BOOK II

PROEM

[Philosophy offers serenity in withdrawal from care and pain.]

1355'Tis sweet, when, down the mighty main, the winds
Roll up its waste of waters, from the land
To watch another's laboring anguish far,
Not that we joyously delight that man
Should thus be smitten, but because 'tis sweet
1360To mark what evils we ourselves be spared;
'Tis sweet, again, to view the mighty strife
Of armies embattled yonder o'er the plains,
Ourselves no sharers in the peril; but naught
There is more goodly than to hold the high
1365Serene plateaus, well fortressed by the wise,
Whence thou may'st look below on other men
And see them ev'rywhere wand'ring, all dispersed
In their lone seeking for the road of life;
Rivals in genius, or emulous in rank,
1370Pressing through days and nights with hugest toil
For summits of power and mastery of the world.
O wretched minds of men! O blinded hearts!
In how great perils, in what darks of life
Are spent the human years, however brief!-
1375O not to see that nature for herself
Barks after nothing, save that pain keep off,
Disjoined from the body, and that mind enjoy
Delightsome feeling, far from care and fear!

[Luxurious self-indulgence is the opposite of true pleasure.]

Therefore we see that our corporeal life
1380Needs little, altogether, and only such
As takes the pain away, and can besides
Strew underneath some number of delights.
More grateful 'tis at times (for nature craves
No artifice nor luxury), if forsooth
1385There be no golden images of boys
Along the halls, with right hands holding out
The lamps ablaze, the lights for evening feasts,
And if the house doth glitter not with gold
Nor gleam with silver, and to the lyre resound
1390No fretted and gilded ceilings overhead,
Yet still to lounge with friends in the soft grass
Beside a river of water, underneath
A big tree's boughs, and merrily to refresh
Our frames, with no vast outlay- most of all
1395If the weather is laughing and the times of the year
Besprinkle the green of the grass around with flowers.
Nor yet the quicker will hot fevers go,
If on a pictured tapestry thou toss,
Or purple robe, than if 'tis thine to lie
1400Upon the poor man's bedding.

[Luxury offers nothing to the mind.]

Wherefore, since
Treasure, nor rank, nor glory of a reign
Avail us naught for this our body, thus
Reckon them likewise nothing for the mind:
Save then perchance, when thou beholdest forth
1405Thy legions swarming round the Field of Mars,
Rousing a mimic warfare- either side
Strengthened with large auxiliaries and horse,
Alike equipped with arms, alike inspired;
Or save when also thou beholdest forth
1410Thy fleets to swarm, deploying down the sea:
For then, by such bright circumstance abashed,
Religion pales and flees thy mind; O then
The fears of death leave heart so free of care.
But if we note how all this pomp at last
1415Is but a drollery and a mocking sport,
And of a truth man's dread, with cares at heels,
Dreads not these sounds of arms, these savage swords
But among kings and lords of all the world
Mingles undaunted, nor is overawed
1420By gleam of gold nor by the splendor bright
Of purple robe, canst thou then doubt that this
Is aught, but power of thinking?- when, besides
The whole of life but labors in the dark.
For just as children tremble and fear all
1425In the viewless dark, so even we at times
Dread in the light so many things that be
No whit more fearsome than what children feign,
Shuddering, will be upon them in the dark.
This terror then, this darkness of the mind,
1430Not sunrise with its flaring spokes of light,
Nor glittering arrows of morning can disperse,
But only nature's aspect and her law. . . .

[Some corollaries of atomic physics.]

