Of the Nature of Things, by Titus Lucretius Carus

Book V


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.


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


    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.


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


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.


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57