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  • Title: De Rerum Natura (Selections)
  • Editor: John D. Cox

  • Copyright John D. Cox. This text may be freely used for educational, non-profit purposes; for all other uses contact the Editor.
    Author: Lucretius
    Editor: John D. Cox
    Not Peer Reviewed

    De Rerum Natura (Selections)



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


    '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.