend it, since ’tis placed along the front

Ready to hand. Lastly those images

Which to our eyes in mirrors do appear,

In water, or in any shining surface,

Must be, since furnished with like look of things,

Fashioned from images of things sent out.

There are, then, tenuous effigies of forms,

Like unto them, which no one can divine

When taken singly, which do yet give back,

When by continued and recurrent discharge

Expelled, a picture from the mirrors’ plane.

Nor otherwise, it seems, can they be kept

So well conserved that thus be given back

Figures so like each object.

    Now then, learn

How tenuous is the nature of an image.

And in the first place, since primordials be

So far beneath our senses, and much less

E’en than those objects which begin to grow

Too small for eyes to note, learn now in few

How nice are the beginnings of all things —

That this, too, I may yet confirm in proof:

First, living creatures are sometimes so small

That even their third part can nowise be seen;

Judge, then, the size of any inward organ —

What of their sphered heart, their eyes, their limbs,

The skeleton? — How tiny thus they are!

And what besides of those first particles

Whence soul and mind must fashioned be? — Seest not

How nice and how minute? Besides, whatever

Exhales from out its body a sharp smell —

The nauseous absinth, or the panacea,

Strong southernwood, or bitter centaury —

If never so lightly with thy [fingers] twain

Perchance [thou touch] a one of them

. . . . . .

Then why not rather know that images

Flit hither and thither, many, in many modes,

Bodiless and invisible?

    But lest

Haply thou holdest that those images

Which come from objects are the sole that flit,

Others indeed there be of own accord

Begot, self-formed in earth’s aery skies,

Which, moulded to innumerable shapes,

Are borne aloft, and, fluid as they are,

Cease not to change appearance and to turn

Into new outlines of all sorts of forms;

As we behold the clouds grow thick on high

And smirch the serene vision of the world,

Stroking the air with motions. For oft are seen

The giants’ faces flying far along

And trailing a spread of shadow; and at times

The mighty mountains and mountain-sundered rocks

Going before and crossing on the sun,

Whereafter a monstrous beast dragging amain

And leading in the other thunderheads.

Now [hear] how easy and how swift they be

Engendered, and perpetually flow off

From things and gliding pass away. . . .

. . . . . .

For ever every outside streams away

From off all objects, since discharge they may;

And when this outside reaches other things,

As chiefly glass, it passes through; but where

It reaches the rough rocks or stuff of wood,

There ’tis so rent that it cannot give back

An image. But when gleaming objects dense,

As chiefly mirrors, have been set before it,

Nothing of this sort happens. For it can’t

Go, as through glass, nor yet be rent — its safety,

By virtue of that smoothness, being sure.

’Tis therefore that from them the images

Stream back to us; and howso suddenly

Thou place, at any instant, anything

Before a mirror, there an image shows;

Proving that ever from a body’s surface

Flow off thin textures and thin shapes of things.

Thus many images in little time

Are gendered; so their origin is named

Rightly a speedy. And even as the sun

Must send below, in little time, to earth

So many beams to keep all things so full

Of light incessant; thus, on grounds the same,

From things there must be borne, in many modes,

To every quarter round, upon the moment,

The many images of things; because

Unto whatever face of things we turn

The mirror, things of form and hue the same

Respond. Besides, though but a moment since

Serenest was the weather of the sky,

So fiercely sudden is it foully thick

That ye might think that round about all murk

Had parted forth from Acheron and filled

The mighty vaults of sky — so grievously,

As gathers thus the storm-clouds’ gruesome night,

Do faces of black horror hang on high —

Of which how small a part an image is

There’s none to tell or reckon out in words.

Now come; with what swift motion they are borne,

These images, and what the speed assigned

To them across the breezes swimming on —

So that o’er lengths of space a little hour

Alone is wasted, toward whatever region

Each with its divers impulse tends — I’ll tell

In verses sweeter than they many are;

Even as the swan’s slight note is better far

Than that dispersed clamour of the cranes

Among the southwind’s aery clouds. And first,

One oft may see that objects which are light

And made of tiny bodies are the swift;

In which class is the sun’s light and his heat,

Since made from small primordial elements

Which, as it were, are forward knocked along

And through the interspaces of the air

To pass delay not, urged by blows behind;

For light by light is instantly supplied

And gleam by following gleam is spurred and driven.

Thus likewise must the images have power

Through unimaginable space to speed

Within a point of time — first, since a cause

Exceeding small there is, which at their back

Far forward drives them and propels, where, too,

They’re carried with such winged lightness on;

And, secondly, since furnished, when sent off,

With texture of such rareness that they can

Through objects whatsoever penetrate

And ooze, as ’twere, through intervening air.

Besides, if those fine particles of things

Which from so deep within are sent abroad,

As light and heat of sun, are seen to glide

And spread themselves through all the space of heaven

Upon one instant of the day, and fly

O’er sea and lands and flood the heaven, what then

Of those which on the outside stand prepared,

When they’re hurled off with not a thing to check

Their going out? Dost thou not see indeed

How swifter and how farther must they go

And speed through manifold the length of space

In time the same that from the sun the rays

O’erspread the heaven? This also seems to be

Example chief and true with what swift speed

The images of things are borne about:

That soon as ever under open skies

Is spread the shining water, all at once,

If stars be out in heaven, upgleam from earth,

Serene and radiant in the water there,

The constellations of the universe —

Now seest thou not in what a point of time

An image from the shores of ether falls

Unto the shores of earth? Wherefore, again,

And yet again, ’tis needful to confess

With wondrous . . .

. . . . . .

The Senses and Mental Pictures

Bodies that strike the eyes, awaking sight.

From certain things flow odours evermore,

As cold from rivers, heat from sun, and spray

From waves of ocean, eater-out of walls

Around the coasts. Nor ever cease to flit

The varied voices, sounds athrough the air.

Then too there comes into the mouth at times

The wet of a salt taste, when by the sea

We roam about; and so, whene’er we watch

The wormword being mixed, its bitter stings.

To such degree from all things is each thing

Borne streamingly along, and sent about

To every region round; and nature grants

Nor rest nor respite of the onward flow,

Since ’tis incessantly we feeling have,

And all the time are suffered to descry

And smell all things at hand, and hear them sound.

Besides, since shape examined by our hands

Within the dark is known to be the same

As that by eyes perceived within the light

And lustrous day, both touch and sight must be

By one like cause aroused. So, if we test

A square and get its stimulus on us

Within the dark, within the light what square

Can fall upon our sight, except a square

That images the things? Wherefore it seems

The source of seeing is in images,

Nor without these can anything be viewed.

Now these same films I name are borne about

And tossed and scattered into regions all.

But since we do perceive alone through eyes,

It follows hence that whitherso we turn

Our sight, all things do strike against it there

With form and hue. And just how far from us

Each thing may be away, the image yields

To us the power to see and chance to tell:

For when ’tis sent, at once it shoves ahead

And drives along the air that’s in the space

Betwixt it and our eyes. And thus this air

All glides athrough our eyeballs, and, as ’twere,

Brushes athrough our pupils and thuswise

Passes across. Therefore it comes we see

How far from us each thing may be away,

And the more air there be that’s driven before,

And too the longer be the brushing breeze

Against our eyes, the farther off removed

Each thing is seen to be: forsooth, this work

With mightily swift order all goes on,

So that upon one instant we may see

What kind the object and how far away.

Nor over-marvellous must this be deemed

In these affairs that, though the films which strike

Upon the eyes cannot be singly seen,

The things themselves may be perceived. For thus

When the wind beats upon us stroke by stroke

And when the sharp cold streams, ’tis not our wont

To feel each private particle of wind

Or of that cold, but rather all at once;

And so we see how blows affect our body,

As if one thing were beating on the same

And giving us the feel of its own body

Outside of us. Again, whene’er we thump

With finger-tip upon a stone, we touch

But the rock’s surface and the outer hue,

Nor feel that hue by contact — rather feel

The very hardness deep within the rock.

Now come, and why beyond a looking-glass

An image may be seen, perceive. For seen

It soothly is, removed far within.

’Tis the same sort as objects peered upon

Outside in their true shape, whene’er a door

Yields through itself an open peering-place,

And lets us see so many things outside

Beyond the house. Also that sight is made

By a twofold twin air: for first is seen

The air inside the door-posts; next the doors,

The twain to left and right; and afterwards

A light beyond comes brushing through our eyes,

Then other air, then objects peered upon

Outside in their true shape. And thus, when first

The image of the glass projects itself,

As to our gaze it comes, it shoves ahead

And drives along the air that’s in the space

Betwixt it and our eyes, and brings to pass

That we perceive the air ere yet the glass.

But when we’ve also seen the glass itself,

Forthwith that image which from us is borne

Reaches the glass, and there thrown back again

Comes back unto our eyes, and driving rolls

Ahead of itself another air, that then

’Tis this we see before itself, and thus

It looks so far removed behind the glass.

Wherefore again, again, there’s naught for wonder

. . . . . .

In those which render from the mirror’s plane

A vision back, since each thing comes to pass

By means of the two airs. Now, in the glass

The right part of our members is observed

Upon the left, because, when comes the image

Hitting against the level of the glass,

’Tis not returned unshifted; but forced off

Backwards in line direct and not oblique —

Exactly as whoso his plaster-mask

Should dash, before ’twere dry, on post or beam,

And it should straightway keep, at clinging there,

Its shape, reversed, facing him who threw,

And so remould the features it gives back:

It comes that now the right eye is the left,

The left the right. An image too may be

From mirror into mirror handed on,

Until of idol-films even five or six

Have thus been gendered. For whatever things

Shall hide back yonder in the house, the same,

However far removed in twisting ways,

May still be all brought forth through bending paths

And by these several mirrors seen to be

Within the house, since nature so compels

All things to be borne backward and spring off

At equal angles from all other things.

To such degree the image gleams across

From mirror unto mirror; where ’twas left

It comes to be the right, and then again

Returns and changes round unto the left.

Again, those little sides of mirrors curved

Proportionate to the bulge of our own flank

Send back to us their idols with the right

Upon the right; and this is so because

Either the image is passed on along

From mirror unto mirror, and thereafter,

When twice dashed off, flies back unto ourselves;

Or else the image wheels itself around,

When once unto the mirror it has come,

Since the curved surface teaches it to turn

To usward. Further, thou might’st well believe

That these film-idols step along with us

And set their feet in unison with ours

And imitate our carriage, since from that

Part of a mirror whence thou hast withdrawn

Straightway no images can be returned.

Further, our eye-balls tend to flee the bright

And shun to gaze thereon; the sun even blinds,

If thou goest on to strain them unto him,

Because his strength is mighty, and the films

Heavily downward from on high are borne

Through the pure ether and the viewless winds,

And strike the eyes, disordering their joints.

So piecing lustre often burns the eyes,

Because it holdeth many seeds of fire

Which, working into eyes, engender pain.

Again, whatever jaundiced people view

Becomes wan-yellow, since from out their bodies

Flow many seeds wan-yellow forth to meet

The films of things, and many too are mixed

Within their eye, which by contagion paint

All things with sallowness. Again, we view

From dark recesses things that stand in light,

Because, when first has entered and possessed

The open eyes this nearer darkling air,

Swiftly the shining air and luminous

Followeth in, which purges then the eyes

And scatters asunder of that other air

The sable shadows, for in large degrees

This air is nimbler, nicer, and more strong.

And soon as ever ‘thas filled and oped with light

The pathways of the eyeballs, which before

Black air had blocked, there follow straightaway

Those films of things out-standing in the light,

Provoking vision — what we cannot do

From out the light with objects in the dark,

Because that denser darkling air behind

Followeth in, and fills each aperture

And thus blockades the pathways of the eyes

That there no images of any things

Can be thrown in and agitate the eyes.

And when from far away we do behold

The squared towers of a city, oft

Rounded they seem — on this account because

Each distant angle is perceived obtuse,

Or rather it is not perceived at all;

And perishes its blow nor to our gaze

Arrives its stroke, since through such length of air

Are borne along the idols that the air

Makes blunt the idol of the angle’s point

By numerous collidings. When thuswise

The angles of the tower each and all

Have quite escaped the sense, the stones appear

As rubbed and rounded on a turner’s wheel —

Yet not like objects near and truly round,

But with a semblance to them, shadowily.

Likewise, our shadow in the sun appears

To move along and follow our own steps

And imitate our carriage — if thou thinkest

Air that is thus bereft of light can walk,

Following the gait and motion of mankind.

For what we use to name a shadow, sure

Is naught but air deprived of light. No marvel:

Because the earth from spot to spot is reft

Progressively of light of sun, whenever

In moving round we get within its way,

While any spot of earth by us abandoned

Is filled with light again, on this account

It comes to pass that what was body’s shadow

Seems still the same to follow after us

In one straight course. Since, evermore pour in

New lights of rays, and perish then the old,

Just like the wool that’s drawn into the flame.

Therefore the earth is easily spoiled of light

And easily refilled and from herself

Washeth the black shadows quite away.

And yet in this we don’t at all concede

That eyes be cheated. For their task it is

To note in whatsoever place be light,

In what be shadow: whether or no the gleams

Be still the same, and whether the shadow which

Just now was here is that one passing thither,

Or whether the facts be what we said above,

’Tis after all the reasoning of mind

That must decide; nor can our eyeballs know

The nature of reality. And so

Attach thou not this fault of mind to eyes,

Nor lightly think our senses everywhere

Are tottering. The ship in which we sail

Is borne along, although it seems to stand;

The ship that bides in roadstead is supposed

There to be passing by. And hills and fields

Seem fleeing fast astern, past which we urge

The ship and fly under the bellying sails.

The stars, each one, do seem to pause, affixed

To the ethereal caverns, though they all

Forever are in motion, rising out

And thence revisiting their far descents

When they have measured with their bodies bright

The span of heaven. And likewise sun and moon

Seem biding in a roadstead — objects which,

As plain fact proves, are really borne along.

Between two mountains far away aloft

From midst the whirl of waters open lies

A gaping exit for the fleet, and yet

They seem conjoined in a single isle.

When boys themselves have stopped their spinning round,

The halls still seem to whirl and posts to reel,

Until they now must almost think the roofs

Threaten to ruin down upon their heads.

And now, when nature begins to lift on high

The sun’s red splendour and the tremulous fires,

And raise him o’er the mountain-tops, those mountains —

O’er which he seemeth then to thee to be,

His glowing self hard by atingeing them

With his own fire — are yet away from us

Scarcely two thousand arrow-shots, indeed

Oft scarce five hundred courses of a dart;

Although between those mountains and the sun

Lie the huge plains of ocean spread beneath

The vasty shores of ether, and intervene

A thousand lands, possessed by many a folk

And generations of wild beasts. Again,

A pool of water of but a finger’s depth,

Which lies between the stones along the pave,

Offers a vision downward into earth

As far, as from the earth o’erspread on high

The gulfs of heaven; that thus thou seemest to view

Clouds down below and heavenly bodies plunged

Wondrously in heaven under earth.

Then too, when in the middle of the stream

Sticks fast our dashing horse, and down we gaze

Into the river’s rapid waves, some force

Seems then to bear the body of the horse,

Though standing still, reversely from his course,

And swiftly push up-stream. And wheresoe’er

We cast our eyes across, all objects seem

Thus to be onward borne and flow along

In the same way as we. A portico,

Albeit it stands well propped from end to end

On equal columns, parallel and big,

Contracts by stages in a narrow cone,

When from one end the long, long whole is seen —

Until, conjoining ceiling with the floor,

And the whole right side with the left, it draws

Together to a cone’s nigh-viewless point.

To sailors on the main the sun he seems

From out the waves to rise, and in the waves

To set and bury his light — because indeed

They gaze on naught but water and the sky.

Again, to gazers ignorant of the sea,

Vessels in port seem, as with broken poops,

To lean upon the water, quite agog;

For any portion of the oars that’s raised

Above the briny spray is straight, and straight

The rudders from above. But other parts,

Those sunk, immersed below the water-line,

Seem broken all and bended and inclined

Sloping to upwards, and turned back to float

Almost atop the water. And when the winds

Carry the scattered drifts along the sky

In the night-time, then seem to glide along

The radiant constellations ‘gainst the clouds

And there on high to take far other course

From that whereon in truth they’re borne. And then,

If haply our hand be set beneath one eye

And press below thereon, then to our gaze

Each object which we gaze on seems to be,

By some sensation twain — then twain the lights

Of lampions burgeoning in flowers of flame,

And twain the furniture in all the house,

Two-fold the visages of fellow-men,

And twain their bodies. And again, when sleep

Has bound our members down in slumber soft

And all the body lies in deep repose,

Yet then we seem to self to be awake

And move our members; and in night’s blind gloom

We think to mark the daylight and the sun;

And, shut within a room, yet still we seem

To change our skies, our oceans, rivers, hills,

To cross the plains afoot, and hear new sounds,

Though still the austere silence of the night

Abides around us, and to speak replies,

Though voiceless. Other cases of the sort

Wondrously many do we see, which all

Seek, so to say, to injure faith in sense —

In vain, because the largest part of these

Deceives through mere opinions of the mind,

Which we do add ourselves, feigning to see

What by the senses are not seen at all.

For naught is harder than to separate

Plain facts from dubious, which the mind forthwith

Adds by itself.

    Again, if one suppose

That naught is known, he knows not whether this

Itself is able to be known, since he

Confesses naught to know. Therefore with him

I waive discussion — who has set his head

Even where his feet should be. But let me grant

That this he knows — I question: whence he knows

What ’tis to know and not-to-know in turn,

And what created concept of the truth,

And what device has proved the dubious

To differ from the certain? — since in things

He’s heretofore seen naught of true. Thou’lt find

That from the senses first hath been create

Concept of truth, nor can the senses be

Rebutted. For criterion must be found

Worthy of greater trust, which shall defeat

Through own authority the false by true;

What, then, than these our senses must there be

Worthy a greater trust? Shall reason, sprung

From some false sense, prevail to contradict

Those senses, sprung as reason wholly is

From out the senses? — For lest these be true,

All reason also then is falsified.

Or shall the ears have power to blame the eyes,

Or yet the touch the ears? Again, shall taste

Accuse this touch or shall the nose confute

Or eyes defeat it? Methinks not so it is:

For unto each has been divided off

Its function quite apart, its power to each;

And thus we’re still constrained to perceive

The soft, the cold, the hot apart, apart

All divers hues and whatso things there be

Conjoined with hues. Likewise the tasting tongue

Has its own power apart, and smells apart

And sounds apart are known. And thus it is

That no one sense can e’er convict another.

Nor shall one sense have power to blame itself,

Because it always must be deemed the same,

Worthy of equal trust. And therefore what

At any time unto these senses showed,

The same is true. And if the reason be

Unable to unravel us the cause

Why objects, which at hand were square, afar

Seemed rounded, yet it more availeth us,

Lacking the reason, to pretend a cause

For each configuration, than to let

From out our hands escape the obvious things

And injure primal faith in sense, and wreck

All those foundations upon which do rest

Our life and safety. For not only reason

Would topple down; but even our very life

Would straightaway collapse, unless we dared

To trust our senses and to keep away

From headlong heights and places to be shunned

Of a like peril, and to seek with speed

Their opposites! Again, as in a building,

If the first plumb-line be askew, and if

The square deceiving swerve from lines exact,

And if the level waver but the least

In any part, the whole construction then

Must turn out faulty — shelving and askew,

Leaning to back and front, incongruous,

That now some portions seem about to fall,

And falls the whole ere long — betrayed indeed

By first deceiving estimates: so too

Thy calculations in affairs of life

Must be askew and false, if sprung for thee

From senses false. So all that troop of words

Marshalled against the senses is quite vain.

And now remains to demonstrate with ease

How other senses each their things perceive.

Firstly, a sound and every voice is heard,

When, getting into ears, they strike the sense

With their own body. For confess we must

Even voice and sound to be corporeal,

Because they’re able on the sense to strike.

Besides voice often scrapes against the throat,

And screams in going out do make more rough

The wind-pipe — naturally enough, methinks,

When, through the narrow exit rising up

In larger throng, these primal germs of voice

Have thus begun to issue forth. In sooth,

Also the door of the mouth is scraped against

[By air blown outward] from distended [cheeks].

. . . . . .

And thus no doubt there is, that voice and words

Consist of elements corporeal,

With power to pain. Nor art thou unaware

Likewise how much of body’s ta’en away,

How much from very thews and powers of men

May be withdrawn by steady talk, prolonged

Even from the rising splendour of the morn

To shadows of black evening — above all

If ‘t be outpoured with most exceeding shouts.

Therefore the voice must be corporeal,

Since the long talker loses from his frame

A part.

    Moreover, roughness in the sound

Comes from the roughness in the primal germs,

As a smooth sound from smooth ones is create;

Nor have these elements a form the same

When the trump rumbles with a hollow roar,

As when barbaric Berecynthian pipe

Buzzes with raucous boomings, or when swans

By night from icy shores of Helicon

With wailing voices raise their liquid dirge.

Thus, when from deep within our frame we force

These voices, and at mouth expel them forth,

The mobile tongue, artificer of words,

Makes them articulate, and too the lips

By their formations share in shaping them.

Hence when the space is short from starting-point

To where that voice arrives, the very words

Must too be plainly heard, distinctly marked.

For then the voice conserves its own formation,

Conserves its shape. But if the space between

Be longer than is fit, the words must be

Through the much air confounded, and the voice

Disordered in its flight across the winds —

And so it haps, that thou canst sound perceive,

Yet not determine what the words may mean;

To such degree confounded and encumbered

The voice approaches us. Again, one word,

Sent from the crier’s mouth, may rouse all ears

Among the populace. And thus one voice

Scatters asunder into many voices,

Since it divides itself for separate ears,

Imprinting form of word and a clear tone.

But whatso part of voices fails to hit

The ears themselves perishes, borne beyond,

Idly diffused among the winds. A part,

Beating on solid porticoes, tossed back

Returns a sound; and sometimes mocks the ear

With a mere phantom of a word. When this

Thou well hast noted, thou canst render count

Unto thyself and others why it is

Along the lonely places that the rocks

Give back like shapes of words in order like,

When search we after comrades wandering

Among the shady mountains, and aloud

Call unto them, the scattered. I have seen

Spots that gave back even voices six or seven

For one thrown forth — for so the very hills,

Dashing them back against the hills, kept on

With their reverberations. And these spots

The neighbouring country-side doth feign to be

Haunts of the goat-foot satyrs and the nymphs;

And tells ye there be fauns, by whose night noise

And antic revels yonder they declare

The voiceless silences are broken oft,

And tones of strings are made and wailings sweet

Which the pipe, beat by players’ finger-tips,

Pours out; and far and wide the farmer-race

Begins to hear, when, shaking the garmentings

Of pine upon his half-beast head, god-Pan

With puckered lip oft runneth o’er and o’er

The open reeds — lest flute should cease to pour

The woodland music! Other prodigies

And wonders of this ilk they love to tell,

Lest they be thought to dwell in lonely spots

And even by gods deserted. This is why

They boast of marvels in their story-tellings;

Or by some other reason are led on —

Greedy, as all mankind hath ever been,

To prattle fables into ears.

    Again,

One need not wonder how it comes about

That through those places (through which eyes cannot

View objects manifest) sounds yet may pass

And assail the ears. For often we observe

People conversing, though the doors be closed;

No marvel either, since all voice unharmed

Can wind through bended apertures of things,

While idol-films decline to — for they’re rent,

Unless along straight apertures they swim,

Like those in glass, through which all images

Do fly across. And yet this voice itself,

In passing through shut chambers of a house,

Is dulled, and in a jumble enters ears,

And sound we seem to hear far more than words.

Moreover, a voice is into all directions

Divided up, since off from one another

New voices are engendered, when one voice

Hath once leapt forth, outstarting into many —

As oft a spark of fire is wont to sprinkle

Itself into its several fires. And so,

Voices do fill those places hid behind,

Which all are in a hubbub round about,

Astir with sound. But idol-films do tend,

As once sent forth, in straight directions all;

Wherefore one can inside a wall see naught,

Yet catch the voices from beyond the same.

Nor tongue and palate, whereby we flavour feel,

Present more problems for more work of thought.

Firstly, we feel a flavour in the mouth,

When forth we squeeze it, in chewing up our food —

As any one perchance begins to squeeze

With hand and dry a sponge with water soaked.

Next, all which forth we squeeze is spread about

Along the pores and intertwined paths

Of the loose-textured tongue. And so, when smooth

The bodies of the oozy flavour, then

Delightfully they touch, delightfully

They treat all spots, around the wet and trickling

Enclosures of the tongue. And contrariwise,

They sting and pain the sense with their assault,

According as with roughness they’re supplied.

Next, only up to palate is the pleasure

Coming from flavour; for in truth when down

‘Thas plunged along the throat, no pleasure is,

Whilst into all the frame it spreads around;

Nor aught it matters with what food is fed

The body, if only what thou take thou canst

Distribute well digested to the frame

And keep the stomach in a moist career.

Now, how it is we see some food for some,

Others for others. . . .

. . . . . .