Now to true reason give thy mind for us.
Since here strange truth is putting forth its might
To hit thee in thine ears, a new aspect
Of things to show its front. Yet naught there is
2670So easy that it standeth not at first
More hard to credit than it after is;
And naught soe'er that's great to such degree,
Nor wonderful so far, but all mankind
Little by little abandon their surprise.
2675Look upward yonder at the bright clear sky
And what it holds- the stars that wander o'er,
The moon, the radiance of the splendour-sun:
Yet all, if now they first for mortals were,
If unforeseen now first asudden shown,
2680What might there be more wonderful to tell,
What that the nations would before have dared
Less to believe might be?- I fancy, naught-
So strange had been the marvel of that sight.
The which o'erwearied to behold, to-day
2685None deigns look upward to those lucent realms.
Then, spew not reason from thy mind away,
Beside thyself because the matter's new,
But rather with keen judgment nicely weigh;
And if to thee it then appeareth true,
2690Render thy hands, or, if 'tis false at last,
Gird thee to combat. For my mind-of-man
Now seeks the nature of the vast Beyond
There on the other side, that boundless sum
Which lies without the ramparts of the world,
2695Toward which the spirit longs to peer afar,
Toward which indeed the swift elan of thought
Flies unencumbered forth.

[Other worlds exist besides earth.]

Firstly, we find,
Off to all regions round, on either side,
2700Above, beneath, throughout the universe
End is there none- as I have taught, as too
The very thing of itself declares aloud,
And as from nature of the unbottomed deep
Shines clearly forth.

[This must be true, because space is infinite.]

Nor can we once suppose
2705In any way 'tis likely, (seeing that space
To all sides stretches infinite and free,
And seeds, innumerable in number, in sum
Bottomless, there in many a manner fly,
Bestirred in everlasting motion there),
2710That only this one earth and sky of ours
Hath been create and that those bodies of stuff,
So many, perform no work outside the same;

[Moreover, earth is the product of atoms combining randomly.]

Seeing, moreover, this world too hath been
By nature fashioned, even as seeds of things
2715By innate motion chanced to clash and cling-
After they'd been in many a manner driven
Together at random, without design, in vain-
And as at last those seeds together dwelt,
Which, when together of a sudden thrown,
2720Should alway furnish the commencements fit
Of mighty things- the earth, the sea, the sky,
And race of living creatures. Thus, I say,
Again, again, 'tmust be confessed there are
Such congregations of matter otherwhere,
2725Like this our world which vasty ether holds
In huge embrace.

[Because the conditions that produced earth are consistent throughout the universe, other inhabited worlds must exist.]

Besides, when matter abundant
Is ready there, when space on hand, nor object
Nor any cause retards, no marvel 'tis
2730That things are carried on and made complete,
Perforce. And now, if store of seeds there is
So great that not whole life-times of the living
Can count the tale...
And if their force and nature abide the same,
2735Able to throw the seeds of things together
Into their places, even as here are thrown
The seeds together in this world of ours,
'Tmust be confessed in other realms there are
Still other worlds, still other breeds of men,
2740And other generations of the wild.

[Nothing in the universe is unique.]

Hence too it happens in the sum there is
No one thing single of its kind in birth,
And single and sole in growth, but rather it is
One member of some generated race,
2745Among full many others of like kind.
First, cast thy mind abroad upon the living:
Thou'lt find the race of mountain-ranging wild
Even thus to be, and thus the scions of men
To be begot, and lastly the mute flocks
2750Of scaled fish, and winged frames of birds.
Wherefore confess we must on grounds the same
That earth, sun, moon, and ocean, and all else,
Exist not sole and single- rather in number
Exceeding number. Since that deeply set
2755Old boundary stone of life remains for them
No less, and theirs a body of mortal birth
No less, than every kind which here on earth
Is so abundant in its members found.

[Nature is self-sustaining, not the work of the gods.]

Which well perceived if thou hold in mind,
2760Then Nature, delivered from every haughty lord,
And forthwith free, is seen to do all things
Herself and through herself of own accord,
Rid of all gods. For- by their holy hearts
Which pass in long tranquillity of peace
2765Untroubled ages and a serene life!-
Who hath the power (I ask), who hath the power
To rule the sum of the immeasurable,
To hold with steady hand the giant reins
Of the unfathomed deep? Who hath the power
2770At once to roll a multitude of skies,
At once to heat with fires ethereal all
The fruitful lands of multitudes of worlds,
To be at all times in all places near,
To stablish darkness by his clouds, to shake
2775The serene spaces of the sky with sound,
And hurl his lightnings,- ha, and whelm how oft
In ruins his own temples, and to rave,
Retiring to the wildernesses, there
At practice with that thunderbolt of his,
2780Which yet how often shoots the guilty by,
And slays the honorable blameless ones!

