BOOK I

[Lucretius praises Epicurus as his inspiration.]

Whilst human kind
Throughout the lands lay miserably crushed
Before all eyes beneath Religion-who
70Would show her head along the region skies,
Glowering on mortals with her hideous face-
A Greek it was who first opposing dared
Raised mortal eyes that terror to withstand,
Whom nor the fame of Gods nor lightning's stroke
75Nor 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;
80And 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,
85And 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.

[There is nothing to fear about death, because there is no afterlife.]

And there shall come the time when even thou,
Forced by the soothsayer's terror-tales, shalt seek
115To 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
120By 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,
125Whether 'tis born, or enter in at birth,
And whether, snatched by death, it die with us . . . .
140Then 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
145Of 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.

[Everything is made of invisible atoms, which neither come into being nor pass out of it.]

305And 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
310In this our world, are yet invisible . . . .

[What is not atoms is void.]

375But 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,
380And losing faith in these pronouncements mine.
There's place intangible, a void and room.

[The void permits the atoms to move.]

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.
385Thus 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,
390Which, 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.

[The void permits atoms to mingle.]

Then too, however solid objects seem,
395They 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
400Because 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.
405Which but for voids for bodies to go through
'Tis clear could happen in nowise at all.

[The void explains why things of uniform size differ in weight.]

Again, why see we among objects some
Of heavier weight, but of no bulkier size?
Indeed, if in a ball of wool there be
410As 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
415Declares 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-
420The void, the invisible inane. . . .

[Nothing exists per se except atoms and the void.]

But, now again to weave the tale begun,
480All 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.

[Everything that is neither atom nor void is either a property or an accident of them.]

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
520To 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,
525We'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,
530Disjoined from motion and repose of things.

[Atoms are solid and indestructible.]

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
560No 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 . . . .

[All bodies are composed of atoms--not of the traditional four elements (earth, air, fire, and water).]

Thus whosoe'er have held the stuff of things
To be but fire, and out of fire the sum,
830And 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
835To 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
840Out of the four- fire, earth, and breath, and rain . . .

[The universe is infinite.]

But since I've taught that bodies of matter, made
1130Completely 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
1135To 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.
1140Thus, 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
1145A 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,
1150There'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
1155Outward in all directions . . . .

[Things do not press toward the center.]

1270And in these problems, shrink, my Memmius, far
From yielding faith to that notorious talk:
That all things inward to the center press;
And thus the nature of the world stands firm
With never blows from outward, nor can be
1275Nowhere disparted- since all height and depth
Have always inward to the center pressed
(If thou art ready to believe that aught
Itself can rest upon itself); or that
The ponderous bodies which be under earth
1280Do 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
1285Head 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,
1290We 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,
1295Which they've embraced with reasoning perverse
For center none can be where world is still
Boundless, nor yet, if now a center were,
Could aught take there a fixed position more
Than for some other cause 'tmight be dislodged.
1300For all of room and space we call the void
Must both through center and non-center 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,
1305Deprived 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
1310By craving for a center. . . .