I will unfold, or wherefore what to some

Is foul and bitter, yet the same to others

Can seem delectable to eat — why here

So great the distance and the difference is

That what is food to one to some becomes

Fierce poison, as a certain snake there is

Which, touched by spittle of a man, will waste

And end itself by gnawing up its coil.

Again, fierce poison is the hellebore

To us, but puts the fat on goats and quails.

That thou mayst know by what devices this

Is brought about, in chief thou must recall

What we have said before, that seeds are kept

Commixed in things in divers modes. Again,

As all the breathing creatures which take food

Are outwardly unlike, and outer cut

And contour of their members bounds them round,

Each differing kind by kind, they thus consist

Of seeds of varying shape. And furthermore,

Since seeds do differ, divers too must be

The interstices and paths (which we do call

The apertures) in all the members, even

In mouth and palate too. Thus some must be

More small or yet more large, three-cornered some

And others squared, and many others round,

And certain of them many-angled too

In many modes. For, as the combination

And motion of their divers shapes demand,

The shapes of apertures must be diverse

And paths must vary according to their walls

That bound them. Hence when what is sweet to some,

Becomes to others bitter, for him to whom

’Tis sweet, the smoothest particles must needs

Have entered caressingly the palate’s pores.

And, contrariwise, with those to whom that sweet

Is sour within the mouth, beyond a doubt

The rough and barbed particles have got

Into the narrows of the apertures.

Now easy it is from these affairs to know

Whatever . . .

. . . . . .

Indeed, where one from o’er-abundant bile

Is stricken with fever, or in other wise

Feels the roused violence of some malady,

There the whole frame is now upset, and there

All the positions of the seeds are changed —

So that the bodies which before were fit

To cause the savour, now are fit no more,

And now more apt are others which be able

To get within the pores and gender sour.

Both sorts, in sooth, are intermixed in honey —

What oft we’ve proved above to thee before.

Now come, and I will indicate what wise

Impact of odour on the nostrils touches.

And first, ’tis needful there be many things

From whence the streaming flow of varied odours

May roll along, and we’re constrained to think

They stream and dart and sprinkle themselves about

Impartially. But for some breathing creatures

One odour is more apt, to others another —

Because of differing forms of seeds and pores.

Thus on and on along the zephyrs bees

Are led by odour of honey, vultures too

By carcasses. Again, the forward power

Of scent in dogs doth lead the hunter on

Whithersoever the splay-foot of wild beast

Hath hastened its career; and the white goose,

The saviour of the Roman citadel,

Forescents afar the odour of mankind.

Thus, diversly to divers ones is given

Peculiar smell that leadeth each along

To his own food or makes him start aback

From loathsome poison, and in this wise are

The generations of the wild preserved.

Yet is this pungence not alone in odours

Or in the class of flavours; but, likewise,

The look of things and hues agree not all

So well with senses unto all, but that

Some unto some will be, to gaze upon,

More keen and painful. Lo, the raving lions,

They dare not face and gaze upon the cock

Who’s wont with wings to flap away the night

From off the stage, and call the beaming morn

With clarion voice — and lions straightway thus

Bethink themselves of flight, because, ye see,

Within the body of the cocks there be

Some certain seeds, which, into lions’ eyes

Injected, bore into the pupils deep

And yield such piercing pain they can’t hold out

Against the cocks, however fierce they be —

Whilst yet these seeds can’t hurt our gaze the least,

Either because they do not penetrate,

Or since they have free exit from the eyes

As soon as penetrating, so that thus

They cannot hurt our eyes in any part

By there remaining.

    To speak once more of odour;

Whatever assail the nostrils, some can travel

A longer way than others. None of them,

However, ‘s borne so far as sound or voice —

While I omit all mention of such things

As hit the eyesight and assail the vision.

For slowly on a wandering course it comes

And perishes sooner, by degrees absorbed

Easily into all the winds of air; —

And first, because from deep inside the thing

It is discharged with labour (for the fact

That every object, when ’tis shivered, ground,

Or crumbled by the fire, will smell the stronger

Is sign that odours flow and part away

From inner regions of the things). And next,

Thou mayest see that odour is create

Of larger primal germs than voice, because

It enters not through stony walls, wherethrough

Unfailingly the voice and sound are borne;

Wherefore, besides, thou wilt observe ’tis not

So easy to trace out in whatso place

The smelling object is. For, dallying on

Along the winds, the particles cool off,

And then the scurrying messengers of things

Arrive our senses, when no longer hot.

So dogs oft wander astray, and hunt the scent.

Now mark, and hear what objects move the mind,

And learn, in few, whence unto intellect

Do come what come. And first I tell thee this:

That many images of objects rove

In many modes to every region round —

So thin that easily the one with other,

When once they meet, uniteth in mid-air,

Like gossamer or gold-leaf. For, indeed,

Far thinner are they in their fabric than

Those images which take a hold on eyes

And smite the vision, since through body’s pores

They penetrate, and inwardly stir up

The subtle nature of mind and smite the sense.

Thus, Centaurs and the limbs of Scyllas, thus

The Cerberus-visages of dogs we see,

And images of people gone before —

Dead men whose bones earth bosomed long ago;

Because the images of every kind

Are everywhere about us borne — in part

Those which are gendered in the very air

Of own accord, in part those others which

From divers things do part away, and those

Which are compounded, made from out their shapes.

For soothly from no living Centaur is

That phantom gendered, since no breed of beast

Like him was ever; but, when images

Of horse and man by chance have come together,

They easily cohere, as aforesaid,

At once, through subtle nature and fabric thin.

In the same fashion others of this ilk

Created are. And when they’re quickly borne

In their exceeding lightness, easily

(As earlier I showed) one subtle image,

Compounded, moves by its one blow the mind,

Itself so subtle and so strangely quick.

That these things come to pass as I record,

From this thou easily canst understand:

So far as one is unto other like,

Seeing with mind as well as with the eyes

Must come to pass in fashion not unlike.

Well, now, since I have shown that I perceive

Haply a lion through those idol-films

Such as assail my eyes, ’tis thine to know

Also the mind is in like manner moved,

And sees, nor more nor less than eyes do see

(Except that it perceives more subtle films)

The lion and aught else through idol-films.

And when the sleep has overset our frame,

The mind’s intelligence is now awake,

Still for no other reason, save that these —

The self-same films as when we are awake —

Assail our minds, to such degree indeed

That we do seem to see for sure the man

Whom, void of life, now death and earth have gained

Dominion over. And nature forces this

To come to pass because the body’s senses

Are resting, thwarted through the members all,

Unable now to conquer false with true;

And memory lies prone and languishes

In slumber, nor protests that he, the man

Whom the mind feigns to see alive, long since

Hath been the gain of death and dissolution.

And further, ’tis no marvel idols move

And toss their arms and other members round

In rhythmic time — and often in men’s sleeps

It haps an image this is seen to do;

In sooth, when perishes the former image,

And other is gendered of another pose,

That former seemeth to have changed its gestures.

Of course the change must be conceived as speedy;

So great the swiftness and so great the store

Of idol-things, and (in an instant brief

As mind can mark) so great, again, the store

Of separate idol-parts to bring supplies.

It happens also that there is supplied

Sometimes an image not of kind the same;

But what before was woman, now at hand

Is seen to stand there, altered into male;

Or other visage, other age succeeds;

But slumber and oblivion take care

That we shall feel no wonder at the thing.

And much in these affairs demands inquiry,

And much, illumination — if we crave

With plainness to exhibit facts. And first,

Why doth the mind of one to whom the whim

To think has come behold forthwith that thing?

Or do the idols watch upon our will,

And doth an image unto us occur,

Directly we desire — if heart prefer

The sea, the land, or after all the sky?

Assemblies of the citizens, parades,

Banquets, and battles, these and all doth she,

Nature, create and furnish at our word? —

Maugre the fact that in same place and spot

Another’s mind is meditating things

All far unlike. And what, again, of this:

When we in sleep behold the idols step,

In measure, forward, moving supple limbs,

Whilst forth they put each supple arm in turn

With speedy motion, and with eyeing heads

Repeat the movement, as the foot keeps time?

Forsooth, the idols they are steeped in art,

And wander to and fro well taught indeed —

Thus to be able in the time of night

To make such games! Or will the truth be this:

Because in one least moment that we mark —

That is, the uttering of a single sound —

There lurk yet many moments, which the reason

Discovers to exist, therefore it comes

That, in a moment how so brief ye will,

The divers idols are hard by, and ready

Each in its place diverse? So great the swiftness,

So great, again, the store of idol-things,

And so, when perishes the former image,

And other is gendered of another pose,

The former seemeth to have changed its gestures.

And since they be so tenuous, mind can mark

Sharply alone the ones it strains to see;

And thus the rest do perish one and all,

Save those for which the mind prepares itself.

Further, it doth prepare itself indeed,

And hopes to see what follows after each —

Hence this result. For hast thou not observed

How eyes, essaying to perceive the fine,

Will strain in preparation, otherwise

Unable sharply to perceive at all?

Yet know thou canst that, even in objects plain,

If thou attendest not, ’tis just the same

As if ’twere all the time removed and far.

What marvel, then, that mind doth lose the rest,

Save those to which ‘thas given up itself?

So ’tis that we conjecture from small signs

Things wide and weighty, and involve ourselves

In snarls of self-deceit.

Some Vital Functions

    In these affairs

We crave that thou wilt passionately flee

The one offence, and anxiously wilt shun

The error of presuming the clear lights

Of eyes created were that we might see;

Or thighs and knees, aprop upon the feet,

Thuswise can bended be, that we might step

With goodly strides ahead; or forearms joined

Unto the sturdy uppers, or serving hands

On either side were given, that we might do

Life’s own demands. All such interpretation

Is aft-for-fore with inverse reasoning,

Since naught is born in body so that we

May use the same, but birth engenders use:

No seeing ere the lights of eyes were born,

No speaking ere the tongue created was;

But origin of tongue came long before

Discourse of words, and ears created were

Much earlier than any sound was heard;

And all the members, so meseems, were there

Before they got their use: and therefore, they

Could not be gendered for the sake of use.

But contrariwise, contending in the fight

With hand to hand, and rending of the joints,

And fouling of the limbs with gore, was there,

O long before the gleaming spears ere flew;

And nature prompted man to shun a wound,

Before the left arm by the aid of art

Opposed the shielding targe. And, verily,

Yielding the weary body to repose,

Far ancienter than cushions of soft beds,

And quenching thirst is earlier than cups.

These objects, therefore, which for use and life

Have been devised, can be conceived as found

For sake of using. But apart from such

Are all which first were born and afterwards

Gave knowledge of their own utility —

Chief in which sort we note the senses, limbs:

Wherefore, again, ’tis quite beyond thy power

To hold that these could thus have been create

For office of utility.

    Likewise,

’Tis nothing strange that all the breathing creatures

Seek, even by nature of their frame, their food.

Yes, since I’ve taught thee that from off the things

Stream and depart innumerable bodies

In modes innumerable too; but most

Must be the bodies streaming from the living —

Which bodies, vexed by motion evermore,

Are through the mouth exhaled innumerable,

When weary creatures pant, or through the sweat

Squeezed forth innumerable from deep within.

Thus body rarefies, so undermined

In all its nature, and pain attends its state.

And so the food is taken to underprop

The tottering joints, and by its interfusion

To re-create their powers, and there stop up

The longing, open-mouthed through limbs and veins,

For eating. And the moist no less departs

Into all regions that demand the moist;

And many heaped-up particles of hot,

Which cause such burnings in these bellies of ours,

The liquid on arriving dissipates

And quenches like a fire, that parching heat

No longer now can scorch the frame. And so,

Thou seest how panting thirst is washed away

From off our body, how the hunger-pang

It, too, appeased.

    Now, how it comes that we,

Whene’er we wish, can step with strides ahead,

And how ’tis given to move our limbs about,

And what device is wont to push ahead

This the big load of our corporeal frame,

I’ll say to thee — do thou attend what’s said.

I say that first some idol-films of walking

Into our mind do fall and smite the mind,

As said before. Thereafter will arises;

For no one starts to do a thing, before

The intellect previsions what it wills;

And what it there pre-visioneth depends

On what that image is. When, therefore, mind

Doth so bestir itself that it doth will

To go and step along, it strikes at once

That energy of soul that’s sown about

In all the body through the limbs and frame —

And this is easy of performance, since

The soul is close conjoined with the mind.

Next, soul in turn strikes body, and by degrees

Thus the whole mass is pushed along and moved.

Then too the body rarefies, and air,

Forsooth as ever of such nimbleness,

Comes on and penetrates aboundingly

Through opened pores, and thus is sprinkled round

Unto all smallest places in our frame.

Thus then by these twain factors, severally,

Body is borne like ship with oars and wind.

Nor yet in these affairs is aught for wonder

That particles so fine can whirl around

So great a body and turn this weight of ours;

For wind, so tenuous with its subtle body,

Yet pushes, driving on the mighty ship

Of mighty bulk; one hand directs the same,

Whatever its momentum, and one helm

Whirls it around, whither ye please; and loads,

Many and huge, are moved and hoisted high

By enginery of pulley-blocks and wheels,

With but light strain.

    Now, by what modes this sleep

Pours through our members waters of repose

And frees the breast from cares of mind, I’ll tell

In verses sweeter than they many are;

Even as the swan’s slight note is better far

Than that dispersed clamour of the cranes

Among the southwind’s aery clouds. Do thou

Give me sharp ears and a sagacious mind —

That thou mayst not deny the things to be

Whereof I’m speaking, nor depart away

With bosom scorning these the spoken truths,

Thyself at fault unable to perceive.

Sleep chiefly comes when energy of soul

Hath now been scattered through the frame, and part

Expelled abroad and gone away, and part

Crammed back and settling deep within the frame —

Whereafter then our loosened members droop.

For doubt is none that by the work of soul

Exist in us this sense, and when by slumber

That sense is thwarted, we are bound to think

The soul confounded and expelled abroad —

Yet not entirely, else the frame would lie

Drenched in the everlasting cold of death.

In sooth, where no one part of soul remained

Lurking among the members, even as fire

Lurks buried under many ashes, whence

Could sense amain rekindled be in members,

As flame can rise anew from unseen fire?

By what devices this strange state and new

May be occasioned, and by what the soul

Can be confounded and the frame grow faint,

I will untangle: see to it, thou, that I

Pour forth my words not unto empty winds.

In first place, body on its outer parts —

Since these are touched by neighbouring aery gusts —

Must there be thumped and strook by blows of air

Repeatedly. And therefore almost all

Are covered either with hides, or else with shells,

Or with the horny callus, or with bark.

Yet this same air lashes their inner parts,

When creatures draw a breath or blow it out.

Wherefore, since body thus is flogged alike

Upon the inside and the out, and blows

Come in upon us through the little pores

Even inward to our body’s primal parts

And primal elements, there comes to pass

By slow degrees, along our members then,

A kind of overthrow; for then confounded

Are those arrangements of the primal germs

Of body and of mind. It comes to pass

That next a part of soul’s expelled abroad,

A part retreateth in recesses hid,

A part, too, scattered all about the frame,

Cannot become united nor engage

In interchange of motion. Nature now

So hedges off approaches and the paths;

And thus the sense, its motions all deranged,

Retires down deep within; and since there’s naught,

As ’twere, to prop the frame, the body weakens,

And all the members languish, and the arms

And eyelids fall, and, as ye lie abed,

Even there the houghs will sag and loose their powers.

Again, sleep follows after food, because

The food produces same result as air,

Whilst being scattered round through all the veins;

And much the heaviest is that slumber which,

Full or fatigued, thou takest; since ’tis then

That the most bodies disarrange themselves,

Bruised by labours hard. And in same wise,

This three-fold change: a forcing of the soul

Down deeper, more a casting-forth of it,

A moving more divided in its parts

And scattered more.

    And to whate’er pursuit

A man most clings absorbed, or what the affairs

On which we theretofore have tarried much,

And mind hath strained upon the more, we seem

In sleep not rarely to go at the same.

The lawyers seem to plead and cite decrees,

Commanders they to fight and go at frays,

Sailors to live in combat with the winds,

And we ourselves indeed to make this book,

And still to seek the nature of the world

And set it down, when once discovered, here

In these my country’s leaves. Thus all pursuits,

All arts in general seem in sleeps to mock

And master the minds of men. And whosoever

Day after day for long to games have given

Attention undivided, still they keep

(As oft we note), even when they’ve ceased to grasp

Those games with their own senses, open paths

Within the mind wherethrough the idol-films

Of just those games can come. And thus it is

For many a day thereafter those appear

Floating before the eyes, that even awake

They think they view the dancers moving round

Their supple limbs, and catch with both the ears

The liquid song of harp and speaking chords,

And view the same assembly on the seats,

And manifold bright glories of the stage —

So great the influence of pursuit and zest,

And of the affairs wherein ‘thas been the wont

Of men to be engaged-nor only men,

But soothly all the animals. Behold,

Thou’lt see the sturdy horses, though outstretched,

Yet sweating in their sleep, and panting ever,

And straining utmost strength, as if for prize,

As if, with barriers opened now . . .

And hounds of huntsmen oft in soft repose

Yet toss asudden all their legs about,

And growl and bark, and with their nostrils sniff

The winds again, again, as though indeed

They’d caught the scented foot-prints of wild beasts,

And, even when wakened, often they pursue

The phantom images of stags, as though

They did perceive them fleeing on before,

Until the illusion’s shaken off and dogs

Come to themselves again. And fawning breed

Of house-bred whelps do feel the sudden urge

To shake their bodies and start from off the ground,

As if beholding stranger-visages.

And ever the fiercer be the stock, the more

In sleep the same is ever bound to rage.

But flee the divers tribes of birds and vex

With sudden wings by night the groves of gods,

When in their gentle slumbers they have dreamed

Of hawks in chase, aswooping on for fight.

Again, the minds of mortals which perform

With mighty motions mighty enterprises,

Often in sleep will do and dare the same

In manner like. Kings take the towns by storm,

Succumb to capture, battle on the field,

Raise a wild cry as if their throats were cut

Even then and there. And many wrestle on

And groan with pains, and fill all regions round

With mighty cries and wild, as if then gnawed

By fangs of panther or of lion fierce.

Many amid their slumbers talk about

Their mighty enterprises, and have often

Enough become the proof of their own crimes.

Many meet death; many, as if headlong

From lofty mountains tumbling down to earth

With all their frame, are frenzied in their fright;

And after sleep, as if still mad in mind,

They scarce come to, confounded as they are

By ferment of their frame. The thirsty man,

Likewise, he sits beside delightful spring

Or river and gulpeth down with gaping throat

Nigh the whole stream. And oft the innocent young,

By sleep o’ermastered, think they lift their dress

By pail or public jordan and then void

The water filtered down their frame entire

And drench the Babylonian coverlets,

Magnificently bright. Again, those males

Into the surging channels of whose years

Now first has passed the seed (engendered

Within their members by the ripened days)

Are in their sleep confronted from without

By idol-images of some fair form —

Tidings of glorious face and lovely bloom,

Which stir and goad the regions turgid now

With seed abundant; so that, as it were

With all the matter acted duly out,

They pour the billows of a potent stream

And stain their garment.

    And as said before,

That seed is roused in us when once ripe age

Has made our body strong . . .

As divers causes give to divers things

Impulse and irritation, so one force

In human kind rouses the human seed

To spurt from man. As soon as ever it issues,

Forced from its first abodes, it passes down

In the whole body through the limbs and frame,

Meeting in certain regions of our thews,

And stirs amain the genitals of man.

The goaded regions swell with seed, and then

Comes the delight to dart the same at what

The mad desire so yearns, and body seeks

That object, whence the mind by love is pierced.

For well-nigh each man falleth toward his wound,

And our blood spurts even toward the spot from whence

The stroke wherewith we are strook, and if indeed

The foe be close, the red jet reaches him.

Thus, one who gets a stroke from Venus’ shafts —

Whether a boy with limbs effeminate

Assault him, or a woman darting love

From all her body — that one strains to get

Even to the thing whereby he’s hit, and longs

To join with it and cast into its frame

The fluid drawn even from within its own.

For the mute craving doth presage delight.

The Passion of Love

This craving ’tis that’s Venus unto us:

From this, engender all the lures of love,

From this, O first hath into human hearts

Trickled that drop of joyance which ere long

Is by chill care succeeded. Since, indeed,

Though she thou lovest now be far away,

Yet idol-images of her are near

And the sweet name is floating in thy ear.

But it behooves to flee those images;

And scare afar whatever feeds thy love;

And turn elsewhere thy mind; and vent the sperm,

Within thee gathered, into sundry bodies,

Nor, with thy thoughts still busied with one love,

Keep it for one delight, and so store up

Care for thyself and pain inevitable.

For, lo, the ulcer just by nourishing

Grows to more life with deep inveteracy,

And day by day the fury swells aflame,

And the woe waxes heavier day by day —

Unless thou dost destroy even by new blows

The former wounds of love, and curest them

While yet they’re fresh, by wandering freely round

After the freely-wandering Venus, or

Canst lead elsewhere the tumults of thy mind.

Nor doth that man who keeps away from love

Yet lack the fruits of Venus; rather takes

Those pleasures which are free of penalties.

For the delights of Venus, verily,

Are more unmixed for mortals sane-of-soul

Than for those sick-at-heart with love-pining.

Yea, in the very moment of possessing,

Surges the heat of lovers to and fro,

Restive, uncertain; and they cannot fix

On what to first enjoy with eyes and hands.

The parts they sought for, those they squeeze so tight,

And pain the creature’s body, close their teeth

Often against her lips, and smite with kiss

Mouth into mouth — because this same delight

Is not unmixed; and underneath are stings

Which goad a man to hurt the very thing,

Whate’er it be, from whence arise for him

Those germs of madness. But with gentle touch

Venus subdues the pangs in midst of love,

And the admixture of a fondling joy

Doth curb the bites of passion. For they hope

That by the very body whence they caught

The heats of love their flames can be put out.

But nature protests ’tis all quite otherwise;

For this same love it is the one sole thing

Of which, the more we have, the fiercer burns

The breast with fell desire. For food and drink

Are taken within our members; and, since they

Can stop up certain parts, thus, easily

Desire of water is glutted and of bread.

But, lo, from human face and lovely bloom

Naught penetrates our frame to be enjoyed

Save flimsy idol-images and vain —

A sorry hope which oft the winds disperse.

As when the thirsty man in slumber seeks

To drink, and water ne’er is granted him

Wherewith to quench the heat within his members,

But after idols of the liquids strives

And toils in vain, and thirsts even whilst he gulps

In middle of the torrent, thus in love

Venus deludes with idol-images

The lovers. Nor they cannot sate their lust

By merely gazing on the bodies, nor

They cannot with their palms and fingers rub

Aught from each tender limb, the while they stray

Uncertain over all the body. Then,

At last, with members intertwined, when they

Enjoy the flower of their age, when now

Their bodies have sweet presage of keen joys,

And Venus is about to sow the fields

Of woman, greedily their frames they lock,

And mingle the slaver of their mouths, and breathe

Into each other, pressing teeth on mouths —

Yet to no purpose, since they’re powerless

To rub off aught, or penetrate and pass

With body entire into body — for oft

They seem to strive and struggle thus to do;

So eagerly they cling in Venus’ bonds,

Whilst melt away their members, overcome

By violence of delight. But when at last

Lust, gathered in the thews, hath spent itself,

There come a brief pause in the raging heat —

But then a madness just the same returns

And that old fury visits them again,

When once again they seek and crave to reach

They know not what, all powerless to find

The artifice to subjugate the bane.

In such uncertain state they waste away

With unseen wound.

    To which be added too,

They squander powers and with the travail wane;

Be added too, they spend their futile years

Under another’s beck and call; their duties

Neglected languish and their honest name

Reeleth sick, sick; and meantime their estates

Are lost in Babylonian tapestries;

And unguents and dainty Sicyonian shoes

Laugh on her feet; and (as ye may be sure)

Big emeralds of green light are set in gold;

And rich sea-purple dress by constant wear

Grows shabby and all soaked with Venus’ sweat;

And the well-earned ancestral property

Becometh head-bands, coifs, and many a time

The cloaks, or garments Alidensian

Or of the Cean isle. And banquets, set

With rarest cloth and viands, are prepared —

And games of chance, and many a drinking cup,

And unguents, crowns and garlands. All in vain,

Since from amid the well-spring of delights

Bubbles some drop of bitter to torment

Among the very flowers — when haply mind

Gnaws into self, now stricken with remorse

For slothful years and ruin in baudels,

Or else because she’s left him all in doubt

By launching some sly word, which still like fire

Lives wildly, cleaving to his eager heart;

Or else because he thinks she darts her eyes

Too much about and gazes at another —

And in her face sees traces of a laugh.

These ills are found in prospering love and true;

But in crossed love and helpless there be such

As through shut eyelids thou canst still take in —

Uncounted ills; so that ’tis better far

To watch beforehand, in the way I’ve shown,

And guard against enticements. For to shun

A fall into the hunting-snares of love

Is not so hard, as to get out again,

When tangled in the very nets, and burst

The stoutly-knotted cords of Aphrodite.