[The earth was produced by atoms from elsewhere in the cosmos.]

Ere since the birth-time of the world, ere since
The risen first-born day of sea, earth, sun,
Have many germs been added from outside,
2785Have many seeds been added round about,
Which the great All, the while it flung them on,
Brought hither, that from them the sea and lands
Could grow more big, and that the house of heaven
Might get more room and raise its lofty roofs
2790Far over earth, and air arise around.
For bodies all, from out all regions, are
Divided by blows, each to its proper thing,
And all retire to their own proper kinds:
The moist to moist retires; earth gets increase
2795From earthy body; and fires, as on a forge,
Beat out new fire; and ether forges ether;
Till nature, author and ender of the world,
Hath led all things to extreme bound of growth:
As haps when that which hath been poured inside
2800The vital veins of life is now no more
Than that which ebbs within them and runs off.
This is the point where life for each thing ends;
This is the point where nature with her powers
Curbs all increase. For whatsoe'er thou seest
2805Grow big with glad increase, and step by step
Climb upward to ripe age, these to themselves
Take in more bodies than they send from selves,
Whilst still the food is easily infused
Through all the veins, and whilst the things are not
2810So far expanded that they cast away
Such numerous atoms as to cause a waste
Greater than nutriment whereby they wax.
For 'tmust be granted, truly, that from things
Many a body ebbeth and runs off;
2815But yet still more must come, until the things
Have touched development's top pinnacle;
Then old age breaks their powers and ripe strength
And falls away into a worser part.
For ever the ampler and more wide a thing,
2820As soon as ever its augmentation ends,
It scatters abroad forthwith to all sides round
More bodies, sending them from out itself.
Nor easily now is food disseminate
Through all its veins; nor is that food enough
2825To equal with a new supply on hand
Those plenteous exhalations it gives off.
Thus, fairly, all things perish, when with ebbing
They're made less dense and when from blows without
They are laid low; since food at last will fail
2830Extremest eld, and bodies from outside
Cease not with thumping to undo a thing
And overmaster by infesting blows.

[Like everything else, our earth is also in decay.]

Thus, too, the ramparts of the mighty world
On all sides round shall taken be by storm,
2835And tumble to wrack and shivered fragments down.
For food it is must keep things whole, renewing;
'Tis food must prop and give support to all,-
But to no purpose, since nor veins suffice
To hold enough, nor nature ministers
2840As much as needful. And even now 'tis thus:
Its age is broken and the earth, outworn
With many parturitions, scarce creates
The little lives- she who created erst
All generations and gave forth at birth
2845Enormous bodies of wild beasts of old.
For never, I fancy, did a golden cord
From off the firmament above let down
The mortal generations to the fields;
Nor sea, nor breakers pounding on the rocks
2850Created them; but earth it was who bore-
The same to-day who feeds them from herself.
Besides, herself of own accord, she first
The shining grains and vineyards of all joy
Created for mortality; herself
2855Gave the sweet fruitage and the pastures glad,
Which now to-day yet scarcely wax in size,
Even when aided by our toiling arms.
We break the ox, and wear away the strength
Of sturdy farm-hands; iron tools to-day
2860Barely avail for tilling of the fields,
So niggardly they grudge our harvestings,
So much increase our labor. Now to-day
The aged ploughman, shaking of his head,
Sighs o'er and o'er that labors of his hands
2865Have fallen out in vain, and, as he thinks
How present times are not as times of old,
Often he praises the fortunes of his sire,
And crackles, prating, how the ancient race,
Fulfilled with piety, supported life
2870With simple comfort in a narrow plot,
Since, man for man, the measure of each field
Was smaller far i' the old days. And, again,
The gloomy planter of the withered vine
Rails at the season's change and wearies heaven,
2875Nor grasps that all of things by sure degrees
Are wasting away and going to the tomb,
Outworn by venerable length of life.