Yet even when there enmeshed with tangled feet,

Still canst thou scape the danger-lest indeed

Thou standest in the way of thine own good,

And overlookest first all blemishes

Of mind and body of thy much preferred,

Desirable dame. For so men do,

Eyeless with passion, and assign to them

Graces not theirs in fact. And thus we see

Creatures in many a wise crooked and ugly

The prosperous sweethearts in a high esteem;

And lovers gird each other and advise

To placate Venus, since their friends are smit

With a base passion — miserable dupes

Who seldom mark their own worst bane of all.

The black-skinned girl is “tawny like the honey”;

The filthy and the fetid’s “negligee”;

The cat-eyed she’s “a little Pallas,” she;

The sinewy and wizened’s “a gazelle”;

The pudgy and the pigmy is “piquant,

One of the Graces sure”; the big and bulky

O she’s “an Admiration, imposante”;

The stuttering and tongue-tied “sweetly lisps”;

The mute girl’s “modest”; and the garrulous,

The spiteful spit-fire, is “a sparkling wit”;

And she who scarcely lives for scrawniness

Becomes “a slender darling”; “delicate”

Is she who’s nearly dead of coughing-fit;

The pursy female with protuberant breasts

She is “like Ceres when the goddess gave

Young Bacchus suck”; the pug-nosed lady-love

“A Satyress, a feminine Silenus”;

The blubber-lipped is “all one luscious kiss”—

A weary while it were to tell the whole.

But let her face possess what charm ye will,

Let Venus’ glory rise from all her limbs —

Forsooth there still are others; and forsooth

We lived before without her; and forsooth

She does the same things — and we know she does —

All, as the ugly creature, and she scents,

Yes she, her wretched self with vile perfumes;

Whom even her handmaids flee and giggle at

Behind her back. But he, the lover, in tears

Because shut out, covers her threshold o’er

Often with flowers and garlands, and anoints

Her haughty door-posts with the marjoram,

And prints, poor fellow, kisses on the doors —

Admitted at last, if haply but one whiff

Got to him on approaching, he would seek

Decent excuses to go out forthwith;

And his lament, long pondered, then would fall

Down at his heels; and there he’d damn himself

For his fatuity, observing how

He had assigned to that same lady more —

Than it is proper to concede to mortals.

And these our Venuses are ‘ware of this.

Wherefore the more are they at pains to hide

All the-behind-the-scenes of life from those

Whom they desire to keep in bonds of love —

In vain, since ne’ertheless thou canst by thought

Drag all the matter forth into the light

And well search out the cause of all these smiles;

And if of graceful mind she be and kind,

Do thou, in thy turn, overlook the same,

And thus allow for poor mortality.

Nor sighs the woman always with feigned love,

Who links her body round man’s body locked

And holds him fast, making his kisses wet

With lips sucked into lips; for oft she acts

Even from desire, and, seeking mutual joys,

Incites him there to run love’s race-course through.

Nor otherwise can cattle, birds, wild beasts,

And sheep and mares submit unto the males,

Except that their own nature is in heat,

And burns abounding and with gladness takes

Once more the Venus of the mounting males.

And seest thou not how those whom mutual pleasure

Hath bound are tortured in their common bonds?

How often in the cross-roads dogs that pant

To get apart strain eagerly asunder

With utmost might? — When all the while they’re fast

In the stout links of Venus. But they’d ne’er

So pull, except they knew those mutual joys —

So powerful to cast them unto snares

And hold them bound. Wherefore again, again,

Even as I say, there is a joint delight.

And when perchance, in mingling seed with his,

The female hath o’erpowered the force of male

And by a sudden fling hath seized it fast,

Then are the offspring, more from mothers’ seed,

More like their mothers; as, from fathers’ seed,

They’re like to fathers. But whom seest to be

Partakers of each shape, one equal blend

Of parents’ features, these are generate

From fathers’ body and from mothers’ blood,

When mutual and harmonious heat hath dashed

Together seeds, aroused along their frames

By Venus’ goads, and neither of the twain

Mastereth or is mastered. Happens too

That sometimes offspring can to being come

In likeness of their grandsires, and bring back

Often the shapes of grandsires’ sires, because

Their parents in their bodies oft retain

Concealed many primal germs, commixed

In many modes, which, starting with the stock,

Sire handeth down to son, himself a sire;

Whence Venus by a variable chance

Engenders shapes, and diversely brings back

Ancestral features, voices too, and hair.

A female generation rises forth

From seed paternal, and from mother’s body

Exist created males: since sex proceeds

No more from singleness of seed than faces

Or bodies or limbs of ours: for every birth

Is from a twofold seed; and what’s created

Hath, of that parent which it is more like,

More than its equal share; as thou canst mark —

Whether the breed be male or female stock.

Nor do the powers divine grudge any man

The fruits of his seed-sowing, so that never

He be called “father” by sweet children his,

And end his days in sterile love forever.

What many men suppose; and gloomily

They sprinkle the altars with abundant blood,

And make the high platforms odorous with burnt gifts,

To render big by plenteous seed their wives —

And plague in vain godheads and sacred lots.

For sterile are these men by seed too thick,

Or else by far too watery and thin.

Because the thin is powerless to cleave

Fast to the proper places, straightaway

It trickles from them, and, returned again,

Retires abortively. And then since seed

More gross and solid than will suit is spent

By some men, either it flies not forth amain

With spurt prolonged enough, or else it fails

To enter suitably the proper places,

Or, having entered, the seed is weakly mixed

With seed of the woman: harmonies of Venus

Are seen to matter vastly here; and some

Impregnate some more readily, and from some

Some women conceive more readily and become

Pregnant. And many women, sterile before

In several marriage-beds, have yet thereafter

Obtained the mates from whom they could conceive

The baby-boys, and with sweet progeny

Grow rich. And even for husbands (whose own wives,

Although of fertile wombs, have borne for them

No babies in the house) are also found

Concordant natures so that they at last

Can bulwark their old age with goodly sons.

A matter of great moment ’tis in truth,

That seeds may mingle readily with seeds

Suited for procreation, and that thick

Should mix with fluid seeds, with thick the fluid.

And in this business ’tis of some import

Upon what diet life is nourished:

For some foods thicken seeds within our members,

And others thin them out and waste away.

And in what modes the fond delight itself

Is carried on — this too importeth vastly.

For commonly ’tis thought that wives conceive

More readily in manner of wild-beasts,

After the custom of the four-foot breeds,

Because so postured, with the breasts beneath

And buttocks then upreared, the seeds can take

Their proper places. Nor is need the least

For wives to use the motions of blandishment;

For thus the woman hinders and resists

Her own conception, if too joyously

Herself she treats the Venus of the man

With haunches heaving, and with all her bosom

Now yielding like the billows of the sea —

Aye, from the ploughshare’s even course and track

She throws the furrow, and from proper places

Deflects the spurt of seed. And courtesans

Are thuswise wont to move for their own ends,

To keep from pregnancy and lying in,

And all the while to render Venus more

A pleasure for the men — the which meseems

Our wives have never need of.

    Sometimes too

It happens — and through no divinity

Nor arrows of Venus — that a sorry chit

Of scanty grace will be beloved by man;

For sometimes she herself by very deeds,

By her complying ways, and tidy habits,

Will easily accustom thee to pass

With her thy life-time — and, moreover, lo,

Long habitude can gender human love,

Even as an object smitten o’er and o’er

By blows, however lightly, yet at last

Is overcome and wavers. Seest thou not,

Besides, how drops of water falling down

Against the stones at last bore through the stones?

Book V

Proem

O WHO can build with puissant breast a song

Worthy the majesty of these great finds?

Or who in words so strong that he can frame

The fit laudations for deserts of him

Who left us heritors of such vast prizes,

By his own breast discovered and sought out? —

There shall be none, methinks, of mortal stock.

For if must needs be named for him the name

Demanded by the now known majesty

Of these high matters, then a god was he —

Hear me, illustrious Memmius — a god;

Who first and chief found out that plan of life

Which now is called philosophy, and who

By cunning craft, out of such mighty waves,

Out of such mighty darkness, moored life

In havens so serene, in light so clear.

Compare those old discoveries divine

Of others: lo, according to the tale,

Ceres established for mortality

The grain, and Bacchus juice of vine-born grape,

Though life might yet without these things abide,

Even as report saith now some peoples live.

But man’s well-being was impossible

Without a breast all free. Wherefore the more

That man doth justly seem to us a god,

From whom sweet solaces of life, afar

Distributed o’er populous domains,

Now soothe the minds of men. But if thou thinkest

Labours of Hercules excel the same,

Much farther from true reasoning thou farest.

For what could hurt us now that mighty maw

Of Nemeaean Lion, or what the Boar

Who bristled in Arcadia? Or, again,

O what could Cretan Bull, or Hydra, pest

Of Lerna, fenced with vipers venomous?

Or what the triple-breasted power of her

The three-fold Geryon . . .

The sojourners in the Stymphalian fens

So dreadfully offend us, or the Steeds

Of Thracian Diomedes breathing fire

From out their nostrils off along the zones

Bistonian and Ismarian? And the Snake,

The dread fierce gazer, guardian of the golden

And gleaming apples of the Hesperides,

Coiled round the tree-trunk with tremendous bulk,

O what, again, could he inflict on us

Along the Atlantic shore and wastes of sea? —

Where neither one of us approacheth nigh

Nor no barbarian ventures. And the rest

Of all those monsters slain, even if alive,

Unconquered still, what injury could they do?

None, as I guess. For so the glutted earth

Swarms even now with savage beasts, even now

Is filled with anxious terrors through the woods

And mighty mountains and the forest deeps —

Quarters ’tis ours in general to avoid.

But lest the breast be purged, what conflicts then,

What perils, must bosom, in our own despite!

O then how great and keen the cares of lust

That split the man distraught! How great the fears!

And lo, the pride, grim greed, and wantonness —

How great the slaughters in their train! and lo,

Debaucheries and every breed of sloth!

Therefore that man who subjugated these,

And from the mind expelled, by words indeed,

Not arms, O shall it not be seemly him

To dignify by ranking with the gods? —

And all the more since he was wont to give,

Concerning the immortal gods themselves,

Many pronouncements with a tongue divine,

And to unfold by his pronouncements all

The nature of the world.

Argument of the Book and New Proem Against a Teleological Concept

    And walking now

In his own footprints, I do follow through

His reasonings, and with pronouncements teach

The covenant whereby all things are framed,

How under that covenant they must abide

Nor ever prevail to abrogate the aeons’

Inexorable decrees — how (as we’ve found),

In class of mortal objects, o’er all else,

The mind exists of earth-born frame create

And impotent unscathed to abide

Across the mighty aeons, and how come

In sleep those idol-apparitions,

That so befool intelligence when we

Do seem to view a man whom life has left.

Thus far we’ve gone; the order of my plan

Hath brought me now unto the point where I

Must make report how, too, the universe

Consists of mortal body, born in time,

And in what modes that congregated stuff

Established itself as earth and sky,

Ocean, and stars, and sun, and ball of moon;

And then what living creatures rose from out

The old telluric places, and what ones

Were never born at all; and in what mode

The human race began to name its things

And use the varied speech from man to man;

And in what modes hath bosomed in their breasts

That awe of gods, which halloweth in all lands

Fanes, altars, groves, lakes, idols of the gods.

Also I shall untangle by what power

The steersman nature guides the sun’s courses,

And the meanderings of the moon, lest we,

Percase, should fancy that of own free will

They circle their perennial courses round,

Timing their motions for increase of crops

And living creatures, or lest we should think

They roll along by any plan of gods.

For even those men who have learned full well

That godheads lead a long life free of care,

If yet meanwhile they wonder by what plan

Things can go on (and chiefly yon high things

Observed o’erhead on the ethereal coasts),

Again are hurried back unto the fears

Of old religion and adopt again

Harsh masters, deemed almighty — wretched men,

Unwitting what can be and what cannot,

And by what law to each its scope prescribed,

Its boundary stone that clings so deep in Time.

But for the rest — lest we delay thee here

Longer by empty promises — behold,

Before all else, the seas, the lands, the sky:

O Memmius, their threefold nature, lo,

Their bodies three, three aspects so unlike,

Three frames so vast, a single day shall give

Unto annihilation! Then shall crash

That massive form and fabric of the world

Sustained so many aeons! Nor do I

Fail to perceive how strange and marvellous

This fact must strike the intellect of man —

Annihilation of the sky and earth

That is to be — and with what toil of words

’Tis mine to prove the same; as happens oft

When once ye offer to man’s listening ears

Something before unheard of, but may not

Subject it to the view of eyes for him

Nor put it into hand — the sight and touch,

Whereby the opened highways of belief

Lead most directly into human breast

And regions of intelligence. But yet

I will speak out. The fact itself, perchance,

Will force belief in these my words, and thou

Mayst see, in little time, tremendously

With risen commotions of the lands all things

Quaking to pieces — which afar from us

May she, the steersman Nature, guide: and may

Reason, O rather than the fact itself,

Persuade us that all things can be o’erthrown

And sink with awful-sounding breakage down!

But ere on this I take a step to utter

Oracles holier and soundlier based

Than ever the Pythian pronounced for men

From out the tripod and the Delphian laurel,

I will unfold for thee with learned words

Many a consolation, lest perchance,

Still bridled by religion, thou suppose

Lands, sun, and sky, sea, constellations, moon,

Must dure forever, as of frame divine —

And so conclude that it is just that those,

(After the manner of the Giants), should all

Pay the huge penalties for monstrous crime,

Who by their reasonings do overshake

The ramparts of the universe and wish

There to put out the splendid sun of heaven,

Branding with mortal talk immortal things —

Though these same things are even so far removed

From any touch of deity and seem

So far unworthy of numbering with the gods,

That well they may be thought to furnish rather

A goodly instance of the sort of things

That lack the living motion, living sense.

For sure ’tis quite beside the mark to think

That judgment and the nature of the mind

In any kind of body can exist —

Just as in ether can’t exist a tree,

Nor clouds in the salt sea, nor in the fields

Can fishes live, nor blood in timber be,

Nor sap in boulders: fixed and arranged

Where everything may grow and have its place.

Thus nature of mind cannot arise alone

Without the body, nor have its being far

From thews and blood. Yet if ’twere possible? —

Much rather might this very power of mind

Be in the head, the shoulders, or the heels,

And, born in any part soever, yet

In the same man, in the same vessel abide

But since within this body even of ours

Stands fixed and appears arranged sure

Where soul and mind can each exist and grow,

Deny we must the more that they can dure

Outside the body and the breathing form

In rotting clods of earth, in the sun’s fire,

In water, or in ether’s skiey coasts.

Therefore these things no whit are furnished

With sense divine, since never can they be

With life-force quickened.

    Likewise, thou canst ne’er

Believe the sacred seats of gods are here

In any regions of this mundane world;

Indeed, the nature of the gods, so subtle,

So far removed from these our senses, scarce

Is seen even by intelligence of mind.

And since they’ve ever eluded touch and thrust

Of human hands, they cannot reach to grasp

Aught tangible to us. For what may not

Itself be touched in turn can never touch.

Wherefore, besides, also their seats must be

Unlike these seats of ours — even subtle too,

As meet for subtle essence — as I’ll prove

Hereafter unto thee with large discourse.

Further, to say that for the sake of men

They willed to prepare this world’s magnificence,

And that ’tis therefore duty and behoof

To praise the work of gods as worthy praise,

And that ’tis sacrilege for men to shake

Ever by any force from out their seats

What hath been stablished by the Forethought old

To everlasting for races of mankind,

And that ’tis sacrilege to assault by words

And overtopple all from base to beam —

Memmius, such notions to concoct and pile,

Is verily — to dote. Our gratefulness,

O what emoluments could it confer

Upon Immortals and upon the Blessed

That they should take a step to manage aught

For sake of us? Or what new factor could,

After so long a time, inveigle them —

The hitherto reposeful — to desire

To change their former life? For rather he

Whom old things chafe seems likely to rejoice

At new; but one that in fore-passed time

Hath chanced upon no ill, through goodly years,

O what could ever enkindle in such an one

Passion for strange experiment? Or what

The evil for us, if we had ne’er been born? —

As though, forsooth, in darkling realms and woe

Our life were lying till should dawn at last

The day-spring of creation! Whosoever

Hath been begotten wills perforce to stay

In life, so long as fond delight detains;

But whoso ne’er hath tasted love of life,

And ne’er was in the count of living things,

What hurts it him that he was never born?

Whence, further, first was planted in the gods

The archetype for gendering the world

And the fore-notion of what man is like,

So that they knew and pre-conceived with mind

Just what they wished to make? Or how were known

Ever the energies of primal germs,

And what those germs, by interchange of place,

Could thus produce, if nature’s self had not

Given example for creating all?

For in such wise primordials of things,

Many in many modes, astir by blows

From immemorial aeons, in motion too

By their own weights, have evermore been wont

To be so borne along and in all modes

To meet together and to try all sorts

Which, by combining one with other, they

Are powerful to create, that thus it is

No marvel now, if they have also fallen

Into arrangements such, and if they’ve passed

Into vibrations such, as those whereby

This sum of things is carried on to-day

By fixed renewal. But knew I never what

The seeds primordial were, yet would I dare

This to affirm, even from deep judgments based

Upon the ways and conduct of the skies —

This to maintain by many a fact besides —

That in no wise the nature of all things

For us was fashioned by a power divine —

So great the faults it stands encumbered with.

First, mark all regions which are overarched

By the prodigious reaches of the sky:

One yawning part thereof the mountain-chains

And forests of the beasts do have and hold;

And cliffs, and desert fens, and wastes of sea

(Which sunder afar the beaches of the lands)

Possess it merely; and, again, thereof

Well-nigh two-thirds intolerable heat

And a perpetual fall of frost doth rob

From mortal kind. And what is left to till,

Even that the force of nature would o’errun

With brambles, did not human force oppose —

Long wont for livelihood to groan and sweat

Over the two-pronged mattock and to cleave

The soil in twain by pressing on the plough.

. . . . . .

Unless, by the ploughshare turning the fruitful clods

And kneading the mould, we quicken into birth,

[The crops] spontaneously could not come up

Into the free bright air. Even then sometimes,

When things acquired by the sternest toil

Are now in leaf, are now in blossom all,

Either the skiey sun with baneful heats

Parches, or sudden rains or chilling rime

Destroys, or flaws of winds with furious whirl

Torment and twist. Beside these matters, why

Doth nature feed and foster on land and sea

The dreadful breed of savage beasts, the foes

Of the human clan? Why do the seasons bring

Distempers with them? Wherefore stalks at large

Death, so untimely? Then, again, the babe,

Like to the castaway of the raging surf,

Lies naked on the ground, speechless, in want

Of every help for life, when nature first

Hath poured him forth upon the shores of light

With birth-pangs from within the mother’s womb,

And with a plaintive wail he fills the place —

As well befitting one for whom remains

In life a journey through so many ills.

But all the flocks and herds and all wild beasts

Come forth and grow, nor need the little rattles,

Nor must be treated to the humouring nurse’s

Dear, broken chatter; nor seek they divers clothes

To suit the changing skies; nor need, in fine,

Nor arms, nor lofty ramparts, wherewithal

Their own to guard — because the earth herself

And nature, artificer of the world, bring forth

Aboundingly all things for all.

The World is Not Eternal

    And first,

Since body of earth and water, air’s light breath,

And fiery exhalations (of which four

This sum of things is seen to be compact)

So all have birth and perishable frame,

Thus the whole nature of the world itself

Must be conceived as perishable too.

For, verily, those things of which we see

The parts and members to have birth in time

And perishable shapes, those same we mark

To be invariably born in time

And born to die. And therefore when I see

The mightiest members and the parts of this

Our world consumed and begot again,

’Tis mine to know that also sky above

And earth beneath began of old in time

And shall in time go under to disaster.

And lest in these affairs thou deemest me

To have seized upon this point by sleight to serve

My own caprice — because I have assumed

That earth and fire are mortal things indeed,

And have not doubted water and the air

Both perish too and have affirmed the same

To be again begotten and wax big —

Mark well the argument: in first place, lo,

Some certain parts of earth, grievously parched

By unremitting suns, and trampled on

By a vast throng of feet, exhale abroad

A powdery haze and flying clouds of dust,

Which the stout winds disperse in the whole air.

A part, moreover, of her sod and soil

Is summoned to inundation by the rains;

And rivers graze and gouge the banks away.

Besides, whatever takes a part its own

In fostering and increasing [aught] . . .

. . . . . .

Is rendered back; and since, beyond a doubt,

Earth, the all-mother, is beheld to be

Likewise the common sepulchre of things,

Therefore thou seest her minished of her plenty,

And then again augmented with new growth.

And for the rest, that sea, and streams, and springs

Forever with new waters overflow,

And that perennially the fluids well,

Needeth no words — the mighty flux itself

Of multitudinous waters round about

Declareth this. But whatso water first

Streams up is ever straightway carried off,

And thus it comes to pass that all in all

There is no overflow; in part because

The burly winds (that over-sweep amain)

And skiey sun (that with his rays dissolves)

Do minish the level seas; in part because

The water is diffused underground

Through all the lands. The brine is filtered off,

And then the liquid stuff seeps back again

And all regathers at the river-heads,

Whence in fresh-water currents on it flows

Over the lands, adown the channels which

Were cleft erstwhile and erstwhile bore along

The liquid-footed floods.

    Now, then, of air

I’ll speak, which hour by hour in all its body

Is changed innumerably. For whatso’er

Streams up in dust or vapour off of things,

The same is all and always borne along

Into the mighty ocean of the air;

And did not air in turn restore to things

Bodies, and thus recruit them as they stream,

All things by this time had resolved been

And changed into air. Therefore it never

Ceases to be engendered off of things

And to return to things, since verily

In constant flux do all things stream.

    Likewise,

The abounding well-spring of the liquid light,

The ethereal sun, doth flood the heaven o’er

With constant flux of radiance ever new,

And with fresh light supplies the place of light,

Upon the instant. For whatever effulgence

Hath first streamed off, no matter where it falls,

Is lost unto the sun. And this ’tis thine

To know from these examples: soon as clouds

Have first begun to under-pass the sun,

And, as it were, to rend the rays of light

In twain, at once the lower part of them

Is lost entire, and earth is overcast

Where’er the thunderheads are rolled along —

So know thou mayst that things forever need

A fresh replenishment of gleam and glow,

And each effulgence, foremost flashed forth,

Perisheth one by one. Nor otherwise

Can things be seen in sunlight, lest alway

The fountain-head of light supply new light.

Indeed your earthly beacons of the night,

The hanging lampions and the torches, bright

With darting gleams and dense with livid soot,

Do hurry in like manner to supply

With ministering heat new light amain;

Are all alive to quiver with their fires —

Are so alive, that thus the light ne’er leaves

The spots it shines on, as if rent in twain:

So speedily is its destruction veiled

By the swift birth of flame from all the fires.

Thus, then, we must suppose that sun and moon

And stars dart forth their light from under-births

Ever and ever new, and whatso flames

First rise do perish always one by one —

Lest, haply, thou shouldst think they each endure

Inviolable.

    Again, perceivest not

How stones are also conquered by Time? —

Not how the lofty towers ruin down,

And boulders crumble? — Not how shrines of gods

And idols crack outworn? — Nor how indeed

The holy Influence hath yet no power

There to postpone the Terminals of Fate,

Or headway make ‘gainst Nature’s fixed decrees?

Again, behold we not the monuments

Of heroes, now in ruins, asking us,

In their turn likewise, if we don’t believe

They also age with eld? Behold we not

The rended basalt ruining amain

Down from the lofty mountains, powerless

To dure and dree the mighty forces there

Of finite time? — for they would never fall

Rended asudden, if from infinite Past

They had prevailed against all engin’ries

Of the assaulting aeons, with no crash.

Again, now look at This, which round, above,

Contains the whole earth in its one embrace:

If from itself it procreates all things —

As some men tell — and takes them to itself

When once destroyed, entirely must it be

Of mortal birth and body; for whate’er

From out itself giveth to other things

Increase and food, the same perforce must be

Minished, and then recruited when it takes

Things back into itself.

    Besides all this,

If there had been no origin-in-birth

Of lands and sky, and they had ever been

The everlasting, why, ere Theban war

And obsequies of Troy, have other bards

Not also chanted other high affairs?

Whither have sunk so oft so many deeds

Of heroes? Why do those deeds live no more,

Ingrafted in eternal monuments

Of glory? Verily, I guess, because

The Sum is new, and of a recent date

The nature of our universe, and had

Not long ago its own exordium.

Wherefore, even now some arts are being still

Refined, still increased: now unto ships

Is being added many a new device;

And but the other day musician-folk

Gave birth to melic sounds of organing;

And, then, this nature, this account of things

Hath been discovered latterly, and I

Myself have been discovered only now,

As first among the first, able to turn

The same into ancestral Roman speech.

Yet if, percase, thou deemest that ere this

Existed all things even the same, but that

Perished the cycles of the human race

In fiery exhalations, or cities fell

By some tremendous quaking of the world,

Or rivers in fury, after constant rains,

Had plunged forth across the lands of earth

And whelmed the towns — then, all the more must thou

Confess, defeated by the argument,

That there shall be annihilation too

Of lands and sky. For at a time when things

Were being taxed by maladies so great,

And so great perils, if some cause more fell

Had then assailed them, far and wide they would

Have gone to disaster and supreme collapse.

And by no other reasoning are we

Seen to be mortal, save that all of us

Sicken in turn with those same maladies

With which have sickened in the past those men

Whom nature hath removed from life.

    Again,

Whatever abides eternal must indeed

Either repel all strokes, because ’tis made

Of solid body, and permit no entrance

Of aught with power to sunder from within

The parts compact — as are those seeds of stuff

Whose nature we’ve exhibited before;

Or else be able to endure through time

For this: because they are from blows exempt,

As is the void, the which abides untouched,

Unsmit by any stroke; or else because

There is no room around, whereto things can,

As ’twere, depart in dissolution all —

Even as the sum of sums eternal is,

Without or place beyond whereto things may

Asunder fly, or bodies which can smite,

And thus dissolve them by the blows of might.

But not of solid body, as I’ve shown,

Exists the nature of the world, because

In things is intermingled there a void;

Nor is the world yet as the void, nor are,

Moreover, bodies lacking which, percase,

Rising from out the infinite, can fell

With fury-whirlwinds all this sum of things,

Or bring upon them other cataclysm

Of peril strange; and yonder, too, abides

The infinite space and the profound abyss —

Whereinto, lo, the ramparts of the world

Can yet be shivered. Or some other power

Can pound upon them till they perish all.

Thus is the door of doom, O nowise barred

Against the sky, against the sun and earth

And deep-sea waters, but wide open stands

And gloats upon them, monstrous and agape.

Wherefore, again, ’tis needful to confess

That these same things are born in time; for things

Which are of mortal body could indeed

Never from infinite past until to-day

Have spurned the multitudinous assaults

Of the immeasurable aeons old.

Again, since battle so fiercely one with other

The four most mighty members the world,

Aroused in an all unholy war,

Seest not that there may be for them an end

Of the long strife? — Or when the skiey sun

And all the heat have won dominion o’er

The sucked-up waters all? — And this they try

Still to accomplish, though as yet they fail —

For so aboundingly the streams supply

New store of waters that ’tis rather they

Who menace the world with inundations vast

From forth the unplumbed chasms of the sea.

But vain — since winds (that over-sweep amain)

And skiey sun (that with his rays dissolves)

Do minish the level seas and trust their power

To dry up all, before the waters can

Arrive at the end of their endeavouring.

Breathing such vasty warfare, they contend

In balanced strife the one with other still

Concerning mighty issues — though indeed

The fire was once the more victorious,

And once — as goes the tale — the water won

A kingdom in the fields. For fire o’ermastered

And licked up many things and burnt away,

What time the impetuous horses of the Sun

Snatched Phaethon headlong from his skiey road

Down the whole ether and over all the lands.

But the omnipotent Father in keen wrath

Then with the sudden smite of thunderbolt

Did hurl the mighty-minded hero off

Those horses to the earth. And Sol, his sire,

Meeting him as he fell, caught up in hand

The ever-blazing lampion of the world,

And drave together the pell-mell horses there

And yoked them all a-tremble, and amain,

Steering them over along their own old road,

Restored the cosmos — as forsooth we hear

From songs of ancient poets of the Greeks —

A tale too far away from truth, meseems.

For fire can win when from the infinite

Has risen a larger throng of particles

Of fiery stuff; and then its powers succumb,

Somehow subdued again, or else at last

It shrivels in torrid atmospheres the world.

And whilom water too began to win —

As goes the story — when it overwhelmed

The lives of men with billows; and thereafter,

When all that force of water-stuff which forth

From out the infinite had risen up

Did now retire, as somehow turned aside,

The rain-storms stopped, and streams their fury checked.

Formation of the World and Astronomical Questions

But in what modes that conflux of first-stuff

Did found the multitudinous universe

Of earth, and sky, and the unfathomed deeps

Of ocean, and courses of the sun and moon,

I’ll now in order tell. For of a truth

Neither by counsel did the primal germs

‘Stablish themselves, as by keen act of mind,

Each in its proper place; nor did they make,

Forsooth, a compact how each germ should move;

But, lo, because primordials of things,

Many in many modes, astir by blows

From immemorial aeons, in motion too

By their own weights, have evermore been wont

To be so borne along and in all modes

To meet together and to try all sorts

Which, by combining one with other, they

Are powerful to create: because of this

It comes to pass that those primordials,

Diffused far and wide through mighty aeons,

The while they unions try, and motions too,

Of every kind, meet at the last amain,

And so become oft the commencements fit

Of mighty things — earth, sea, and sky, and race

Of living creatures.

    In that long-ago

The wheel of the sun could nowhere be discerned

Flying far up with its abounding blaze,

Nor constellations of the mighty world,

Nor ocean, nor heaven, nor even earth nor air.

Nor aught of things like unto things of ours

Could then be seen — but only some strange storm

And a prodigious hurly-burly mass

Compounded of all kinds of primal germs,

Whose battling discords in disorder kept

Interstices, and paths, coherencies,

And weights, and blows, encounterings, and motions,

Because, by reason of their forms unlike

And varied shapes, they could not all thuswise

Remain conjoined nor harmoniously

Have interplay of movements. But from there

Portions began to fly asunder, and like

With like to join, and to block out a world,

And to divide its members and dispose

Its mightier parts — that is, to set secure

The lofty heavens from the lands, and cause

The sea to spread with waters separate,

And fires of ether separate and pure

Likewise to congregate apart.

    For, lo,

First came together the earthy particles

(As being heavy and intertangled) there

In the mid-region, and all began to take

The lowest abodes; and ever the more they got

One with another intertangled, the more

They pressed from out their mass those particles

Which were to form the sea, the stars, the sun,

And moon, and ramparts of the mighty world —

For these consist of seeds more smooth and round

And of much smaller elements than earth.

And thus it was that ether, fraught with fire,

First broke away from out the earthen parts,

Athrough the innumerable pores of earth,

And raised itself aloft, and with itself

Bore lightly off the many starry fires;

And not far otherwise we often see

. . . . . .

And the still lakes and the perennial streams

Exhale a mist, and even as earth herself

Is seen at times to smoke, when first at dawn

The light of the sun, the many-rayed, begins

To redden into gold, over the grass

Begemmed with dew. When all of these are brought

Together overhead, the clouds on high

With now concreted body weave a cover

Beneath the heavens. And thuswise ether too,

Light and diffusive, with concreted body

On all sides spread, on all sides bent itself

Into a dome, and, far and wide diffused

On unto every region on all sides,

Thus hedged all else within its greedy clasp.

Hard upon ether came the origins

Of sun and moon, whose globes revolve in air

Midway between the earth and mightiest ether —

For neither took them, since they weighed too little

To sink and settle, but too much to glide

Along the upmost shores; and yet they are

In such a wise midway between the twain

As ever to whirl their living bodies round,

And ever to dure as parts of the wide Whole;

In the same fashion as certain members may

In us remain at rest, whilst others move.

When, then, these substances had been withdrawn,

Amain the earth, where now extend the vast

Cerulean zones of all the level seas,

Caved in, and down along the hollows poured

The whirlpools of her brine; and day by day

The more the tides of ether and rays of sun

On every side constrained into one mass

The earth by lashing it again, again,

Upon its outer edges (so that then,

Being thus beat upon, ’twas all condensed

About its proper centre), ever the more

The salty sweat, from out its body squeezed,

Augmented ocean and the fields of foam

By seeping through its frame, and all the more

Those many particles of heat and air

Escaping, began to fly aloft, and form,

By condensation there afar from earth,

The high refulgent circuits of the heavens.

The plains began to sink, and windy slopes

Of the high mountains to increase; for rocks

Could not subside, nor all the parts of ground

Settle alike to one same level there.

Thus, then, the massy weight of earth stood firm

With now concreted body, when (as ’twere)

All of the slime of the world, heavy and gross,

Had run together and settled at the bottom,

Like lees or bilge. Then ocean, then the air,

Then ether herself, the fraught-with-fire, were all

Left with their liquid bodies pure and free,

And each more lighter than the next below;

And ether, most light and liquid of the three,

Floats on above the long aerial winds,

Nor with the brawling of the winds of air

Mingles its liquid body. It doth leave

All there — those under-realms below her heights —

There to be overset in whirlwinds wild —

Doth leave all there to brawl in wayward gusts,

Whilst, gliding with a fixed impulse still,

Itself it bears its fires along. For, lo,

That ether can flow thus steadily on, on,

With one unaltered urge, the Pontus proves —

That sea which floweth forth with fixed tides,

Keeping one onward tenor as it glides.

And that the earth may there abide at rest

In the mid-region of the world, it needs

Must vanish bit by bit in weight and lessen,

And have another substance underneath,

Conjoined to it from its earliest age

In linked unison with the vasty world’s

Realms of the air in which it roots and lives.

On this account, the earth is not a load,

Nor presses down on winds of air beneath;

Even as unto a man his members be

Without all weight — the head is not a load

Unto the neck; nor do we feel the whole

Weight of the body to centre in the feet.

But whatso weights come on us from without,

Weights laid upon us, these harass and chafe,

Though often far lighter. For to such degree

It matters always what the innate powers

Of any given thing may be. The earth

Was, then, no alien substance fetched amain,

And from no alien firmament cast down

On alien air; but was conceived, like air,

In the first origin of this the world,

As a fixed portion of the same, as now

Our members are seen to be a part of us.

Besides, the earth, when of a sudden shook

By the big thunder, doth with her motion shake

All that’s above her — which she ne’er could do

By any means, were earth not bounden fast

Unto the great world’s realms of air and sky:

For they cohere together with common roots,

Conjoined both, even from their earliest age,

In linked unison. Aye, seest thou not

That this most subtle energy of soul

Supports our body, though so heavy a weight —

Because, indeed, ’tis with it so conjoined

In linked unison? What power, in sum,

Can raise with agile leap our body aloft,

Save energy of mind which steers the limbs?

Now seest thou not how powerful may be

A subtle nature, when conjoined it is

With heavy body, as air is with the earth

Conjoined, and energy of mind with us?

Now let us sing what makes the stars to move.

In first place, if the mighty sphere of heaven

Revolveth round, then needs we must aver

That on the upper and the under pole

Presses a certain air, and from without

Confines them and encloseth at each end;

And that, moreover, another air above

Streams on athwart the top of the sphere and tends

In same direction as are rolled along

The glittering stars of the eternal world;

Or that another still streams on below

To whirl the sphere from under up and on

In opposite direction — as we see

The rivers turn the wheels and water-scoops.

It may be also that the heavens do all

Remain at rest, whilst yet are borne along

The lucid constellations; either because

Swift tides of ether are by sky enclosed,

And whirl around, seeking a passage out,

And everywhere make roll the starry fires

Through the Summanian regions of the sky;

Or else because some air, streaming along

From an eternal quarter off beyond,

Whileth the driven fires, or, then, because

The fires themselves have power to creep along,

Going wherever their food invites and calls,

And feeding their flaming bodies everywhere

Throughout the sky. Yet which of these is cause

In this our world ’tis hard to say for sure;

But what can be throughout the universe,

In divers worlds on divers plan create,

This only do I show, and follow on

To assign unto the motions of the stars

Even several causes which ’tis possible

Exist throughout the universal All;

Of which yet one must be the cause even here

Which maketh motion for our constellations.

Yet to decide which one of them it be

Is not the least the business of a man

Advancing step by cautious step, as I.

Nor can the sun’s wheel larger be by much

Nor its own blaze much less than either seems

Unto our senses. For from whatso spaces

Fires have the power on us to cast their beams

And blow their scorching exhalations forth

Against our members, those same distances

Take nothing by those intervals away

From bulk of flames; and to the sight the fire

Is nothing shrunken. Therefore, since the heat

And the outpoured light of skiey sun

Arrive our senses and caress our limbs,

Form too and bigness of the sun must look

Even here from earth just as they really be,

So that thou canst scarce nothing take or add.

And whether the journeying moon illuminate

The regions round with bastard beams, or throw

From off her proper body her own light —

Whichever it be, she journeys with a form

Naught larger than the form doth seem to be

Which we with eyes of ours perceive. For all

The far removed objects of our gaze

Seem through much air confused in their look

Ere minished in their bigness. Wherefore, moon,

Since she presents bright look and clear-cut form,

May there on high by us on earth be seen

Just as she is with extreme bounds defined,

And just of the size. And lastly, whatso fires

Of ether thou from earth beholdest, these

Thou mayst consider as possibly of size

The least bit less, or larger by a hair

Than they appear — since whatso fires we view

Here in the lands of earth are seen to change

From time to time their size to less or more

Only the least, when more or less away,

So long as still they bicker clear, and still

Their glow’s perceived.

    Nor need there be for men

Astonishment that yonder sun so small

Can yet send forth so great a light as fills

Oceans and all the lands and sky aflood,

And with its fiery exhalations steeps

The world at large. For it may be, indeed,

That one vast-flowing well-spring of the whole

Wide world from here hath opened and out-gushed,

And shot its light abroad; because thuswise

The elements of fiery exhalations

From all the world around together come,

And thuswise flow into a bulk so big

That from one single fountain-head may stream

This heat and light. And seest thou not, indeed,

How widely one small water-spring may wet

The meadow-lands at times and flood the fields?

’Tis even possible, besides, that heat

From forth the sun’s own fire, albeit that fire

Be not a great, may permeate the air

With the fierce hot — if but, perchance, the air

Be of condition and so tempered then

As to be kindled, even when beat upon

Only by little particles of heat —

Just as we sometimes see the standing grain

Or stubble straw in conflagration all

From one lone spark. And possibly the sun,

Agleam on high with rosy lampion,

Possesses about him with invisible heats

A plenteous fire, by no effulgence marked,

So that he maketh, he, the Fraught-with-fire,

Increase to such degree the force of rays.

Nor is there one sure cause revealed to men

How the sun journeys from his summer haunts

On to the mid-most winter turning-points

In Capricorn, the thence reverting veers

Back to solstitial goals of Cancer; nor

How ’tis the moon is seen each month to cross

That very distance which in traversing

The sun consumes the measure of a year.

I say, no one clear reason hath been given

For these affairs. Yet chief in likelihood

Seemeth the doctrine which the holy thought

Of great Democritus lays down: that ever

The nearer the constellations be to earth

The less can they by whirling of the sky

Be borne along, because those skiey powers

Of speed aloft do vanish and decrease

In under-regions, and the sun is thus

Left by degrees behind amongst those signs

That follow after, since the sun he lies

Far down below the starry signs that blaze;

And the moon lags even tardier than the sun:

In just so far as is her course removed

From upper heaven and nigh unto the lands,

In just so far she fails to keep the pace

With starry signs above; for just so far

As feebler is the whirl that bears her on,

(Being, indeed, still lower than the sun),

In just so far do all the starry signs,

Circling around, o’ertake her and o’erpass.

Therefore it happens that the moon appears

More swiftly to return to any sign

Along the Zodiac, than doth the sun,

Because those signs do visit her again

More swiftly than they visit the great sun.

It can be also that two streams of air

Alternately at fixed periods

Blow out from transverse regions of the world,

Of which the one may thrust the sun away

From summer-signs to mid-most winter goals

And rigors of the cold, and the other then

May cast him back from icy shades of chill

Even to the heat-fraught regions and the signs

That blaze along the Zodiac. So, too,

We must suppose the moon and all the stars,

Which through the mighty and sidereal years

Roll round in mighty orbits, may be sped

By streams of air from regions alternate.

Seest thou not also how the clouds be sped

By contrary winds to regions contrary,

The lower clouds diversely from the upper?

Then, why may yonder stars in ether there

Along their mighty orbits not be borne

By currents opposite the one to other?

But night o’erwhelms the lands with vasty murk

Either when sun, after his diurnal course,

Hath walked the ultimate regions of the sky

And wearily hath panted forth his fires,

Shivered by their long journeying and wasted

By traversing the multitudinous air,

Or else because the self-same force that drave

His orb along above the lands compels

Him then to turn his course beneath the lands.

Matuta also at a fixed hour

Spreadeth the roseate morning out along

The coasts of heaven and deploys the light,

Either because the self-same sun, returning

Under the lands, aspires to seize the sky,

Striving to set it blazing with his rays

Ere he himself appear, or else because

Fires then will congregate and many seeds

Of heat are wont, even at a fixed time,

To stream together — gendering evermore

New suns and light. Just so the story goes

That from the Idaean mountain-tops are seen

Dispersed fires upon the break of day

Which thence combine, as ’twere, into one ball

And form an orb. Nor yet in these affairs

Is aught for wonder that these seeds of fire

Can thus together stream at time so fixed

And shape anew the splendour of the sun.

For many facts we see which come to pass

At fixed time in all things: burgeon shrubs

At fixed time, and at a fixed time

They cast their flowers; and Eld commands the teeth,

At time as surely fixed, to drop away,

And Youth commands the growing boy to bloom

With the soft down and let from both his cheeks

The soft beard fall. And lastly, thunder-bolts,

Snow, rains, clouds, winds, at seasons of the year

Nowise unfixed, all do come to pass.

For where, even from their old primordial start

Causes have ever worked in such a way,

And where, even from the world’s first origin,

Thuswise have things befallen, so even now

After a fixed order they come round

In sequence also.

    Likewise, days may wax

Whilst the nights wane, and daylight minished be

Whilst nights do take their augmentations,

Either because the self-same sun, coursing

Under the lands and over in two arcs,

A longer and a briefer, doth dispart

The coasts of ether and divides in twain

His orbit all unequally, and adds,

As round he’s borne, unto the one half there

As much as from the other half he’s ta’en,

Until he then arrives that sign of heaven

Where the year’s node renders the shades of night

Equal unto the periods of light.

For when the sun is midway on his course

Between the blasts of northwind and of south,

Heaven keeps his two goals parted equally,

By virtue of the fixed position old

Of the whole starry Zodiac, through which

That sun, in winding onward, takes a year,

Illumining the sky and all the lands

With oblique light — as men declare to us

Who by their diagrams have charted well

Those regions of the sky which be adorned

With the arranged signs of Zodiac.

Or else, because in certain parts the air

Under the lands is denser, the tremulous

Bright beams of fire do waver tardily,

Nor easily can penetrate that air

Nor yet emerge unto their rising-place:

For this it is that nights in winter time

Do linger long, ere comes the many-rayed

Round Badge of the day. Or else because, as said,

In alternating seasons of the year

Fires, now more quick, and now more slow, are wont

To stream together — the fires which make the sun

To rise in some one spot — therefore it is

That those men seem to speak the truth [who hold

A new sun is with each new daybreak born].

The moon she possibly doth shine because

Strook by the rays of sun, and day by day

May turn unto our gaze her light, the more

She doth recede from orb of sun, until,

Facing him opposite across the world,

She hath with full effulgence gleamed abroad,

And, at her rising as she soars above,

Hath there observed his setting; thence likewise

She needs must hide, as ’twere, her light behind

By slow degrees, the nearer now she glides,

Along the circle of the Zodiac,

From her far place toward fires of yonder sun —

As those men hold who feign the moon to be

Just like a ball and to pursue a course

Betwixt the sun and earth. There is, again,

Some reason to suppose that moon may roll

With light her very own, and thus display

The varied shapes of her resplendence there.

For near her is, percase, another body,

Invisible, because devoid of light,

Borne on and gliding all along with her,

Which in three modes may block and blot her disk.

Again, she may revolve upon herself,

Like to a ball’s sphere — if perchance that be —

One half of her dyed o’er with glowing light,

And by the revolution of that sphere

She may beget for us her varying shapes,

Until she turns that fiery part of her

Full to the sight and open eyes of men;

Thence by slow stages round and back she whirls,

Withdrawing thus the luminiferous part

Of her sphered mass and ball, as, verily,

The Babylonian doctrine of Chaldees,

Refuting the art of Greek astrologers,

Labours, in opposition, to prove sure —

As if, forsooth, the thing for which each fights,

Might not alike be true — or aught there were

Wherefore thou mightest risk embracing one

More than the other notion. Then, again,

Why a new moon might not forevermore

Created be with fixed successions there

Of shapes and with configurations fixed,

And why each day that bright created moon

Might not miscarry and another be,

In its stead and place, engendered anew,

’Tis hard to show by reason, or by words

To prove absurd — since, lo, so many things

Can be create with fixed successions:

Spring-time and Venus come, and Venus’ boy,

The winged harbinger, steps on before,

And hard on Zephyr’s foot-prints Mother Flora,

Sprinkling the ways before them, filleth all

With colours and with odours excellent;

Whereafter follows arid Heat, and he

Companioned is by Ceres, dusty one,

And by the Etesian Breezes of the north;

Then cometh Autumn on, and with him steps

Lord Bacchus, and then other Seasons too

And other Winds do follow — the high roar

Of great Volturnus, and the Southwind strong

With thunder-bolts. At last earth’s Shortest-Day

Bears on to men the snows and brings again

The numbing cold. And Winter follows her,

His teeth with chills a-chatter. Therefore, ’tis

The less a marvel, if at fixed time

A moon is thus begotten and again

At fixed time destroyed, since things so many

Can come to being thus at fixed time.

Likewise, the sun’s eclipses and the moon’s

Far occultations rightly thou mayst deem

As due to several causes. For, indeed,

Why should the moon be able to shut out

Earth from the light of sun, and on the side

To earthward thrust her high head under sun,

Opposing dark orb to his glowing beams —

And yet, at same time, one suppose the effect

Could not result from some one other body

Which glides devoid of light forevermore?

Again, why could not sun, in weakened state,

At fixed time for-lose his fires, and then,

When he has passed on along the air

Beyond the regions, hostile to his flames,

That quench and kill his fires, why could not he

Renew his light? And why should earth in turn

Have power to rob the moon of light, and there,

Herself on high, keep the sun hid beneath,

Whilst the moon glideth in her monthly course

Athrough the rigid shadows of the cone? —

And yet, at same time, some one other body

Not have the power to under-pass the moon,

Or glide along above the orb of sun,

Breaking his rays and outspread light asunder?

And still, if moon herself refulgent be

With her own sheen, why could she not at times

In some one quarter of the mighty world

Grow weak and weary, whilst she passeth through

Regions unfriendly to the beams her own?

Origins of Vegetable and Animal Life

And now to what remains! — Since I’ve resolved

By what arrangements all things come to pass

Through the blue regions of the mighty world —

How we can know what energy and cause

Started the various courses of the sun

And the moon’s goings, and by what far means

They can succumb, the while with thwarted light,

And veil with shade the unsuspecting lands,

When, as it were, they blink, and then again

With open eye survey all regions wide,

Resplendent with white radiance — I do now

Return unto the world’s primeval age

And tell what first the soft young fields of earth

With earliest parturition had decreed

To raise in air unto the shores of light

And to entrust unto the wayward winds.

In the beginning, earth gave forth, around

The hills and over all the length of plains,

The race of grasses and the shining green;

The flowery meadows sparkled all aglow

With greening colour, and thereafter, lo,

Unto the divers kinds of trees was given

An emulous impulse mightily to shoot,

With a free rein, aloft into the air.

As feathers and hairs and bristles are begot

The first on members of the four-foot breeds

And on the bodies of the strong-y-winged,

Thus then the new Earth first of all put forth

Grasses and shrubs, and afterward begat

The mortal generations, there upsprung —

Innumerable in modes innumerable —

After diverging fashions. For from sky

These breathing-creatures never can have dropped,

Nor the land-dwellers ever have come up

Out of sea-pools of salt. How true remains,

How merited is that adopted name

Of earth — “The Mother!”— since from out the earth

Are all begotten. And even now arise

From out the loams how many living things —

Concreted by the rains and heat of the sun.

Wherefore ’tis less a marvel, if they sprang

In Long Ago more many, and more big,

Matured of those days in the fresh young years

Of earth and ether. First of all, the race

Of the winged ones and parti-coloured birds,

Hatched out in spring-time, left their eggs behind;

As now-a-days in summer tree-crickets

Do leave their shiny husks of own accord,

Seeking their food and living. Then it was

This earth of thine first gave unto the day

The mortal generations; for prevailed

Among the fields abounding hot and wet.

And hence, where any fitting spot was given,

There ‘gan to grow womb-cavities, by roots

Affixed to earth. And when in ripened time

The age of the young within (that sought the air

And fled earth’s damps) had burst these wombs, O then

Would Nature thither turn the pores of earth

And make her spurt from open veins a juice

Like unto milk; even as a woman now

Is filled, at child-bearing, with the sweet milk,

Because all that swift stream of aliment

Is thither turned unto the mother-breasts.

There earth would furnish to the children food;

Warmth was their swaddling cloth, the grass their bed

Abounding in soft down. Earth’s newness then

Would rouse no dour spells of the bitter cold,

Nor extreme heats nor winds of mighty powers —

For all things grow and gather strength through time

In like proportions; and then earth was young.

Wherefore, again, again, how merited

Is that adopted name of Earth — The Mother! —

Since she herself begat the human race,

And at one well-nigh fixed time brought forth

Each breast that ranges raving round about

Upon the mighty mountains and all birds

Aerial with many a varied shape.

But, lo, because her bearing years must end,

She ceased, like to a woman worn by eld.

For lapsing aeons change the nature of

The whole wide world, and all things needs must take

One status after other, nor aught persists

Forever like itself. All things depart;

Nature she changeth all, compelleth all

To transformation. Lo, this moulders down,

A-slack with weary eld, and that, again,

Prospers in glory, issuing from contempt.

In suchwise, then, the lapsing aeons change

The nature of the whole wide world, and earth

Taketh one status after other. And what

She bore of old, she now can bear no longer,

And what she never bore, she can to-day.

In those days also the telluric world

Strove to beget the monsters that upsprung

With their astounding visages and limbs —

The Man-woman — a thing betwixt the twain,

Yet neither, and from either sex remote —

Some gruesome Boggles orphaned of the feet,

Some widowed of the hands, dumb Horrors too

Without a mouth, or blind Ones of no eye,

Or Bulks all shackled by their legs and arms

Cleaving unto the body fore and aft,

Thuswise, that never could they do or go,

Nor shun disaster, nor take the good they would.

And other prodigies and monsters earth

Was then begetting of this sort — in vain,

Since Nature banned with horror their increase,

And powerless were they to reach unto

The coveted flower of fair maturity,

Or to find aliment, or to intertwine

In works of Venus. For we see there must

Concur in life conditions manifold,

If life is ever by begetting life

To forge the generations one by one:

First, foods must be; and, next, a path whereby

The seeds of impregnation in the frame

May ooze, released from the members all;

Last, the possession of those instruments

Whereby the male with female can unite,

The one with other in mutual ravishments.

And in the ages after monsters died,

Perforce there perished many a stock, unable

By propagation to forge a progeny.

For whatsoever creatures thou beholdest

Breathing the breath of life, the same have been

Even from their earliest age preserved alive

By cunning, or by valour, or at least

By speed of foot or wing. And many a stock

Remaineth yet, because of use to man,

And so committed to man’s guardianship.

Valour hath saved alive fierce lion-breeds

And many another terrorizing race,

Cunning the foxes, flight the antlered stags.

Light-sleeping dogs with faithful heart in breast,

However, and every kind begot from seed

Of beasts of draft, as, too, the woolly flocks

And horned cattle, all, my Memmius,

Have been committed to guardianship of men.

For anxiously they fled the savage beasts,

And peace they sought and their abundant foods,

Obtained with never labours of their own,

Which we secure to them as fit rewards

For their good service. But those beasts to whom

Nature has granted naught of these same things —

Beasts quite unfit by own free will to thrive

And vain for any service unto us

In thanks for which we should permit their kind

To feed and be in our protection safe —

Those, of a truth, were wont to be exposed,

Enshackled in the gruesome bonds of doom,

As prey and booty for the rest, until

Nature reduced that stock to utter death.

But Centaurs ne’er have been, nor can there be

Creatures of twofold stock and double frame,

Compact of members alien in kind,

Yet formed with equal function, equal force

In every bodily part — a fact thou mayst,

However dull thy wits, well learn from this:

The horse, when his three years have rolled away,

Flowers in his prime of vigour; but the boy

Not so, for oft even then he gropes in sleep

After the milky nipples of the breasts,

An infant still. And later, when at last

The lusty powers of horses and stout limbs,

Now weak through lapsing life, do fail with age,

Lo, only then doth youth with flowering years

Begin for boys, and clothe their ruddy cheeks

With the soft down. So never deem, percase,

That from a man and from the seed of horse,

The beast of draft, can Centaurs be composed

Or e’er exist alive, nor Scyllas be —

The half-fish bodies girdled with mad dogs —

Nor others of this sort, in whom we mark

Members discordant each with each; for ne’er

At one same time they reach their flower of age

Or gain and lose full vigour of their frame,

And never burn with one same lust of love,

And never in their habits they agree,

Nor find the same foods equally delightsome —

Sooth, as one oft may see the bearded goats

Batten upon the hemlock which to man

Is violent poison. Once again, since flame

Is wont to scorch and burn the tawny bulks

Of the great lions as much as other kinds

Of flesh and blood existing in the lands,

How could it be that she, Chimaera lone,

With triple body — fore, a lion she;

And aft, a dragon; and betwixt, a goat —

Might at the mouth from out the body belch

Infuriate flame? Wherefore, the man who feigns

Such beings could have been engendered

When earth was new and the young sky was fresh

(Basing his empty argument on new)

May babble with like reason many whims

Into our ears: he’ll say, perhaps, that then

Rivers of gold through every landscape flowed,

That trees were wont with precious stones to flower,

Or that in those far aeons man was born

With such gigantic length and lift of limbs

As to be able, based upon his feet,

Deep oceans to bestride or with his hands

To whirl the firmament around his head.

For though in earth were many seeds of things

In the old time when this telluric world

First poured the breeds of animals abroad,

Still that is nothing of a sign that then

Such hybrid creatures could have been begot

And limbs of all beasts heterogeneous

Have been together knit; because, indeed,

The divers kinds of grasses and the grains

And the delightsome trees — which even now

Spring up abounding from within the earth —

Can still ne’er be begotten with their stems

Begrafted into one; but each sole thing

Proceeds according to its proper wont

And all conserve their own distinctions based

In nature’s fixed decree.

Origins and Savage Period of Mankind

    But mortal man

Was then far hardier in the old champaign,

As well he should be, since a hardier earth

Had him begotten; builded too was he

Of bigger and more solid bones within,

And knit with stalwart sinews through the flesh,

Nor easily seized by either heat or cold,

Or alien food or any ail or irk.

And whilst so many lustrums of the sun

Rolled on across the sky, men led a life

After the roving habit of wild beasts.

Not then were sturdy guiders of curved ploughs,

And none knew then to work the fields with iron,

Or plant young shoots in holes of delved loam,

Or lop with hooked knives from off high trees

The boughs of yester-year. What sun and rains

To them had given, what earth of own accord

Created then, was boon enough to glad

Their simple hearts. Mid acorn-laden oaks

Would they refresh their bodies for the nonce;

And the wild berries of the arbute-tree,

Which now thou seest to ripen purple-red

In winter time, the old telluric soil

Would bear then more abundant and more big.

And many coarse foods, too, in long ago

The blooming freshness of the rank young world

Produced, enough for those poor wretches there.

And rivers and springs would summon them of old

To slake the thirst, as now from the great hills

The water’s down-rush calls aloud and far

The thirsty generations of the wild.

So, too, they sought the grottos of the Nymphs —

The woodland haunts discovered as they ranged —

From forth of which they knew that gliding rills

With gush and splash abounding laved the rocks,

The dripping rocks, and trickled from above

Over the verdant moss; and here and there

Welled up and burst across the open flats.

As yet they knew not to enkindle fire

Against the cold, nor hairy pelts to use

And clothe their bodies with the spoils of beasts;

But huddled in groves, and mountain-caves, and woods,

And ‘mongst the thickets hid their squalid backs,

When driven to flee the lashings of the winds

And the big rains. Nor could they then regard

The general good, nor did they know to use

In common any customs, any laws:

Whatever of booty fortune unto each

Had proffered, each alone would bear away,

By instinct trained for self to thrive and live.

And Venus in the forests then would link

The lovers’ bodies; for the woman yielded

Either from mutual flame, or from the man’s

Impetuous fury and insatiate lust,

Or from a bribe — as acorn-nuts, choice pears,

Or the wild berries of the arbute-tree.

And trusting wondrous strength of hands and legs,

They’d chase the forest-wanderers, the beasts;

And many they’d conquer, but some few they fled,

A-skulk into their hiding-places . . .

. . . . . .

With the flung stones and with the ponderous heft

Of gnarled branch. And by the time of night

O’ertaken, they would throw, like bristly boars,

Their wildman’s limbs naked upon the earth,

Rolling themselves in leaves and fronded boughs.

Nor would they call with lamentations loud

Around the fields for daylight and the sun,

Quaking and wand’ring in shadows of the night;

But, silent and buried in a sleep, they’d wait

Until the sun with rosy flambeau brought

The glory to the sky. From childhood wont

Ever to see the dark and day begot

In times alternate, never might they be

Wildered by wild misgiving, lest a night

Eternal should possess the lands, with light

Of sun withdrawn forever. But their care

Was rather that the clans of savage beasts

Would often make their sleep-time horrible

For those poor wretches; and, from home y-driven,

They’d flee their rocky shelters at approach

Of boar, the spumy-lipped, or lion strong,

And in the midnight yield with terror up

To those fierce guests their beds of out-spread leaves.

And yet in those days not much more than now

Would generations of mortality

Leave the sweet light of fading life behind.

Indeed, in those days here and there a man,

More oftener snatched upon, and gulped by fangs,

Afforded the beasts a food that roared alive,

Echoing through groves and hills and forest-trees,

Even as he viewed his living flesh entombed

Within a living grave; whilst those whom flight

Had saved, with bone and body bitten, shrieked,

Pressing their quivering palms to loathsome sores,

With horrible voices for eternal death —

Until, forlorn of help, and witless what

Might medicine their wounds, the writhing pangs

Took them from life. But not in those far times

Would one lone day give over unto doom

A soldiery in thousands marching on

Beneath the battle-banners, nor would then

The ramping breakers of the main seas dash

Whole argosies and crews upon the rocks.

But ocean uprisen would often rave in vain,

Without all end or outcome, and give up

Its empty menacings as lightly too;

Nor soft seductions of a serene sea

Could lure by laughing billows any man

Out to disaster: for the science bold

Of ship-sailing lay dark in those far times.

Again, ’twas then that lack of food gave o’er

Men’s fainting limbs to dissolution: now

’Tis plenty overwhelms. Unwary, they

Oft for themselves themselves would then outpour

The poison; now, with nicer art, themselves

They give the drafts to others.

Beginnings of Civilization

    Afterwards,

When huts they had procured and pelts and fire,

And when the woman, joined unto the man,

Withdrew with him into one dwelling place,

. . . . . .

Were known; and when they saw an offspring born

From out themselves, then first the human race

Began to soften. For ’twas now that fire

Rendered their shivering frames less staunch to bear,

Under the canopy of the sky, the cold;

And Love reduced their shaggy hardiness;

And children, with the prattle and the kiss,

Soon broke the parents’ haughty temper down.

Then, too, did neighbours ‘gin to league as friends,

Eager to wrong no more or suffer wrong,

And urged for children and the womankind

Mercy, of fathers, whilst with cries and gestures

They stammered hints how meet it was that all

Should have compassion on the weak. And still,

Though concord not in every wise could then

Begotten be, a good, a goodly part

Kept faith inviolate — or else mankind

Long since had been unutterably cut off,

And propagation never could have brought

The species down the ages.

    Lest, perchance,

Concerning these affairs thou ponderest

In silent meditation, let me say

’Twas lightning brought primevally to earth

The fire for mortals, and from thence hath spread

O’er all the lands the flames of heat. For thus

Even now we see so many objects, touched

By the celestial flames, to flash aglow,

When thunderbolt has dowered them with heat.

Yet also when a many-branched tree,

Beaten by winds, writhes swaying to and fro,

Pressing ‘gainst branches of a neighbour tree,

There by the power of mighty rub and rub

Is fire engendered; and at times out-flares

The scorching heat of flame, when boughs do chafe

Against the trunks. And of these causes, either

May well have given to mortal men the fire.

Next, food to cook and soften in the flame

The sun instructed, since so oft they saw

How objects mellowed, when subdued by warmth

And by the raining blows of fiery beams,

Through all the fields.

    And more and more each day

Would men more strong in sense, more wise in heart,

Teach them to change their earlier mode and life

By fire and new devices. Kings began

Cities to found and citadels to set,

As strongholds and asylums for themselves,

And flocks and fields to portion for each man

After the beauty, strength, and sense of each —

For beauty then imported much, and strength

Had its own rights supreme. Thereafter, wealth

Discovered was, and gold was brought to light,

Which soon of honour stripped both strong and fair;

For men, however beautiful in form

Or valorous, will follow in the main

The rich man’s party. Yet were man to steer

His life by sounder reasoning, he’d own

Abounding riches, if with mind content

He lived by thrift; for never, as I guess,

Is there a lack of little in the world.

But men wished glory for themselves and power

Even that their fortunes on foundations firm

Might rest forever, and that they themselves,

The opulent, might pass a quiet life —

In vain, in vain; since, in the strife to climb

On to the heights of honour, men do make

Their pathway terrible; and even when once

They reach them, envy like the thunderbolt

At times will smite, O hurling headlong down

To murkiest Tartarus, in scorn; for, lo,

All summits, all regions loftier than the rest,

Smoke, blasted as by envy’s thunderbolts;

So better far in quiet to obey,

Than to desire chief mastery of affairs

And ownership of empires. Be it so;

And let the weary sweat their life-blood out

All to no end, battling in hate along

The narrow path of man’s ambition;

Since all their wisdom is from others’ lips,

And all they seek is known from what they’ve heard

And less from what they’ve thought. Nor is this folly

Greater to-day, nor greater soon to be,

Than’ twas of old.

    And therefore kings were slain,

And pristine majesty of golden thrones

And haughty sceptres lay o’erturned in dust;

And crowns, so splendid on the sovereign heads,

Soon bloody under the proletarian feet,

Groaned for their glories gone — for erst o’er-much

Dreaded, thereafter with more greedy zest

Trampled beneath the rabble heel. Thus things

Down to the vilest lees of brawling mobs

Succumbed, whilst each man sought unto himself

Dominion and supremacy. So next

Some wiser heads instructed men to found

The magisterial office, and did frame

Codes that they might consent to follow laws.

For humankind, o’er wearied with a life

Fostered by force, was ailing from its feuds;

And so the sooner of its own free will

Yielded to laws and strictest codes. For since

Each hand made ready in its wrath to take

A vengeance fiercer than by man’s fair laws

Is now conceded, men on this account

Loathed the old life fostered by force. ’Tis thence

That fear of punishments defiles each prize

Of wicked days; for force and fraud ensnare

Each man around, and in the main recoil

On him from whence they sprung. Not easy ’tis

For one who violates by ugly deeds

The bonds of common peace to pass a life

Composed and tranquil. For albeit he ‘scape

The race of gods and men, he yet must dread

’Twill not be hid forever — since, indeed,

So many, oft babbling on amid their dreams

Or raving in sickness, have betrayed themselves

(As stories tell) and published at last

Old secrets and the sins.

    But nature ’twas

Urged men to utter various sounds of tongue

And need and use did mould the names of things,

About in same wise as the lack-speech years

Compel young children unto gesturings,

Making them point with finger here and there

At what’s before them. For each creature feels

By instinct to what use to put his powers.

Ere yet the bull-calf’s scarce begotten horns

Project above his brows, with them he ‘gins

Enraged to butt and savagely to thrust.

But whelps of panthers and the lion’s cubs

With claws and paws and bites are at the fray

Already, when their teeth and claws be scarce

As yet engendered. So again, we see

All breeds of winged creatures trust to wings

And from their fledgling pinions seek to get

A fluttering assistance. Thus, to think

That in those days some man apportioned round

To things their names, and that from him men learned

Their first nomenclature, is foolery.

For why could he mark everything by words

And utter the various sounds of tongue, what time

The rest may be supposed powerless

To do the same? And, if the rest had not

Already one with other used words,

Whence was implanted in the teacher, then,

Fore-knowledge of their use, and whence was given

To him alone primordial faculty

To know and see in mind what ’twas he willed?

Besides, one only man could scarce subdue

An overmastered multitude to choose

To get by heart his names of things. A task

Not easy ’tis in any wise to teach

And to persuade the deaf concerning what

’Tis needful for to do. For ne’er would they

Allow, nor ne’er in anywise endure

Perpetual vain dingdong in their ears

Of spoken sounds unheard before. And what,

At last, in this affair so wondrous is,

That human race (in whom a voice and tongue

Were now in vigour) should by divers words

Denote its objects, as each divers sense

Might prompt? — since even the speechless herds, aye, since

The very generations of wild beasts

Are wont dissimilar and divers sounds

To rouse from in them, when there’s fear or pain,

And when they burst with joys. And this, forsooth,

’Tis thine to know from plainest facts: when first

Huge flabby jowls of mad Molossian hounds,

Baring their hard white teeth, begin to snarl,

They threaten, with infuriate lips peeled back,

In sounds far other than with which they bark

And fill with voices all the regions round.

And when with fondling tongue they start to lick

Their puppies, or do toss them round with paws,

Feigning with gentle bites to gape and snap,

They fawn with yelps of voice far other then

Than when, alone within the house, they bay,

Or whimpering slink with cringing sides from blows.

Again the neighing of the horse, is that

Not seen to differ likewise, when the stud

In buoyant flower of his young years raves,

Goaded by winged Love, amongst the mares,

And when with widening nostrils out he snorts

The call to battle, and when haply he

Whinnies at times with terror-quaking limbs?

Lastly, the flying race, the dappled birds,

Hawks, ospreys, sea-gulls, searching food and life

Amid the ocean billows in the brine,

Utter at other times far other cries

Than when they fight for food, or with their prey

Struggle and strain. And birds there are which change

With changing weather their own raucous songs —

As long-lived generations of the crows

Or flocks of rooks, when they be said to cry

For rain and water and to call at times

For winds and gales. Ergo, if divers moods

Compel the brutes, though speechless evermore,

To send forth divers sounds, O truly then

How much more likely ’twere that mortal men

In those days could with many a different sound

Denote each separate thing.

    And now what cause

Hath spread divinities of gods abroad

Through mighty nations, and filled the cities full

Of the high altars, and led to practices

Of solemn rites in season — rites which still

Flourish in midst of great affairs of state

And midst great centres of man’s civic life,

The rites whence still a poor mortality

Is grafted that quaking awe which rears aloft

Still the new temples of gods from land to land

And drives mankind to visit them in throngs

On holy days — ’tis not so hard to give

Reason thereof in speech. Because, in sooth,

Even in those days would the race of man

Be seeing excelling visages of gods

With mind awake; and in his sleeps, yet more —

Bodies of wondrous growth. And, thus, to these

Would men attribute sense, because they seemed

To move their limbs and speak pronouncements high,

Befitting glorious visage and vast powers.

And men would give them an eternal life,

Because their visages forevermore

Were there before them, and their shapes remained,

And chiefly, however, because men would not think

Beings augmented with such mighty powers

Could well by any force o’ermastered be.

And men would think them in their happiness

Excelling far, because the fear of death

Vexed no one of them at all, and since

At same time in men’s sleeps men saw them do

So many wonders, and yet feel therefrom

Themselves no weariness. Besides, men marked

How in a fixed order rolled around

The systems of the sky, and changed times

Of annual seasons, nor were able then

To know thereof the causes. Therefore ’twas

Men would take refuge in consigning all

Unto divinities, and in feigning all

Was guided by their nod. And in the sky

They set the seats and vaults of gods, because

Across the sky night and the moon are seen

To roll along — moon, day, and night, and night’s

Old awesome constellations evermore,

And the night-wandering fireballs of the sky,

And flying flames, clouds, and the sun, the rains,

Snow and the winds, the lightnings, and the hail,

And the swift rumblings, and the hollow roar

Of mighty menacings forevermore.

O humankind unhappy! — when it ascribed

Unto divinities such awesome deeds,

And coupled thereto rigours of fierce wrath!

What groans did men on that sad day beget

Even for themselves, and O what wounds for us,

What tears for our children’s children! Nor, O man,

Is thy true piety in this: with head

Under the veil, still to be seen to turn

Fronting a stone, and ever to approach

Unto all altars; nor so prone on earth

Forward to fall, to spread upturned palms

Before the shrines of gods, nor yet to dew

Altars with profuse blood of four-foot beasts,

Nor vows with vows to link. But rather this:

To look on all things with a master eye

And mind at peace. For when we gaze aloft

Upon the skiey vaults of yon great world

And ether, fixed high o’er twinkling stars,

And into our thought there come the journeyings

Of sun and moon, O then into our breasts,

O’erburdened already with their other ills,

Begins forthwith to rear its sudden head

One more misgiving: lest o’er us, percase,

It be the gods’ immeasurable power

That rolls, with varied motion, round and round

The far white constellations. For the lack

Of aught of reasons tries the puzzled mind:

Whether was ever a birth-time of the world,

And whether, likewise, any end shall be

How far the ramparts of the world can still

Outstand this strain of ever-roused motion,

Or whether, divinely with eternal weal

Endowed, they can through endless tracts of age

Glide on, defying the o’er-mighty powers

Of the immeasurable ages. Lo,

What man is there whose mind with dread of gods

Cringes not close, whose limbs with terror-spell

Crouch not together, when the parched earth

Quakes with the horrible thunderbolt amain,

And across the mighty sky the rumblings run?

Do not the peoples and the nations shake,

And haughty kings do they not hug their limbs,

Strook through with fear of the divinities,

Lest for aught foully done or madly said

The heavy time be now at hand to pay?

When, too, fierce force of fury-winds at sea

Sweepeth a navy’s admiral down the main

With his stout legions and his elephants,

Doth he not seek the peace of gods with vows,

And beg in prayer, a-tremble, lulled winds

And friendly gales? — in vain, since, often up-caught

In fury-cyclones, is he borne along,

For all his mouthings, to the shoals of doom.

Ah, so irrevocably some hidden power

Betramples forevermore affairs of men,

And visibly grindeth with its heel in mire

The lictors’ glorious rods and axes dire,

Having them in derision! Again, when earth

From end to end is rocking under foot,

And shaken cities ruin down, or threaten

Upon the verge, what wonder is it then

That mortal generations abase themselves,

And unto gods in all affairs of earth

Assign as last resort almighty powers

And wondrous energies to govern all?

Now for the rest: copper and gold and iron

Discovered were, and with them silver’s weight

And power of lead, when with prodigious heat

The conflagrations burned the forest trees

Among the mighty mountains, by a bolt

Of lightning from the sky, or else because

Men, warring in the woodlands, on their foes

Had hurled fire to frighten and dismay,

Or yet because, by goodness of the soil

Invited, men desired to clear rich fields

And turn the countryside to pasture-lands,

Or slay the wild and thrive upon the spoils.

(For hunting by pit-fall and by fire arose

Before the art of hedging the covert round

With net or stirring it with dogs of chase.)

Howso the fact, and from what cause soever

The flamy heat with awful crack and roar

Had there devoured to their deepest roots

The forest trees and baked the earth with fire,

Then from the boiling veins began to ooze

O rivulets of silver and of gold,

Of lead and copper too, collecting soon

Into the hollow places of the ground.

And when men saw the cooled lumps anon

To shine with splendour-sheen upon the ground,

Much taken with that lustrous smooth delight,

They ‘gan to pry them out, and saw how each

Had got a shape like to its earthy mould.

Then would it enter their heads how these same lumps,

If melted by heat, could into any form

Or figure of things be run, and how, again,

If hammered out, they could be nicely drawn

To sharpest points or finest edge, and thus

Yield to the forgers tools and give them power

To chop the forest down, to hew the logs,

To shave the beams and planks, besides to bore

And punch and drill. And men began such work

At first as much with tools of silver and gold

As with the impetuous strength of the stout copper;

But vainly — since their over-mastered power

Would soon give way, unable to endure,

Like copper, such hard labour. In those days

Copper it was that was the thing of price;

And gold lay useless, blunted with dull edge.

Now lies the copper low, and gold hath come

Unto the loftiest honours. Thus it is

That rolling ages change the times of things:

What erst was of a price, becomes at last

A discard of no honour; whilst another

Succeeds to glory, issuing from contempt,

And day by day is sought for more and more,

And, when ’tis found, doth flower in men’s praise,

Objects of wondrous honour.

    Now, Memmius,

How nature of iron discovered was, thou mayst

Of thine own self divine. Man’s ancient arms

Were hands, and nails and teeth, stones too and boughs —

Breakage of forest trees — and flame and fire,

As soon as known. Thereafter force of iron

And copper discovered was; and copper’s use

Was known ere iron’s, since more tractable

Its nature is and its abundance more.

With copper men to work the soil began,

With copper to rouse the hurly waves of war,

To straw the monstrous wounds, and seize away

Another’s flocks and fields. For unto them,

Thus armed, all things naked of defence

Readily yielded. Then by slow degrees

The sword of iron succeeded, and the shape

Of brazen sickle into scorn was turned:

With iron to cleave the soil of earth they ‘gan,

And the contentions of uncertain war

Were rendered equal.

    And, lo, man was wont

Armed to mount upon the ribs of horse

And guide him with the rein, and play about

With right hand free, oft times before he tried

Perils of war in yoked chariot;

And yoked pairs abreast came earlier

Than yokes of four, or scythed chariots

Whereinto clomb the men-at-arms. And next

The Punic folk did train the elephants —

Those curst Lucanian oxen, hideous,

The serpent-handed, with turrets on their bulks —

To dure the wounds of war and panic-strike

The mighty troops of Mars. Thus Discord sad

Begat the one Thing after other, to be

The terror of the nations under arms,

And day by day to horrors of old war

She added an increase.

    Bulls, too, they tried

In war’s grim business; and essayed to send

Outrageous boars against the foes. And some

Sent on before their ranks puissant lions

With armed trainers and with masters fierce

To guide and hold in chains — and yet in vain,

Since fleshed with pell-mell slaughter, fierce they flew,

And blindly through the squadrons havoc wrought,

Shaking the frightful crests upon their heads,

Now here, now there. Nor could the horsemen calm

Their horses, panic-breasted at the roar,

And rein them round to front the foe. With spring

The infuriate she-lions would up-leap

Now here, now there; and whoso came apace

Against them, these they’d rend across the face;

And others unwitting from behind they’d tear

Down from their mounts, and twining round them, bring

Tumbling to earth, o’ermastered by the wound,

And with those powerful fangs and hooked claws

Fasten upon them. Bulls would toss their friends,

And trample under foot, and from beneath

Rip flanks and bellies of horses with their horns,

And with a threat’ning forehead jam the sod;

And boars would gore with stout tusks their allies,

Splashing in fury their own blood on spears

Splintered in their own bodies, and would fell

In rout and ruin infantry and horse.

For there the beasts-of-saddle tried to scape

The savage thrusts of tusk by shying off,

Or rearing up with hoofs a-paw in air.

In vain — since there thou mightest see them sink,

Their sinews severed, and with heavy fall

Bestrew the ground. And such of these as men

Supposed well-trained long ago at home,

Were in the thick of action seen to foam

In fury, from the wounds, the shrieks, the flight,

The panic, and the tumult; nor could men

Aught of their numbers rally. For each breed

And various of the wild beasts fled apart

Hither or thither, as often in wars to-day

Flee those Lucanian oxen, by the steel

Grievously mangled, after they have wrought

Upon their friends so many a dreadful doom.

(If ’twas, indeed, that thus they did at all:

But scarcely I’ll believe that men could not

With mind foreknow and see, as sure to come,

Such foul and general disaster. — This

We, then, may hold as true in the great All,

In divers worlds on divers plan create —

Somewhere afar more likely than upon

One certain earth.) But men chose this to do

Less in the hope of conquering than to give

Their enemies a goodly cause of woe,

Even though thereby they perished themselves,

Since weak in numbers and since wanting arms.

Now, clothes of roughly inter-plaited strands

Were earlier than loom-wove coverings;

The loom-wove later than man’s iron is,

Since iron is needful in the weaving art,

Nor by no other means can there be wrought

Such polished tools — the treadles, spindles, shuttles,

And sounding yarn-beams. And nature forced the men,

Before the woman kind, to work the wool:

For all the male kind far excels in skill,

And cleverer is by much — until at last

The rugged farmer folk jeered at such tasks,

And so were eager soon to give them o’er

To women’s hands, and in more hardy toil

To harden arms and hands.

    But nature herself,

Mother of things, was the first seed-sower

And primal grafter; since the berries and acorns,

Dropping from off the trees, would there beneath

Put forth in season swarms of little shoots;

Hence too men’s fondness for ingrafting slips

Upon the boughs and setting out in holes

The young shrubs o’er the fields. Then would they try

Ever new modes of tilling their loved crofts,

And mark they would how earth improved the taste

Of the wild fruits by fond and fostering care.

And day by day they’d force the woods to move

Still higher up the mountain, and to yield

The place below for tilth, that there they might,

On plains and uplands, have their meadow-plats,

Cisterns and runnels, crops of standing grain,

And happy vineyards, and that all along

O’er hillocks, intervales, and plains might run

The silvery-green belt of olive-trees,

Marking the plotted landscape; even as now

Thou seest so marked with varied loveliness

All the terrain which men adorn and plant

With rows of goodly fruit-trees and hedge round

With thriving shrubberies sown.

    But by the mouth

To imitate the liquid notes of birds

Was earlier far ‘mongst men than power to make,

By measured song, melodious verse and give

Delight to ears. And whistlings of the wind

Athrough the hollows of the reeds first taught

The peasantry to blow into the stalks

Of hollow hemlock-herb. Then bit by bit

They learned sweet plainings, such as pipe out-pours,

Beaten by finger-tips of singing men,

When heard through unpathed groves and forest deeps

And woodsy meadows, through the untrod haunts

Of shepherd folk and spots divinely still.

Thus time draws forward each and everything

Little by little unto the midst of men,

And reason uplifts it to the shores of light.

These tunes would soothe and glad the minds of mortals

When sated with food — for songs are welcome then.

And often, lounging with friends in the soft grass

Beside a river of water, underneath

A big tree’s branches, merrily they’d refresh

Their frames, with no vast outlay — most of all

If the weather were smiling and the times of the year

Were painting the green of the grass around with flowers.

Then jokes, then talk, then peals of jollity

Would circle round; for then the rustic muse

Was in her glory; then would antic Mirth

Prompt them to garland head and shoulders about

With chaplets of intertwined flowers and leaves,

And to dance onward, out of tune, with limbs

Clownishly swaying, and with clownish foot

To beat our mother earth — from whence arose

Laughter and peals of jollity, for, lo,

Such frolic acts were in their glory then,

Being more new and strange. And wakeful men

Found solaces for their unsleeping hours

In drawing forth variety of notes,

In modulating melodies, in running

With puckered lips along the tuned reeds,

Whence, even in our day do the watchmen guard

These old traditions, and have learned well

To keep true measure. And yet they no whit

Do get a larger fruit of gladsomeness

Than got the woodland aborigines

In olden times. For what we have at hand —

If theretofore naught sweeter we have known —

That chiefly pleases and seems best of all;

But then some later, likely better, find

Destroys its worth and changes our desires

Regarding good of yesterday.

    And thus

Began the loathing of the acorn; thus

Abandoned were those beds with grasses strewn

And with the leaves beladen. Thus, again,

Fell into new contempt the pelts of beasts —

Erstwhile a robe of honour, which, I guess,

Aroused in those days envy so malign

That the first wearer went to woeful death

By ambuscades — and yet that hairy prize,

Rent into rags by greedy foemen there

And splashed by blood, was ruined utterly

Beyond all use or vantage. Thus of old

’Twas pelts, and of to-day ’tis purple and gold

That cark men’s lives with cares and weary with war.

Wherefore, methinks, resides the greater blame

With us vain men to-day: for cold would rack,

Without their pelts, the naked sons of earth;

But us it nothing hurts to do without

The purple vestment, broidered with gold

And with imposing figures, if we still

Make shift with some mean garment of the Plebs.

So man in vain futilities toils on

Forever and wastes in idle cares his years —

Because, of very truth, he hath not learnt

What the true end of getting is, nor yet

At all how far true pleasure may increase.

And ’tis desire for better and for more

Hath carried by degrees mortality

Out onward to the deep, and roused up

From the far bottom mighty waves of war.

But sun and moon, those watchmen of the world,

With their own lanterns traversing around

The mighty, the revolving vault, have taught

Unto mankind that seasons of the years

Return again, and that the Thing takes place

After a fixed plan and order fixed.

Already would they pass their life, hedged round

By the strong towers; and cultivate an earth

All portioned out and boundaried; already

Would the sea flower and sail-winged ships;

Already men had, under treaty pacts,

Confederates and allies, when poets began

To hand heroic actions down in verse;

Nor long ere this had letters been devised —

Hence is our age unable to look back

On what has gone before, except where reason

Shows us a footprint.

    Sailings on the seas,

Tillings of fields, walls, laws, and arms, and roads,

Dress and the like, all prizes, all delights

Of finer life, poems, pictures, chiselled shapes

Of polished sculptures — all these arts were learned

By practice and the mind’s experience,

As men walked forward step by eager step.

Thus time draws forward each and everything

Little by little into the midst of men,

And reason uplifts it to the shores of light.

For one thing after other did men see

Grow clear by intellect, till with their arts

They’ve now achieved the supreme pinnacle.

Book VI

Proem

’Twas Athens first, the glorious in name,

That whilom gave to hapless sons of men

The sheaves of harvest, and re-ordered life,

And decreed laws; and she the first that gave

Life its sweet solaces, when she begat

A man of heart so wise, who whilom poured

All wisdom forth from his truth-speaking mouth;

The glory of whom, though dead, is yet to-day,

Because of those discoveries divine

Renowned of old, exalted to the sky.

For when saw he that well-nigh everything

Which needs of man most urgently require

Was ready to hand for mortals, and that life,

As far as might be, was established safe,

That men were lords in riches, honour, praise,

And eminent in goodly fame of sons,

And that they yet, O yet, within the home,

Still had the anxious heart which vexed life

Unpausingly with torments of the mind,

And raved perforce with angry plaints, then he,

Then he, the master, did perceive that ’twas

The vessel itself which worked the bane, and all,

However wholesome, which from here or there

Was gathered into it, was by that bane

Spoilt from within — in part, because he saw

The vessel so cracked and leaky that nowise

‘T could ever be filled to brim; in part because

He marked how it polluted with foul taste

Whate’er it got within itself. So he,

The master, then by his truth-speaking words,

Purged the breasts of men, and set the bounds

Of lust and terror, and exhibited

The supreme good whither we all endeavour,

And showed the path whereby we might arrive

Thereunto by a little cross-cut straight,

And what of ills in all affairs of mortals

Upsprang and flitted deviously about

(Whether by chance or force), since nature thus

Had destined; and from out what gates a man

Should sally to each combat. And he proved

That mostly vainly doth the human race

Roll in its bosom the grim waves of care.

For just as children tremble and fear all

In the viewless dark, so even we at times

Dread in the light so many things that be

No whit more fearsome than what children feign,

Shuddering, will be upon them in the dark.

This terror then, this darkness of the mind,

Not sunrise with its flaring spokes of light,

Nor glittering arrows of morning can disperse,

But only nature’s aspect and her law.

Wherefore the more will I go on to weave

In verses this my undertaken task.

And since I’ve taught thee that the world’s great vaults

Are mortal and that sky is fashioned

Of frame e’en born in time, and whatsoe’er

Therein go on and must perforce go on

. . . . . .

The most I have unravelled; what remains

Do thou take in, besides; since once for all

To climb into that chariot’ renowned

. . . . . .

Of winds arise; and they appeased are

So that all things again . . .

. . . . . .

Which were, are changed now, with fury stilled;

All other movements through the earth and sky

Which mortals gaze upon (O anxious oft

In quaking thoughts!), and which abase their minds

With dread of deities and press them crushed

Down to the earth, because their ignorance

Of cosmic causes forces them to yield

All things unto the empery of gods

And to concede the kingly rule to them.

For even those men who have learned full well

That godheads lead a long life free of care,

If yet meanwhile they wonder by what plan

Things can go on (and chiefly yon high things

Observed o’erhead on the ethereal coasts),

Again are hurried back unto the fears

Of old religion and adopt again

Harsh masters, deemed almighty — wretched men,

Unwitting what can be and what cannot,

And by what law to each its scope prescribed,

Its boundary stone that clings so deep in Time.

Wherefore the more are they borne wandering on

By blindfold reason. And, Memmius, unless

From out thy mind thou spuest all of this

And casteth far from thee all thoughts which be

Unworthy gods and alien to their peace,

Then often will the holy majesties

Of the high gods be harmful unto thee,

As by thy thought degraded — not, indeed,

That essence supreme of gods could be by this

So outraged as in wrath to thirst to seek

Revenges keen; but even because thyself

Thou plaguest with the notion that the gods,

Even they, the Calm Ones in serene repose,

Do roll the mighty waves of wrath on wrath;

Nor wilt thou enter with a serene breast

Shrines of the gods; nor wilt thou able be

In tranquil peace of mind to take and know

Those images which from their holy bodies

Are carried into intellects of men,

As the announcers of their form divine.

What sort of life will follow after this

’Tis thine to see. But that afar from us

Veriest reason may drive such life away,

Much yet remains to be embellished yet

In polished verses, albeit hath issued forth

So much from me already; lo, there is

The law and aspect of the sky to be

By reason grasped; there are the tempest times

And the bright lightnings to be hymned now —

Even what they do and from what cause soe’er

They’re borne along — that thou mayst tremble not,

Marking off regions of prophetic skies

For auguries, O foolishly distraught

Even as to whence the flying flame hath come,

Or to which half of heaven it turns, or how

Through walled places it hath wound its way,

Or, after proving its dominion there,

How it hath speeded forth from thence amain —

Whereof nowise the causes do men know,

And think divinities are working there.

Do thou, Calliope, ingenious Muse,

Solace of mortals and delight of gods,

Point out the course before me, as I race

On to the white line of the utmost goal,

That I may get with signal praise the crown,

With thee my guide!

Great Meteorological Phenomena, Etc.

    And so in first place, then,

With thunder are shaken the blue deeps of heaven,

Because the ethereal clouds, scudding aloft,

Together clash, what time ‘gainst one another

The winds are battling. For never a sound there comes

From out the serene regions of the sky;

But wheresoever in a host more dense

The clouds foregather, thence more often comes

A crash with mighty rumbling. And, again,

Clouds cannot be of so condensed a frame

As stones and timbers, nor again so fine

As mists and flying smoke; for then perforce

They’d either fall, borne down by their brute weight,

Like stones, or, like the smoke, they’d powerless be

To keep their mass, or to retain within

Frore snows and storms of hail. And they give forth

O’er skiey levels of the spreading world

A sound on high, as linen-awning, stretched

O’er mighty theatres, gives forth at times

A cracking roar, when much ’tis beaten about

Betwixt the poles and cross-beams. Sometimes, too,

Asunder rent by wanton gusts, it raves

And imitates the tearing sound of sheets

Of paper — even this kind of noise thou mayst

In thunder hear — or sound as when winds whirl

With lashings and do buffet about in air

A hanging cloth and flying paper-sheets.

For sometimes, too, it chances that the clouds

Cannot together crash head-on, but rather

Move side-wise and with motions contrary

Graze each the other’s body without speed,

From whence that dry sound grateth on our ears,

So long drawn-out, until the clouds have passed

From out their close positions.

    And, again,

In following wise all things seem oft to quake

At shock of heavy thunder, and mightiest walls

Of the wide reaches of the upper world

There on the instant to have sprung apart,

Riven asunder, what time a gathered blast

Of the fierce hurricane hath all at once

Twisted its way into a mass of clouds,

And, there enclosed, ever more and more

Compelleth by its spinning whirl the cloud

To grow all hollow with a thickened crust

Surrounding; for thereafter, when the force

And the keen onset of the wind have weakened

That crust, lo, then the cloud, to-split in twain,

Gives forth a hideous crash with bang and boom.

No marvel this; since oft a bladder small,

Filled up with air, will, when of sudden burst,

Give forth a like large sound.

    There’s reason, too,

Why clouds make sounds, as through them blow the winds:

We see, borne down the sky, oft shapes of clouds

Rough-edged or branched many forky ways;

And ’tis the same, as when the sudden flaws

Of north-west wind through the dense forest blow,

Making the leaves to sough and limbs to crash.

It happens too at times that roused force

Of the fierce hurricane to-rends the cloud,

Breaking right through it by a front assault;

For what a blast of wind may do up there

Is manifest from facts when here on earth

A blast more gentle yet uptwists tall trees

And sucks them madly from their deepest roots.

Besides, among the clouds are waves, and these

Give, as they roughly break, a rumbling roar;

As when along deep streams or the great sea

Breaks the loud surf. It happens, too, whenever

Out from one cloud into another falls

The fiery energy of thunderbolt,

That straightaway the cloud, if full of wet,

Extinguishes the fire with mighty noise;

As iron, white from the hot furnaces,

Sizzles, when speedily we’ve plunged its glow

Down the cold water. Further, if a cloud

More dry receive the fire, ’twill suddenly

Kindle to flame and burn with monstrous sound,

As if a flame with whirl of winds should range

Along the laurel-tressed mountains far,

Upburning with its vast assault those trees;

Nor is there aught that in the crackling flame

Consumes with sound more terrible to man

Than Delphic laurel of Apollo lord.

Oft, too, the multitudinous crash of ice

And down-pour of swift hail gives forth a sound

Among the mighty clouds on high; for when

The wind hath packed them close, each mountain mass

Of rain-cloud, there congealed utterly

And mixed with hail-stones, breaks and booms . . .

. . . . . .

Likewise, it lightens, when the clouds have struck,

By their collision, forth the seeds of fire:

As if a stone should smite a stone or steel,

For light then too leaps forth and fire then scatters

The shining sparks. But with our ears we get

The thunder after eyes behold the flash,

Because forever things arrive the ears

More tardily than the eyes — as thou mayst see

From this example too: when markest thou

Some man far yonder felling a great tree

With double-edged ax, it comes to pass

Thine eye beholds the swinging stroke before

The blow gives forth a sound athrough thine ears:

Thus also we behold the flashing ere

We hear the thunder, which discharged is

At same time with the fire and by same cause,

Born of the same collision.

    In following wise

The clouds suffuse with leaping light the lands,

And the storm flashes with tremulous elan:

When the wind hath invaded a cloud, and, whirling there,

Hath wrought (as I have shown above) the cloud

Into a hollow with a thickened crust,

It becomes hot of own velocity:

Just as thou seest how motion will o’erheat

And set ablaze all objects — verily

A leaden ball, hurtling through length of space,

Even melts. Therefore, when this same wind a-fire

Hath split black cloud, it scatters the fire-seeds,

Which, so to say, have been pressed out by force

Of sudden from the cloud; — and these do make

The pulsing flashes of flame; thence followeth

The detonation which attacks our ears

More tardily than aught which comes along

Unto the sight of eyeballs. This takes place —

As know thou mayst — at times when clouds are dense

And one upon the other piled aloft

With wonderful upheavings — nor be thou

Deceived because we see how broad their base

From underneath, and not how high they tower.

For make thine observations at a time

When winds shall bear athwart the horizon’s blue

Clouds like to mountain-ranges moving on,

Or when about the sides of mighty peaks

Thou seest them one upon the other massed

And burdening downward, anchored in high repose,

With the winds sepulchred on all sides round:

Then canst thou know their mighty masses, then

Canst view their caverns, as if builded there

Of beetling crags; which, when the hurricanes

In gathered storm have filled utterly,

Then, prisoned in clouds, they rave around

With mighty roarings, and within those dens

Bluster like savage beasts, and now from here,

And now from there, send growlings through the clouds,

And seeking an outlet, whirl themselves about,

And roll from ‘mid the clouds the seeds of fire,

And heap them multitudinously there,

And in the hollow furnaces within

Wheel flame around, until from bursted cloud

In forky flashes they have gleamed forth.

Again, from following cause it comes to pass

That yon swift golden hue of liquid fire

Darts downward to the earth: because the clouds

Themselves must hold abundant seeds of fire;

For, when they be without all moisture, then

They be for most part of a flamy hue

And a resplendent. And, indeed, they must

Even from the light of sun unto themselves

Take multitudinous seeds, and so perforce

Redden and pour their bright fires all abroad.

And therefore, when the wind hath driven and thrust,

Hath forced and squeezed into one spot these clouds,

They pour abroad the seeds of fire pressed out,

Which make to flash these colours of the flame.

Likewise, it lightens also when the clouds

Grow rare and thin along the sky; for, when

The wind with gentle touch unravels them

And breaketh asunder as they move, those seeds

Which make the lightnings must by nature fall;

At such an hour the horizon lightens round

Without the hideous terror of dread noise

And skiey uproar.

    To proceed apace,

What sort of nature thunderbolts possess

Is by their strokes made manifest and by

The brand-marks of their searing heat on things,

And by the scorched scars exhaling round

The heavy fumes of sulphur. For all these

Are marks, O not of wind or rain, but fire.

Again, they often enkindle even the roofs

Of houses and inside the very rooms

With swift flame hold a fierce dominion.

Know thou that nature fashioned this fire

Subtler than fires all other, with minute

And dartling bodies — a fire ‘gainst which there’s naught

Can in the least hold out: the thunderbolt,

The mighty, passes through the hedging walls

Of houses, like to voices or a shout —

Through stones, through bronze it passes, and it melts

Upon the instant bronze and gold; and makes,

Likewise, the wines sudden to vanish forth,

The wine-jars intact — because, ye see,

Its heat arriving renders loose and porous

Readily all the wine — jar’s earthen sides,

And winding its way within, it scattereth

The elements primordial of the wine

With speedy dissolution — process which

Even in an age the fiery steam of sun

Could not accomplish, however puissant he

With his hot coruscations: so much more

Agile and overpowering is this force.

. . . . . .

Now in what manner engendered are these things,

How fashioned of such impetuous strength

As to cleave towers asunder, and houses all

To overtopple, and to wrench apart

Timbers and beams, and heroes’ monuments

To pile in ruins and upheave amain,

And to take breath forever out of men,

And to o’erthrow the cattle everywhere —

Yes, by what force the lightnings do all this,

All this and more, I will unfold to thee,

Nor longer keep thee in mere promises.

The bolts of thunder, then, must be conceived

As all begotten in those crasser clouds

Up-piled aloft; for, from the sky serene

And from the clouds of lighter density,

None are sent forth forever. That ’tis so

Beyond a doubt, fact plain to sense declares:

To wit, at such a time the densed clouds

So mass themselves through all the upper air

That we might think that round about all murk

Had parted forth from Acheron and filled

The mighty vaults of sky — so grievously,

As gathers thus the storm-clouds’ gruesome might,

Do faces of black horror hang on high —

When tempest begins its thunderbolts to forge.

Besides, full often also out at sea

A blackest thunderhead, like cataract

Of pitch hurled down from heaven, and far away

Bulging with murkiness, down on the waves

Falls with vast uproar, and draws on amain

The darkling tempests big with thunderbolts

And hurricanes, itself the while so crammed

Tremendously with fires and winds, that even

Back on the lands the people shudder round

And seek for cover. Therefore, as I said,

The storm must be conceived as o’er our head

Towering most high; for never would the clouds

O’erwhelm the lands with such a massy dark,

Unless up-builded heap on lofty heap,

To shut the round sun off. Nor could the clouds,

As on they come, engulf with rain so vast

As thus to make the rivers overflow

And fields to float, if ether were not thus

Furnished with lofty-piled clouds. Lo, then,

Here be all things fulfilled with winds and fires —

Hence the long lightnings and the thunders loud.

For, verily, I’ve taught thee even now

How cavernous clouds hold seeds innumerable

Of fiery exhalations, and they must

From off the sunbeams and the heat of these

Take many still. And so, when that same wind

(Which, haply, into one region of the sky

Collects those clouds) hath pressed from out the same

The many fiery seeds, and with that fire

Hath at the same time inter-mixed itself,

O then and there that wind, a whirlwind now,

Deep in the belly of the cloud spins round

In narrow confines, and sharpens there inside

In glowing furnaces the thunderbolt.

For in a two-fold manner is that wind

Enkindled all: it trembles into heat

Both by its own velocity and by

Repeated touch of fire. Thereafter, when

The energy of wind is heated through

And the fierce impulse of the fire hath sped

Deeply within, O then the thunderbolt,

Now ripened, so to say, doth suddenly

Splinter the cloud, and the aroused flash

Leaps onward, lumining with forky light

All places round. And followeth anon

A clap so heavy that the skiey vaults,

As if asunder burst, seem from on high

To engulf the earth. Then fearfully a quake

Pervades the lands, and ‘long the lofty skies

Run the far rumblings. For at such a time

Nigh the whole tempest quakes, shook through and through,

And roused are the roarings — from which shock

Comes such resounding and abounding rain,

That all the murky ether seems to turn

Now into rain, and, as it tumbles down,

To summon the fields back to primeval floods:

So big the rains that be sent down on men

By burst of cloud and by the hurricane,

What time the thunder-clap, from burning bolt

That cracks the cloud, flies forth along. At times

The force of wind, excited from without,

Smiteth into a cloud already hot

With a ripe thunderbolt. And when that wind

Hath splintered that cloud, then down there cleaves forthwith

Yon fiery coil of flame which still we call,

Even with our fathers’ word, a thunderbolt.

The same thing haps toward every other side

Whither that force hath swept. It happens, too,

That sometimes force of wind, though hurtled forth

Without all fire, yet in its voyage through space

Igniteth, whilst it comes along, along —

Losing some larger bodies which cannot

Pass, like the others, through the bulks of air —

And, scraping together out of air itself

Some smaller bodies, carries them along,

And these, commingling, by their flight make fire:

Much in the manner as oft a leaden ball

Grows hot upon its aery course, the while

It loseth many bodies of stark cold

And taketh into itself along the air

New particles of fire. It happens, too,

That force of blow itself arouses fire,

When force of wind, a-cold and hurtled forth

Without all fire, hath strook somewhere amain —

No marvel, because, when with terrific stroke

‘Thas smitten, the elements of fiery-stuff

Can stream together from out the very wind

And, simultaneously, from out that thing

Which then and there receives the stroke: as flies

The fire when with the steel we hack the stone;

Nor yet, because the force of steel’s a-cold,

Rush the less speedily together there

Under the stroke its seeds of radiance hot.

And therefore, thuswise must an object too

Be kindled by a thunderbolt, if haply

‘Thas been adapt and suited to the flames.

Yet force of wind must not be rashly deemed

As altogether and entirely cold —

That force which is discharged from on high

With such stupendous power; but if ’tis not

Upon its course already kindled with fire,

It yet arriveth warmed and mixed with heat.

And, now, the speed and stroke of thunderbolt

Is so tremendous, and with glide so swift

Those thunderbolts rush on and down, because

Their roused force itself collects itself

First always in the clouds, and then prepares

For the huge effort of their going-forth;

Next, when the cloud no longer can retain

The increment of their fierce impetus,

Their force is pressed out, and therefore flies

With impetus so wondrous, like to shots

Hurled from the powerful Roman catapults.

Note, too, this force consists of elements

Both small and smooth, nor is there aught that can

With ease resist such nature. For it darts

Between and enters through the pores of things;

And so it never falters in delay

Despite innumerable collisions, but

Flies shooting onward with a swift elan.

Next, since by nature always every weight

Bears downward, doubled is the swiftness then

And that elan is still more wild and dread,

When, verily, to weight are added blows,

So that more madly and more fiercely then

The thunderbolt shakes into shivers all

That blocks its path, following on its way.

Then, too, because it comes along, along

With one continuing elan, it must

Take on velocity anew, anew,

Which still increases as it goes, and ever

Augments the bolt’s vast powers and to the blow

Gives larger vigour; for it forces all,

All of the thunder’s seeds of fire, to sweep

In a straight line unto one place, as ’twere —

Casting them one by other, as they roll,

Into that onward course. Again, perchance,

In coming along, it pulls from out the air

Some certain bodies, which by their own blows

Enkindle its velocity. And, lo,

It comes through objects leaving them unharmed,

It goes through many things and leaves them whole,

Because the liquid fire flieth along

Athrough their pores. And much it does transfix,

When these primordial atoms of the bolt

Have fallen upon the atoms of these things

Precisely where the intertwined atoms

Are held together. And, further, easily

Brass it unbinds and quickly fuseth gold,

Because its force is so minutely made

Of tiny parts and elements so smooth

That easily they wind their way within,

And, when once in, quickly unbind all knots

And loosen all the bonds of union there.

And most in autumn is shaken the house of heaven,

The house so studded with the glittering stars,

And the whole earth around — most too in spring

When flowery times unfold themselves: for, lo,

In the cold season is there lack of fire,

And winds are scanty in the hot, and clouds

Have not so dense a bulk. But when, indeed,

The seasons of heaven are betwixt these twain,

The divers causes of the thunderbolt

Then all concur; for then both cold and heat

Are mixed in the cross-seas of the year,

So that a discord rises among things

And air in vast tumultuosity

Billows, infuriate with the fires and winds —

Of which the both are needed by the cloud

For fabrication of the thunderbolt.

For the first part of heat and last of cold

Is the time of spring; wherefore must things unlike

Do battle one with other, and, when mixed,

Tumultuously rage. And when rolls round

The latest heat mixed with the earliest chill —

The time which bears the name of autumn — then

Likewise fierce cold-spells wrestle with fierce heats.

On this account these seasons of the year

Are nominated “cross-seas.”— And no marvel

If in those times the thunderbolts prevail

And storms are roused turbulent in heaven,

Since then both sides in dubious warfare rage

Tumultuously, the one with flames, the other

With winds and with waters mixed with winds.

This, this it is, O Memmius, to see through

The very nature of fire-fraught thunderbolt;

O this it is to mark by what blind force

It maketh each effect, and not, O not

To unwind Etrurian scrolls oracular,

Inquiring tokens of occult will of gods,

Even as to whence the flying flame hath come,

Or to which half of heaven it turns, or how

Through walled places it hath wound its way,

Or, after proving its dominion there,

How it hath speeded forth from thence amain,

Or what the thunderstroke portends of ill

From out high heaven. But if Jupiter

And other gods shake those refulgent vaults

With dread reverberations and hurl fire

Whither it pleases each, why smite they not

Mortals of reckless and revolting crimes,

That such may pant from a transpierced breast

Forth flames of the red levin — unto men

A drastic lesson? — why is rather he —

O he self-conscious of no foul offence —

Involved in flames, though innocent, and clasped

Up-caught in skiey whirlwind and in fire?

Nay, why, then, aim they at eternal wastes,

And spend themselves in vain? — perchance, even so

To exercise their arms and strengthen shoulders?

Why suffer they the Father’s javelin

To be so blunted on the earth? And why

Doth he himself allow it, nor spare the same

Even for his enemies? O why most oft

Aims he at lofty places? Why behold we

Marks of his lightnings most on mountain tops?

Then for what reason shoots he at the sea? —

What sacrilege have waves and bulk of brine

And floating fields of foam been guilty of?

Besides, if ’tis his will that we beware

Against the lightning-stroke, why feareth he

To grant us power for to behold the shot?

And, contrariwise, if wills he to o’erwhelm us,

Quite off our guard, with fire, why thunders he

Off in yon quarter, so that we may shun?

Why rouseth he beforehand darkling air

And the far din and rumblings? And O how

Canst thou believe he shoots at one same time

Into diverse directions? Or darest thou

Contend that never hath it come to pass

That divers strokes have happened at one time?

But oft and often hath it come to pass,

And often still it must, that, even as showers

And rains o’er many regions fall, so too

Dart many thunderbolts at one same time.

Again, why never hurtles Jupiter

A bolt upon the lands nor pours abroad

Clap upon clap, when skies are cloudless all?

Or, say, doth he, so soon as ever the clouds

Have come thereunder, then into the same

Descend in person, that from thence he may

Near-by decide upon the stroke of shaft?

And, lastly, why, with devastating bolt

Shakes he asunder holy shrines of gods

And his own thrones of splendour, and to-breaks

The well-wrought idols of divinities,

And robs of glory his own images

By wound of violence?

    But to return apace,

Easy it is from these same facts to know

In just what wise those things (which from their sort

The Greeks have named “bellows”) do come down,

Discharged from on high, upon the seas.

For it haps that sometimes from the sky descends

Upon the seas a column, as if pushed,

Round which the surges seethe, tremendously

Aroused by puffing gusts; and whatso’er

Of ships are caught within that tumult then

Come into extreme peril, dashed along.

This haps when sometimes wind’s aroused force

Can’t burst the cloud it tries to, but down-weighs

That cloud, until ’tis like a column from sky

Upon the seas pushed downward — gradually,

As if a Somewhat from on high were shoved

By fist and nether thrust of arm, and lengthened

Far to the waves. And when the force of wind

Hath rived this cloud, from out the cloud it rushes

Down on the seas, and starts among the waves

A wondrous seething, for the eddying whirl

Descends and downward draws along with it

That cloud of ductile body. And soon as ever

‘Thas shoved unto the levels of the main

That laden cloud, the whirl suddenly then

Plunges its whole self into the waters there

And rouses all the sea with monstrous roar,

Constraining it to seethe. It happens too

That very vortex of the wind involves

Itself in clouds, scraping from out the air

The seeds of cloud, and counterfeits, as ’twere,

The “bellows” pushed from heaven. And when this shape

Hath dropped upon the lands and burst apart,

It belches forth immeasurable might

Of whirlwind and of blast. Yet since ’tis formed

At most but rarely, and on land the hills

Must block its way, ’tis seen more oft out there

On the broad prospect of the level main

Along the free horizons.

    Into being

The clouds condense, when in this upper space

Of the high heaven have gathered suddenly,

As round they flew, unnumbered particles —

World’s rougher ones, which can, though interlinked

With scanty couplings, yet be fastened firm,

The one on other caught. These particles

First cause small clouds to form; and, thereupon,

These catch the one on other and swarm in a flock

And grow by their conjoining, and by winds

Are borne along, along, until collects

The tempest fury. Happens, too, the nearer

The mountain summits neighbour to the sky,

The more unceasingly their far crags smoke

With the thick darkness of swart cloud, because

When first the mists do form, ere ever the eyes

Can there behold them (tenuous as they be),

The carrier-winds will drive them up and on

Unto the topmost summits of the mountain;

And then at last it happens, when they be

In vaster throng upgathered, that they can

By this very condensation lie revealed,

And that at same time they are seen to surge

From very vertex of the mountain up

Into far ether. For very fact and feeling,

As we up-climb high mountains, proveth clear

That windy are those upward regions free.

Besides, the clothes hung-out along the shore,

When in they take the clinging moisture, prove

That nature lifts from over all the sea

Unnumbered particles. Whereby the more

’Tis manifest that many particles

Even from the salt upheavings of the main

Can rise together to augment the bulk

Of massed clouds. For moistures in these twain

Are near akin. Besides, from out all rivers,

As well as from the land itself, we see

Up-rising mists and steam, which like a breath

Are forced out from them and borne aloft,

To curtain heaven with their murk, and make,

By slow foregathering, the skiey clouds.

For, in addition, lo, the heat on high

Of constellated ether burdens down

Upon them, and by sort of condensation

Weaveth beneath the azure firmament

The reek of darkling cloud. It happens, too,

That hither to the skies from the Beyond

Do come those particles which make the clouds

And flying thunderheads. For I have taught

That this their number is innumerable

And infinite the sum of the Abyss,

And I have shown with what stupendous speed

Those bodies fly and how they’re wont to pass

Amain through incommunicable space.

Therefore, ’tis not exceeding strange, if oft

In little time tempest and darkness cover

With bulking thunderheads hanging on high

The oceans and the lands, since everywhere

Through all the narrow tubes of yonder ether,

Yea, so to speak, through all the breathing-holes

Of the great upper-world encompassing,

There be for the primordial elements

Exits and entrances.

    Now come, and how

The rainy moisture thickens into being

In the lofty clouds, and how upon the lands

’Tis then discharged in down-pour of large showers,

I will unfold. And first triumphantly

Will I persuade thee that up-rise together,

With clouds themselves, full many seeds of water

From out all things, and that they both increase —

Both clouds and water which is in the clouds —

In like proportion, as our frames increase

In like proportion with our blood, as well

As sweat or any moisture in our members.

Besides, the clouds take in from time to time

Much moisture risen from the broad marine —

Whilst the winds bear them o’er the mighty sea,

Like hanging fleeces of white wool. Thuswise,

Even from all rivers is there lifted up

Moisture into the clouds. And when therein

The seeds of water so many in many ways

Have come together, augmented from all sides,

The close-jammed clouds then struggle to discharge

Their rain-storms for a two-fold reason: lo,

The wind’s force crowds them, and the very excess

Of storm-clouds (massed in a vaster throng)

Giveth an urge and pressure from above

And makes the rains out-pour. Besides when, too,

The clouds are winnowed by the winds, or scattered

Smitten on top by heat of sun, they send

Their rainy moisture, and distil their drops,

Even as the wax, by fiery warmth on top,

Wasteth and liquefies abundantly.

But comes the violence of the bigger rains

When violently the clouds are weighted down

Both by their cumulated mass and by

The onset of the wind. And rains are wont

To endure awhile and to abide for long,

When many seeds of waters are aroused,

And clouds on clouds and racks on racks outstream

In piled layers and are borne along

From every quarter, and when all the earth

Smoking exhales her moisture. At such a time

When sun with beams amid the tempest-murk

Hath shone against the showers of black rains,

Then in the swart clouds there emerges bright

The radiance of the bow.

    And as to things

Not mentioned here which of themselves do grow

Or of themselves are gendered, and all things

Which in the clouds condense to being — all,

Snow and the winds, hail and the hoar-frosts chill,

And freezing, mighty force — of lakes and pools

The mighty hardener, and mighty check

Which in the winter curbeth everywhere

The rivers as they go — ’tis easy still,

Soon to discover and with mind to see

How they all happen, whereby gendered,

When once thou well hast understood just what

Functions have been vouchsafed from of old

Unto the procreant atoms of the world.

Now come, and what the law of earthquakes is

Hearken, and first of all take care to know

That the under-earth, like to the earth around us,

Is full of windy caverns all about;

And many a pool and many a grim abyss

She bears within her bosom, ay, and cliffs

And jagged scarps; and many a river, hid

Beneath her chine, rolls rapidly along

Its billows and plunging boulders. For clear fact

Requires that earth must be in every part

Alike in constitution. Therefore, earth,

With these things underneath affixed and set,

Trembleth above, jarred by big down-tumblings,

When time hath undermined the huge caves,

The subterranean. Yea, whole mountains fall,

And instantly from spot of that big jar

There quiver the tremors far and wide abroad.

And with good reason: since houses on the street

Begin to quake throughout, when jarred by a cart

Of no large weight; and, too, the furniture

Within the house up-bounds, when a paving-block

Gives either iron rim of the wheels a jolt.

It happens, too, when some prodigious bulk

Of age-worn soil is rolled from mountain slopes

Into tremendous pools of water dark,

That the reeling land itself is rocked about

By the water’s undulations; as a basin

Sometimes won’t come to rest until the fluid

Within it ceases to be rocked about

In random undulations.

    And besides,

When subterranean winds, up-gathered there

In the hollow deeps, bulk forward from one spot,

And press with the big urge of mighty powers

Against the lofty grottos, then the earth

Bulks to that quarter whither push amain

The headlong winds. Then all the builded houses

Above ground — and the more, the higher up-reared

Unto the sky — lean ominously, careening

Into the same direction; and the beams,

Wrenched forward, over-hang, ready to go.

Yet dread men to believe that there awaits

The nature of the mighty world a time

Of doom and cataclysm, albeit they see

So great a bulk of lands to bulge and break!

And lest the winds blew back again, no force

Could rein things in nor hold from sure career

On to disaster. But now because those winds

Blow back and forth in alternation strong,

And, so to say, rallying charge again,

And then repulsed retreat, on this account

Earth oftener threatens than she brings to pass

Collapses dire. For to one side she leans,

Then back she sways; and after tottering

Forward, recovers then her seats of poise.

Thus, this is why whole houses rock, the roofs

More than the middle stories, middle more

Than lowest, and the lowest least of all.

Arises, too, this same great earth-quaking,

When wind and some prodigious force of air,

Collected from without or down within

The old telluric deeps, have hurled themselves

Amain into those caverns sub-terrene,

And there at first tumultuously chafe

Among the vasty grottos, borne about

In mad rotations, till their lashed force

Aroused out-bursts abroad, and then and there,

Riving the deep earth, makes a mighty chasm —

What once in Syrian Sidon did befall,

And once in Peloponnesian Aegium,

Twain cities which such out-break of wild air

And earth’s convulsion, following hard upon,

O’erthrew of old. And many a walled town,

Besides, hath fall’n by such omnipotent

Convulsions on the land, and in the sea

Engulfed hath sunken many a city down

With all its populace. But if, indeed,

They burst not forth, yet is the very rush

Of the wild air and fury-force of wind

Then dissipated, like an ague-fit,

Through the innumerable pores of earth,

To set her all a-shake — even as a chill,

When it hath gone into our marrow-bones,

Sets us convulsively, despite ourselves,

A-shivering and a-shaking. Therefore, men

With two-fold terror bustle in alarm

Through cities to and fro: they fear the roofs

Above the head; and underfoot they dread

The caverns, lest the nature of the earth

Suddenly rend them open, and she gape,

Herself asunder, with tremendous maw,

And, all confounded, seek to chock it full

With her own ruins. Let men, then, go on

Feigning at will that heaven and earth shall be

Inviolable, entrusted evermore

To an eternal weal: and yet at times

The very force of danger here at hand

Prods them on some side with this goad of fear —

This among others — that the earth, withdrawn

Abruptly from under their feet, be hurried down,

Down into the abyss, and the Sum-of-Things

Be following after, utterly fordone,

Till be but wrack and wreckage of a world.

. . . . . .

Extraordinary and Paradoxical Telluric Phenomena

In chief, men marvel nature renders not

Bigger and bigger the bulk of ocean, since

So vast the down-rush of the waters be,

And every river out of every realm

Cometh thereto; and add the random rains

And flying tempests, which spatter every sea

And every land bedew; add their own springs:

Yet all of these unto the ocean’s sum

Shall be but as the increase of a drop.

Wherefore ’tis less a marvel that the sea,

The mighty ocean, increaseth not. Besides,

Sun with his heat draws off a mighty part:

Yea, we behold that sun with burning beams

To dry our garments dripping all with wet;

And many a sea, and far out-spread beneath,

Do we behold. Therefore, however slight

The portion of wet that sun on any spot

Culls from the level main, he still will take

From off the waves in such a wide expanse

Abundantly. Then, further, also winds,

Sweeping the level waters, can bear off

A mighty part of wet, since we behold

Oft in a single night the highways dried

By winds, and soft mud crusted o’er at dawn.

Again, I’ve taught thee that the clouds bear off

Much moisture too, up-taken from the reaches

Of the mighty main, and sprinkle it about

O’er all the zones, when rain is on the lands

And winds convey the aery racks of vapour.

Lastly, since earth is porous through her frame,

And neighbours on the seas, girdling their shores,

The water’s wet must seep into the lands

From briny ocean, as from lands it comes

Into the seas. For brine is filtered off,

And then the liquid stuff seeps back again

And all re-poureth at the river-heads,

Whence in fresh-water currents it returns

Over the lands, adown the channels which

Were cleft erstwhile and erstwhile bore along

The liquid-footed floods.

    And now the cause

Whereby athrough the throat of Aetna’s Mount

Such vast tornado-fires out-breathe at times,

I will unfold: for with no middling might

Of devastation the flamy tempest rose

And held dominion in Sicilian fields:

Drawing upon itself the upturned faces

Of neighbouring clans, what time they saw afar

The skiey vaults a-fume and sparkling all,

And filled their bosoms with dread anxiety

Of what new thing nature were travailing at.

In these affairs it much behooveth thee

To look both wide and deep, and far abroad

To peer to every quarter, that thou mayst

Remember how boundless is the Sum-of-Things,

And mark how infinitely small a part

Of the whole Sum is this one sky of ours —

O not so large a part as is one man

Of the whole earth. And plainly if thou viewest

This cosmic fact, placing it square in front,

And plainly understandest, thou wilt leave

Wondering at many things. For who of us

Wondereth if some one gets into his joints

A fever, gathering head with fiery heat,

Or any other dolorous disease

Along his members? For anon the foot

Grows blue and bulbous; often the sharp twinge

Seizes the teeth, attacks the very eyes;

Out-breaks the sacred fire, and, crawling on

Over the body, burneth every part

It seizeth on, and works its hideous way

Along the frame. No marvel this, since, lo,

Of things innumerable be seeds enough,

And this our earth and sky do bring to us

Enough of bane from whence can grow the strength

Of maladies uncounted. Thuswise, then,

We must suppose to all the sky and earth

Are ever supplied from out the infinite

All things, O all in stores enough whereby

The shaken earth can of a sudden move,

And fierce typhoons can over sea and lands

Go tearing on, and Aetna’s fires o’erflow,

And heaven become a flame-burst. For that, too,

Happens at times, and the celestial vaults

Glow into fire, and rainy tempests rise

In heavier congregation, when, percase,

The seeds of water have foregathered thus

From out the infinite. “Aye, but passing huge

The fiery turmoil of that conflagration!”

So sayst thou; well, huge many a river seems

To him that erstwhile ne’er a larger saw;

Thus, huge seems tree or man; and everything

Which mortal sees the biggest of each class,

That he imagines to be “huge”; though yet

All these, with sky and land and sea to boot,

Are all as nothing to the sum entire

Of the all-Sum.

    But now I will unfold

At last how yonder suddenly angered flame

Out-blows abroad from vasty furnaces

Aetnaean. First, the mountain’s nature is

All under-hollow, propped about, about

With caverns of basaltic piers. And, lo,

In all its grottos be there wind and air —

For wind is made when air hath been uproused

By violent agitation. When this air

Is heated through and through, and, raging round,

Hath made the earth and all the rocks it touches

Horribly hot, and hath struck off from them

Fierce fire of swiftest flame, it lifts itself

And hurtles thus straight upwards through its throat

Into high heav’n, and thus bears on afar

Its burning blasts and scattereth afar

Its ashes, and rolls a smoke of pitchy murk

And heaveth the while boulders of wondrous weight —

Leaving no doubt in thee that ’tis the air’s

Tumultuous power. Besides, in mighty part,

The sea there at the roots of that same mount

Breaks its old billows and sucks back its surf.

And grottos from the sea pass in below

Even to the bottom of the mountain’s throat.

Herethrough thou must admit there go . . .

. . . . . .

And the conditions force [the water and air]

Deeply to penetrate from the open sea,

And to out-blow abroad, and to up-bear

Thereby the flame, and to up-cast from deeps

The boulders, and to rear the clouds of sand.

For at the top be “bowls,” as people there

Are wont to name what we at Rome do call

The throats and mouths.

    There be, besides, some thing

Of which ’tis not enough one only cause

To state — but rather several, whereof one

Will be the true: lo, if thou shouldst espy

Lying afar some fellow’s lifeless corse,

’Twere meet to name all causes of a death,

That cause of his death might thereby be named:

For prove thou mayst he perished not by steel,

By cold, nor even by poison nor disease,

Yet somewhat of this sort hath come to him

We know — And thus we have to say the same

In divers cases.

    Toward the summer, Nile

Waxeth and overfloweth the champaign,

Unique in all the landscape, river sole

Of the Aegyptians. In mid-season heats

Often and oft he waters Aegypt o’er,

Either because in summer against his mouths

Come those northwinds which at that time of year

Men name the Etesian blasts, and, blowing thus

Upstream, retard, and, forcing back his waves,

Fill him o’erfull and force his flow to stop.

For out of doubt these blasts which driven be

From icy constellations of the pole

Are borne straight up the river. Comes that river

From forth the sultry places down the south,

Rising far up in midmost realm of day,

Among black generations of strong men

With sun-baked skins. ’Tis possible, besides,

That a big bulk of piled sand may bar

His mouths against his onward waves, when sea,

Wild in the winds, tumbles the sand to inland;

Whereby the river’s outlet were less free,

Likewise less headlong his descending floods.

It may be, too, that in this season rains

Are more abundant at its fountain head,

Because the Etesian blasts of those northwinds

Then urge all clouds into those inland parts.

And, soothly, when they’re thus foregathered there,

Urged yonder into midmost realm of day,

Then, crowded against the lofty mountain sides,

They’re massed and powerfully pressed. Again,

Perchance, his waters wax, O far away,

Among the Aethiopians’ lofty mountains,

When the all-beholding sun with thawing beams

Drives the white snows to flow into the vales.

Now come; and unto thee I will unfold,

As to the Birdless spots and Birdless tarns,

What sort of nature they are furnished with.

First, as to name of “birdless,”— that derives

From very fact, because they noxious be

Unto all birds. For when above those spots

In horizontal flight the birds have come,

Forgetting to oar with wings, they furl their sails,

And, with down-drooping of their delicate necks,

Fall headlong into earth, if haply such

The nature of the spots, or into water,

If haply spreads thereunder Birdless tarn.

Such spot’s at Cumae, where the mountains smoke,

Charged with the pungent sulphur, and increased

With steaming springs. And such a spot there is

Within the walls of Athens, even there

On summit of Acropolis, beside

Fane of Tritonian Pallas bountiful,

Where never cawing crows can wing their course,

Not even when smoke the altars with good gifts —

But evermore they flee — yet not from wrath

Of Pallas, grieved at that espial old,

As poets of the Greeks have sung the tale;

But very nature of the place compels.

In Syria also — as men say — a spot

Is to be seen, where also four-foot kinds,

As soon as ever they’ve set their steps within,

Collapse, o’ercome by its essential power,

As if there slaughtered to the under-gods.

Lo, all these wonders work by natural law,

And from what causes they are brought to pass

The origin is manifest; so, haply,

Let none believe that in these regions stands

The gate of Orcus, nor us then suppose,

Haply, that thence the under-gods draw down

Souls to dark shores of Acheron — as stags,

The wing-footed, are thought to draw to light,

By sniffing nostrils, from their dusky lairs

The wriggling generations of wild snakes.

How far removed from true reason is this,

Perceive thou straight; for now I’ll try to say

Somewhat about the very fact.

    And, first,

This do I say, as oft I’ve said before:

In earth are atoms of things of every sort;

And know, these all thus rise from out the earth —

Many life-giving which be good for food,

And many which can generate disease

And hasten death, O many primal seeds

Of many things in many modes — since earth

Contains them mingled and gives forth discrete.

And we have shown before that certain things

Be unto certain creatures suited more

For ends of life, by virtue of a nature,

A texture, and primordial shapes, unlike

For kinds alike. Then too ’tis thine to see

How many things oppressive be and foul

To man, and to sensation most malign:

Many meander miserably through ears;

Many in-wind athrough the nostrils too,

Malign and harsh when mortal draws a breath;

Of not a few must one avoid the touch;

Of not a few must one escape the sight;

And some there be all loathsome to the taste;

And many, besides, relax the languid limbs

Along the frame, and undermine the soul

In its abodes within. To certain trees

There hath been given so dolorous a shade

That often they gender achings of the head,

If one but be beneath, outstretched on the sward.

There is, again, on Helicon’s high hills

A tree that’s wont to kill a man outright

By fetid odour of its very flower.

And when the pungent stench of the night-lamp,

Extinguished but a moment since, assails

The nostrils, then and there it puts to sleep

A man afflicted with the falling sickness

And foamings at the mouth. A woman, too,

At the heavy castor drowses back in chair,

And from her delicate fingers slips away

Her gaudy handiwork, if haply she

Hath got the whiff at menstruation-time.

Once more, if thou delayest in hot baths,

When thou art over-full, how readily

From stool in middle of the steaming water

Thou tumblest in a fit! How readily

The heavy fumes of charcoal wind their way

Into the brain, unless beforehand we

Of water ‘ve drunk. But when a burning fever,

O’ermastering man, hath seized upon his limbs,

Then odour of wine is like a hammer-blow.

And seest thou not how in the very earth

Sulphur is gendered and bitumen thickens

With noisome stench? — What direful stenches, too,

Scaptensula out-breathes from down below,

When men pursue the veins of silver and gold,

With pick-axe probing round the hidden realms

Deep in the earth? — Or what of deadly bane

The mines of gold exhale? O what a look,

And what a ghastly hue they give to men!

And seest thou not, or hearest, how they’re wont

In little time to perish, and how fail

The life-stores in those folk whom mighty power

Of grim necessity confineth there

In such a task? Thus, this telluric earth

Out-streams with all these dread effluvia

And breathes them out into the open world

And into the visible regions under heaven.

Thus, too, those Birdless places must up-send

An essence bearing death to winged things,

Which from the earth rises into the breezes

To poison part of skiey space, and when

Thither the winged is on pennons borne,

There, seized by the unseen poison, ’tis ensnared,

And from the horizontal of its flight

Drops to the spot whence sprang the effluvium.

And when ‘thas there collapsed, then the same power

Of that effluvium takes from all its limbs

The relics of its life. That power first strikes

The creatures with a wildering dizziness,

And then thereafter, when they’re once down-fallen

Into the poison’s very fountains, then

Life, too, they vomit out perforce, because

So thick the stores of bane around them fume.

Again, at times it happens that this power,

This exhalation of the Birdless places,

Dispels the air betwixt the ground and birds,

Leaving well-nigh a void. And thither when

In horizontal flight the birds have come,

Forthwith their buoyancy of pennons limps,

All useless, and each effort of both wings

Falls out in vain. Here, when without all power

To buoy themselves and on their wings to lean,

Lo, nature constrains them by their weight to slip

Down to the earth, and lying prostrate there

Along the well-nigh empty void, they spend

Their souls through all the openings of their frame.

. . . . . .

Further, the water of wells is colder then

At summer time, because the earth by heat

Is rarefied, and sends abroad in air

Whatever seeds it peradventure have

Of its own fiery exhalations.

The more, then, the telluric ground is drained

Of heat, the colder grows the water hid

Within the earth. Further, when all the earth

Is by the cold compressed, and thus contracts

And, so to say, concretes, it happens, lo,

That by contracting it expresses then

Into the wells what heat it bears itself.

’Tis said at Hammon’s fane a fountain is,

In daylight cold and hot in time of night.

This fountain men be-wonder over-much,

And think that suddenly it seethes in heat

By intense sun, the subterranean, when

Night with her terrible murk hath cloaked the lands —

What’s not true reasoning by a long remove:

I’ faith when sun o’erhead, touching with beams

An open body of water, had no power

To render it hot upon its upper side,

Though his high light possess such burning glare,

How, then, can he, when under the gross earth,

Make water boil and glut with fiery heat? —

And, specially, since scarcely potent he

Through hedging walls of houses to inject

His exhalations hot, with ardent rays.

What, then’s, the principle? Why, this, indeed:

The earth about that spring is porous more

Than elsewhere the telluric ground, and be

Many the seeds of fire hard by the water;

On this account, when night with dew-fraught shades

Hath whelmed the earth, anon the earth deep down

Grows chill, contracts; and thuswise squeezes out

Into the spring what seeds she holds of fire

(As one might squeeze with fist), which render hot

The touch and steam of the fluid. Next, when sun,

Up-risen, with his rays has split the soil

And rarefied the earth with waxing heat,

Again into their ancient abodes return

The seeds of fire, and all the Hot of water

Into the earth retires; and this is why

The fountain in the daylight gets so cold.

Besides, the water’s wet is beat upon

By rays of sun, and, with the dawn, becomes

Rarer in texture under his pulsing blaze;

And, therefore, whatso seeds it holds of fire

It renders up, even as it renders oft

The frost that it contains within itself

And thaws its ice and looseneth the knots.

There is, moreover, a fountain cold in kind

That makes a bit of tow (above it held)

Take fire forthwith and shoot a flame; so, too,

A pitch-pine torch will kindle and flare round

Along its waves, wherever ’tis impelled

Afloat before the breeze. No marvel, this:

Because full many seeds of heat there be

Within the water; and, from earth itself

Out of the deeps must particles of fire

Athrough the entire fountain surge aloft,

And speed in exhalations into air

Forth and abroad (yet not in numbers enow

As to make hot the fountain). And, moreo’er,

Some force constrains them, scattered through the water,

Forthwith to burst abroad, and to combine

In flame above. Even as a fountain far

There is at Aradus amid the sea,

Which bubbles out sweet water and disparts

From round itself the salt waves; and, behold,

In many another region the broad main

Yields to the thirsty mariners timely help,

Belching sweet waters forth amid salt waves.

Just so, then, can those seeds of fire burst forth

Athrough that other fount, and bubble out

Abroad against the bit of tow; and when

They there collect or cleave unto the torch,

Forthwith they readily flash aflame, because

The tow and torches, also, in themselves

Have many seeds of latent fire. Indeed,

And seest thou not, when near the nightly lamps

Thou bringest a flaxen wick, extinguished

A moment since, it catches fire before

‘Thas touched the flame, and in same wise a torch?

And many another object flashes aflame

When at a distance, touched by heat alone,

Before ’tis steeped in veritable fire.

This, then, we must suppose to come to pass

In that spring also.

    Now to other things!

And I’ll begin to treat by what decree

Of nature it came to pass that iron can be

By that stone drawn which Greeks the magnet call

After the country’s name (its origin

Being in country of Magnesian folk).

This stone men marvel at; and sure it oft

Maketh a chain of rings, depending, lo,

From off itself! Nay, thou mayest see at times

Five or yet more in order dangling down

And swaying in the delicate winds, whilst one

Depends from other, cleaving to under-side,

And ilk one feels the stone’s own power and bonds —

So over-masteringly its power flows down.

In things of this sort, much must be made sure

Ere thou account of the thing itself canst give,

And the approaches roundabout must be;

Wherefore the more do I exact of thee

A mind and ears attent.

    First, from all things

We see soever, evermore must flow,

Must be discharged and strewn about, about,

Bodies that strike the eyes, awaking sight.

From certain things flow odours evermore,

As cold from rivers, heat from sun, and spray

From waves of ocean, eater-out of walls

Along the coasts. Nor ever cease to seep

The varied echoings athrough the air.

Then, too, there comes into the mouth at times

The wet of a salt taste, when by the sea

We roam about; and so, whene’er we watch

The wormwood being mixed, its bitter stings.

To such degree from all things is each thing

Borne streamingly along, and sent about

To every region round; and nature grants

Nor rest nor respite of the onward flow,

Since ’tis incessantly we feeling have,

And all the time are suffered to descry

And smell all things at hand, and hear them sound.

Now will I seek again to bring to mind

How porous a body all things have — a fact

Made manifest in my first canto, too.

For, truly, though to know this doth import

For many things, yet for this very thing

On which straightway I’m going to discourse,

’Tis needful most of all to make it sure

That naught’s at hand but body mixed with void.

A first ensample: in grottos, rocks o’erhead

Sweat moisture and distil the oozy drops;

Likewise, from all our body seeps the sweat;

There grows the beard, and along our members all

And along our frame the hairs. Through all our veins

Disseminates the foods, and gives increase

And aliment down to the extreme parts,

Even to the tiniest finger-nails. Likewise,

Through solid bronze the cold and fiery heat

We feel to pass; likewise, we feel them pass

Through gold, through silver, when we clasp in hand

The brimming goblets. And, again, there flit

Voices through houses’ hedging walls of stone;

Odour seeps through, and cold, and heat of fire

That’s wont to penetrate even strength of iron.

Again, where corselet of the sky girds round

. . . . . .

And at same time, some Influence of bane,

When from Beyond ‘thas stolen into [our world].

And tempests, gathering from the earth and sky,

Back to the sky and earth absorbed retire —

With reason, since there’s naught that’s fashioned not

With body porous.

    Furthermore, not all

The particles which be from things thrown off

Are furnished with same qualities for sense,

Nor be for all things equally adapt.

A first ensample: the sun doth bake and parch

The earth; but ice he thaws, and with his beams

Compels the lofty snows, up-reared white

Upon the lofty hills, to waste away;

Then, wax, if set beneath the heat of him,

Melts to a liquid. And the fire, likewise,

Will melt the copper and will fuse the gold,

But hides and flesh it shrivels up and shrinks.

The water hardens the iron just off the fire,

But hides and flesh (made hard by heat) it softens.

The oleaster-tree as much delights

The bearded she-goats, verily as though

’Twere nectar-steeped and shed ambrosia;

Than which is naught that burgeons into leaf

More bitter food for man. A hog draws back

For marjoram oil, and every unguent fears

Fierce poison these unto the bristled hogs,

Yet unto us from time to time they seem,

As ’twere, to give new life. But, contrariwise,

Though unto us the mire be filth most foul,

To hogs that mire doth so delightsome seem

That they with wallowing from belly to back

Are never cloyed.

    A point remains, besides,

Which best it seems to tell of, ere I go

To telling of the fact at hand itself.

Since to the varied things assigned be

The many pores, those pores must be diverse

In nature one from other, and each have

Its very shape, its own direction fixed.

And so, indeed, in breathing creatures be

The several senses, of which each takes in

Unto itself, in its own fashion ever,

Its own peculiar object. For we mark

How sounds do into one place penetrate,

Into another flavours of all juice,

And savour of smell into a third. Moreover,

One sort through rocks we see to seep, and, lo,

One sort to pass through wood, another still

Through gold, and others to go out and off

Through silver and through glass. For we do see

Through some pores form-and-look of things to flow,

Through others heat to go, and some things still

To speedier pass than others through same pores.

Of verity, the nature of these same paths,

Varying in many modes (as aforesaid)

Because of unlike nature and warp and woof

Of cosmic things, constrains it so to be.

Wherefore, since all these matters now have been

Established and settled well for us

As premises prepared, for what remains

’Twill not be hard to render clear account

By means of these, and the whole cause reveal

Whereby the magnet lures the strength of iron.

First, stream there must from off the lode-stone seeds

Innumerable, a very tide, which smites

By blows that air asunder lying betwixt

The stone and iron. And when is emptied out

This space, and a large place between the two

Is made a void, forthwith the primal germs

Of iron, headlong slipping, fall conjoined

Into the vacuum, and the ring itself

By reason thereof doth follow after and go

Thuswise with all its body. And naught there is

That of its own primordial elements

More thoroughly knit or tighter linked coheres

Than nature and cold roughness of stout iron.

Wherefore, ’tis less a marvel what I said,

That from such elements no bodies can

From out the iron collect in larger throng

And be into the vacuum borne along,

Without the ring itself do follow after.

And this it does, and followeth on until

‘Thath reached the stone itself and cleaved to it

By links invisible. Moreover, likewise,

The motion’s assisted by a thing of aid

(Whereby the process easier becomes) —

Namely, by this: as soon as rarer grows

That air in front of the ring, and space between

Is emptied more and made a void, forthwith

It happens all the air that lies behind

Conveys it onward, pushing from the rear.

For ever doth the circumambient air

Drub things unmoved, but here it pushes forth

The iron, because upon one side the space

Lies void and thus receives the iron in.

This air, whereof I am reminding thee,

Winding athrough the iron’s abundant pores

So subtly into the tiny parts thereof,

Shoves it and pushes, as wind the ship and sails.

The same doth happen in all directions forth:

From whatso side a space is made a void,

Whether from crosswise or above, forthwith

The neighbour particles are borne along

Into the vacuum; for of verity,

They’re set a-going by poundings from elsewhere,

Nor by themselves of own accord can they

Rise upwards into the air. Again, all things

Must in their framework hold some air, because

They are of framework porous, and the air

Encompasses and borders on all things.

Thus, then, this air in iron so deeply stored

Is tossed evermore in vexed motion,

And therefore drubs upon the ring sans doubt

And shakes it up inside. . . .

. . . . . .

In sooth, that ring is thither borne along

To where ‘thas once plunged headlong — thither, lo,

Unto the void whereto it took its start.

It happens, too, at times that nature of iron

Shrinks from this stone away, accustomed

By turns to flee and follow. Yea, I’ve seen

Those Samothracian iron rings leap up,

And iron filings in the brazen bowls

Seethe furiously, when underneath was set

The magnet stone. So strongly iron seems

To crave to flee that rock. Such discord great

Is gendered by the interposed brass,

Because, forsooth, when first the tide of brass

Hath seized upon and held possession of

The iron’s open passage-ways, thereafter

Cometh the tide of the stone, and in that iron

Findeth all spaces full, nor now hath holes

To swim through, as before. ’Tis thus constrained

With its own current ‘gainst the iron’s fabric

To dash and beat; by means whereof it spues

Forth from itself — and through the brass stirs up —

The things which otherwise without the brass

It sucks into itself. In these affairs

Marvel thou not that from this stone the tide

Prevails not likewise other things to move

With its own blows: for some stand firm by weight,

As gold; and some cannot be moved forever,

Because so porous in their framework they

That there the tide streams through without a break,

Of which sort stuff of wood is seen to be.

Therefore, when iron (which lies between the two)

Hath taken in some atoms of the brass,

Then do the streams of that Magnesian rock

Move iron by their smitings.

    Yet these things

Are not so alien from others, that I

Of this same sort am ill prepared to name

Ensamples still of things exclusively

To one another adapt. Thou seest, first,

How lime alone cementeth stones: how wood

Only by glue-of-bull with wood is joined —

So firmly too that oftener the boards

Crack open along the weakness of the grain

Ere ever those taurine bonds will lax their hold.

The vine-born juices with the water-springs

Are bold to mix, though not the heavy pitch

With the light oil-of-olive. And purple dye

Of shell-fish so uniteth with the wool’s

Body alone that it cannot be ta’en

Away forever — nay, though thou gavest toil

To restore the same with the Neptunian flood,

Nay, though all ocean willed to wash it out

With all its waves. Again, gold unto gold

Doth not one substance bind, and only one?

And is not brass by tin joined unto brass?

And other ensamples how many might one find!

What then? Nor is there unto thee a need

Of such long ways and roundabout, nor boots it

For me much toil on this to spend. More fit

It is in few words briefly to embrace

Things many: things whose textures fall together

So mutually adapt, that cavities

To solids correspond, these cavities

Of this thing to the solid parts of that,

And those of that to solid parts of this —

Such joinings are the best. Again, some things

Can be the one with other coupled and held,

Linked by hooks and eyes, as ’twere; and this

Seems more the fact with iron and this stone.

Now, of diseases what the law, and whence

The Influence of bane upgathering can

Upon the race of man and herds of cattle

Kindle a devastation fraught with death,

I will unfold. And, first, I’ve taught above

That seeds there be of many things to us

Life-giving, and that, contrariwise, there must

Fly many round bringing disease and death.

When these have, haply, chanced to collect

And to derange the atmosphere of earth,

The air becometh baneful. And, lo, all

That Influence of bane, that pestilence,

Or from Beyond down through our atmosphere,

Like clouds and mists, descends, or else collects

From earth herself and rises, when, a-soak

And beat by rains unseasonable and suns,

Our earth hath then contracted stench and rot.

Seest thou not, also, that whoso arrive

In region far from fatherland and home

Are by the strangeness of the clime and waters

Distempered? — since conditions vary much.

For in what else may we suppose the clime

Among the Britons to differ from Aegypt’s own

(Where totters awry the axis of the world),

Or in what else to differ Pontic clime

From Gades’ and from climes adown the south,

On to black generations of strong men

With sun-baked skins? Even as we thus do see

Four climes diverse under the four main-winds

And under the four main-regions of the sky,

So, too, are seen the colour and face of men

Vastly to disagree, and fixed diseases

To seize the generations, kind by kind:

There is the elephant-disease which down

In midmost Aegypt, hard by streams of Nile,

Engendered is — and never otherwhere.

In Attica the feet are oft attacked,

And in Achaean lands the eyes. And so

The divers spots to divers parts and limbs

Are noxious; ’tis a variable air

That causes this. Thus when an atmosphere,

Alien by chance to us, begins to heave,

And noxious airs begin to crawl along,

They creep and wind like unto mist and cloud,

Slowly, and everything upon their way

They disarrange and force to change its state.

It happens, too, that when they’ve come at last

Into this atmosphere of ours, they taint

And make it like themselves and alien.

Therefore, asudden this devastation strange,

This pestilence, upon the waters falls,

Or settles on the very crops of grain

Or other meat of men and feed of flocks.

Or it remains a subtle force, suspense

In the atmosphere itself; and when therefrom

We draw our inhalations of mixed air,

Into our body equally its bane

Also we must suck in. In manner like,

Oft comes the pestilence upon the kine,

And sickness, too, upon the sluggish sheep.

Nor aught it matters whether journey we

To regions adverse to ourselves and change

The atmospheric cloak, or whether nature

Herself import a tainted atmosphere

To us or something strange to our own use

Which can attack us soon as ever it come.

The Plague Athens

’Twas such a manner of disease, ’twas such

Mortal miasma in Cecropian lands

Whilom reduced the plains to dead men’s bones,

Unpeopled the highways, drained of citizens

The Athenian town. For coming from afar,

Rising in lands of Aegypt, traversing

Reaches of air and floating fields of foam,

At last on all Pandion’s folk it swooped;

Whereat by troops unto disease and death

Were they o’er-given. At first, they’d bear about

A skull on fire with heat, and eyeballs twain

Red with suffusion of blank glare. Their throats,

Black on the inside, sweated oozy blood;

And the walled pathway of the voice of man

Was clogged with ulcers; and the very tongue,

The mind’s interpreter, would trickle gore,

Weakened by torments, tardy, rough to touch.

Next when that Influence of bane had chocked,

Down through the throat, the breast, and streamed had

E’en into sullen heart of those sick folk,

Then, verily, all the fences of man’s life

Began to topple. From the mouth the breath

Would roll a noisome stink, as stink to heaven

Rotting cadavers flung unburied out.

And, lo, thereafter, all the body’s strength

And every power of mind would languish, now

In very doorway of destruction.

And anxious anguish and ululation (mixed

With many a groan) companioned alway

The intolerable torments. Night and day,

Recurrent spasms of vomiting would rack

Alway their thews and members, breaking down

With sheer exhaustion men already spent.

And yet on no one’s body couldst thou mark

The skin with o’er-much heat to burn aglow,

But rather the body unto touch of hands

Would offer a warmish feeling, and thereby

Show red all over, with ulcers, so to say,

Inbranded, like the “sacred fires” o’erspread

Along the members. The inward parts of men,

In truth, would blaze unto the very bones;

A flame, like flame in furnaces, would blaze

Within the stomach. Nor couldst aught apply

Unto their members light enough and thin

For shift of aid — but coolness and a breeze

Ever and ever. Some would plunge those limbs

On fire with bane into the icy streams,

Hurling the body naked into the waves;

Many would headlong fling them deeply down

The water-pits, tumbling with eager mouth

Already agape. The insatiable thirst

That whelmed their parched bodies, lo, would make

A goodly shower seem like to scanty drops.

Respite of torment was there none. Their frames

Forspent lay prone. With silent lips of fear

Would Medicine mumble low, the while she saw

So many a time men roll their eyeballs round,

Staring wide-open, unvisited of sleep,

The heralds of old death. And in those months

Was given many another sign of death:

The intellect of mind by sorrow and dread

Deranged, the sad brow, the countenance

Fierce and delirious, the tormented ears

Beset with ringings, the breath quick and short

Or huge and intermittent, soaking sweat

A-glisten on neck, the spittle in fine gouts

Tainted with colour of crocus and so salt,

The cough scarce wheezing through the rattling throat.

Aye, and the sinews in the fingered hands

Were sure to contract, and sure the jointed frame

To shiver, and up from feet the cold to mount

Inch after inch: and toward the supreme hour

At last the pinched nostrils, nose’s tip

A very point, eyes sunken, temples hollow,

Skin cold and hard, the shuddering grimace,

The pulled and puffy flesh above the brows! —

O not long after would their frames lie prone

In rigid death. And by about the eighth

Resplendent light of sun, or at the most

On the ninth flaming of his flambeau, they

Would render up the life. If any then

Had ‘scaped the doom of that destruction, yet

Him there awaited in the after days

A wasting and a death from ulcers vile

And black discharges of the belly, or else

Through the clogged nostrils would there ooze along

Much fouled blood, oft with an aching head:

Hither would stream a man’s whole strength and flesh.

And whoso had survived that virulent flow

Of the vile blood, yet into thews of him

And into his joints and very genitals

Would pass the old disease. And some there were,

Dreading the doorways of destruction

So much, lived on, deprived by the knife

Of the male member; not a few, though lopped

Of hands and feet, would yet persist in life,

And some there were who lost their eyeballs: O

So fierce a fear of death had fallen on them!

And some, besides, were by oblivion

Of all things seized, that even themselves they knew

No longer. And though corpse on corpse lay piled

Unburied on ground, the race of birds and beasts

Would or spring back, scurrying to escape

The virulent stench, or, if they’d tasted there,

Would languish in approaching death. But yet

Hardly at all during those many suns

Appeared a fowl, nor from the woods went forth

The sullen generations of wild beasts —

They languished with disease and died and died.

In chief, the faithful dogs, in all the streets

Outstretched, would yield their breath distressfully

For so that Influence of bane would twist

Life from their members. Nor was found one sure

And universal principle of cure:

For what to one had given the power to take

The vital winds of air into his mouth,

And to gaze upward at the vaults of sky,

The same to others was their death and doom.

In those affairs, O awfullest of all,

O pitiable most was this, was this:

Whoso once saw himself in that disease

Entangled, ay, as damned unto death,

Would lie in wanhope, with a sullen heart,

Would, in fore-vision of his funeral,

Give up the ghost, O then and there. For, lo,

At no time did they cease one from another

To catch contagion of the greedy plague —

As though but woolly flocks and horned herds;

And this in chief would heap the dead on dead:

For who forbore to look to their own sick,

O these (too eager of life, of death afeard)

Would then, soon after, slaughtering Neglect

Visit with vengeance of evil death and base —

Themselves deserted and forlorn of help.

But who had stayed at hand would perish there

By that contagion and the toil which then

A sense of honour and the pleading voice

Of weary watchers, mixed with voice of wail

Of dying folk, forced them to undergo.

This kind of death each nobler soul would meet.

The funerals, uncompanioned, forsaken,

Like rivals contended to be hurried through.

. . . . . .

And men contending to ensepulchre

Pile upon pile the throng of their own dead:

And weary with woe and weeping wandered home;

And then the most would take to bed from grief.

Nor could be found not one, whom nor disease

Nor death, nor woe had not in those dread times

Attacked.

By now the shepherds and neatherds all,

Yea, even the sturdy guiders of curved ploughs,

Began to sicken, and their bodies would lie

Huddled within back-corners of their huts,

Delivered by squalor and disease to death.

O often and often couldst thou then have seen

On lifeless children lifeless parents prone,

Or offspring on their fathers’, mothers’ corpse

Yielding the life. And into the city poured

O not in least part from the countryside

That tribulation, which the peasantry

Sick, sick, brought thither, thronging from every quarter,

Plague-stricken mob. All places would they crowd,

All buildings too; whereby the more would death

Up-pile a-heap the folk so crammed in town.

Ah, many a body thirst had dragged and rolled

Along the highways there was lying strewn

Besides Silenus-headed water-fountains —

The life-breath choked from that too dear desire

Of pleasant waters. Ah, everywhere along

The open places of the populace,

And along the highways, O thou mightest see

Of many a half-dead body the sagged limbs,

Rough with squalor, wrapped around with rags,

Perish from very nastiness, with naught

But skin upon the bones, well-nigh already

Buried — in ulcers vile and obscene filth.

All holy temples, too, of deities

Had Death becrammed with the carcasses;

And stood each fane of the Celestial Ones

Laden with stark cadavers everywhere —

Places which warders of the shrines had crowded

With many a guest. For now no longer men

Did mightily esteem the old Divine,

The worship of the gods: the woe at hand

Did over-master. Nor in the city then

Remained those rites of sepulture, with which

That pious folk had evermore been wont

To buried be. For it was wildered all

In wild alarms, and each and every one

With sullen sorrow would bury his own dead,

As present shift allowed. And sudden stress

And poverty to many an awful act

Impelled; and with a monstrous screaming they

Would, on the frames of alien funeral pyres,

Place their own kin, and thrust the torch beneath

Oft brawling with much bloodshed round about

Rather than quit dead bodies loved in life.

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