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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    Not Peer Reviewed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)




    O thou who first uplifted in such dark So clear a torch aloft, who first shed light Upon the profitable ends of man, O thee I follow, glory of the Greeks, And set my footsteps squarely planted now 2885Even in the impress and the marks of thine- Less like one eager to dispute the palm, More as one craving out of very love That I may copy thee!- for how should swallow Contend with swans or what compare could be 2890In a race between young kids with tumbling legs And the strong might of the horse? Our father thou, And finder-out of truth, and thou to us Suppliest a father's precepts; and from out Those scriven leaves of thine, renowned soul 2895(Like bees that sip of all in flowery wolds), We feed upon thy golden sayings all- Golden, and ever worthiest endless life. For soon as ever thy planning thought that sprang From god-like mind begins its loud proclaim 2900Of nature's courses, terrors of the brain Asunder flee, the ramparts of the world Dispart away, and through the void entire I see the movements of the universe. Rises to vision the majesty of gods, 2905And their abodes of everlasting calm Which neither wind may shake nor rain-cloud splash, Nor snow, congealed by sharp frosts, may harm With its white downfall: ever, unclouded sky O'er roofs, and laughs with far-diffused light. 2910And nature gives to them their all, nor aught May ever pluck their peace of mind away. But nowhere to my vision rise no more The vaults of Acheron, though the broad earth Bars me no more from gazing down o'er all 2915Which under our feet is going on below Along the void. O, here in these affairs Some new divine delight and trembling awe Takes hold through me, that thus by power of thine Nature, so plain and manifest at last, 2920Hath been on every side laid bare to man!

    [Because atoms truly account for what we think of as mind and soul, fear of the afterlife is the principal threat to ataraxia.


    And since I've taught already of what sort The seeds of all things are, and how, distinct In divers forms, they flit of own accord, Stirred with a motion everlasting on, 2925And in what mode things be from them create, Now, after such matters, should my verse, meseems, Make clear the nature of the mind and soul, And drive that dread of Acheron without, Headlong, which so confounds our human life. . . .

    [Fear of death and the afterlife causes avarice and ambition.



    And greed, again, and the blind lust of honors Which force poor wretches past the bounds of law, And, oft allies and ministers of crime, To push through nights and days of the hugest toil To rise untrammeled to the peaks of power- 2960These wounds of life in no mean part are kept Festering and open by this fright of death. For ever we see fierce Want and foul Disgrace Dislodged afar from secure life and sweet, Like huddling Shapes before the doors of death. 2965And whilst, from these, men wish to scape afar, Driven by false terror, and afar remove, With civic blood a fortune they amass, They double their riches, greedy, heapers-up Of corpse on corpse they have a cruel laugh 2970For the sad burial of a brother-born, And hatred and fear of tables of their kin. Likewise, through this same terror, envy oft Makes them to peak because before their eyes That man is lordly, that man gazed upon 2975Who walks begirt with honor glorious, Whilst they in filth and darkness roll around; Some perish away for statues and a name, And oft to that degree, from fright of death, Will hate of living and beholding light 2980Take hold on humankind that they inflict Their own destruction with a gloomy heart- Forgetful that this fear is font of cares, This fear the plague upon their sense of shame, And this that breaks the ties of comradry 2985And oversets all reverence and faith, Mid direst slaughter. For long ere to-day Often were traitors to country and dear parents Through quest to shun the realms of Acheron. For just as children tremble and fear all 2990In 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, 2995Not sunrise with its flaring spokes of light, Nor glittering arrows of morning sun disperse, But only Nature's aspect and her law.

    [The nature and composition of the mind.


    First, then, I say, the mind which oft we call 3000The intellect, wherein is seated life's Counsel and regimen, is part no less Of man than hand and foot and eyes are parts Of one whole breathing creature. . . .

    [The soul is a part of the body, like a limb.



    Now, for to see that in man's members dwells Also the soul, and body ne'er is wont To feel sensation by a "harmony" Take this in chief: the fact that life remains Oft in our limbs, when much of body's gone; 3030Yet that same life, when particles of heat, Though few, have scattered been, and through the mouth Air has been given forth abroad, forthwith Forever deserts the veins, and leaves the bones. Thus mayst thou know that not all particles 3035Perform like parts, nor in like manner all Are props of weal and safety: rather those- The seeds of wind and exhalations warm- Take care that in our members life remains. Therefore a vital heat and wind there is 3040Within the very body, which at death Deserts our frames. . . .

    [Mind is inseparable from the soul, which is part of the body.


    Mind and soul, 3050I say, are held conjoined one with other, And form one single nature of themselves; But chief and regnant through the frame entire Is still that counsel which we call the mind, And that cleaves seated in the midmost breast. 3055Here leap dismay and terror; round these haunts Be blandishments of joys; and therefore here The intellect, the mind. The rest of soul, Throughout the body scattered, but obeys- Moved by the nod and motion of the mind. 3060This, for itself, sole through itself, hath thought; This for itself hath mirth, even when the thing That moves it, moves nor soul nor body at all. And as, when head or eye in us is smit By assailing pain, we are not tortured then 3065Through all the body, so the mind alone Is sometimes smitten, or livens with a joy, Whilst yet the soul's remainder through the limbs And through the frame is stirred by nothing new. But when the mind is moved by shock more fierce, 3070We mark the whole soul suffering all at once Along man's members: sweats and pallors spread Over the body, and the tongue is broken, And fails the voice away, and ring the ears, Mists blind the eyeballs, and the joints collapse,- 3075Aye, men drop dead from terror of the mind. Hence, whoso will can readily remark That soul conjoined is with mind, and, when 'Tis strook by influence of the mind, forthwith In turn it hits and drives the body too. . . .

    [The atoms of mind are smaller and finer and move faster than those of the body.


    So nature of mind must be corporeal, since From stroke and spear corporeal 'tis in throes. Now, of what body, what components formed Is this same mind I will go on to tell. 3100First, I aver, 'tis superfine, composed Of tiniest particles- that such the fact Thou canst perceive, if thou attend, from this: Nothing is seen to happen with such speed As what the mind proposes and begins; 3105Therefore the same bestirs itself more swiftly Than aught whose nature's palpable to eyes. But what's so agile must of seeds consist Most round, most tiny, that they may be moved, When hit by impulse slight. . . .

    [The tiny atoms of the soul make no difference to the body's weight and appearance, as we can see in death.


    Now, then, 3125Since nature of mind is movable so much, Consist it must of seeds exceeding small And smooth and round. Which fact once known to thee, Good friend, will serve thee opportune in else. This also shows the nature of the same, 3130How nice its texture, in how small a space 'Twould go, if once compacted as a pellet: When death's unvexed repose gets hold on man And mind and soul retire, thou markest there From the whole body nothing ta'en in form, 3135Nothing in weight. Death grants ye everything, But vital sense and exhalation hot. Thus soul entire must be of smallmost seeds, Twined through the veins, the vitals, and the thews, Seeing that, when 'tis from whole body gone, 3140The outward figuration of the limbs Is unimpaired and weight fails not a whit. Just so, when vanished the bouquet of wine, Or when an unguent's perfume delicate Into the winds away departs, or when 3145From any body savor's gone, yet still The thing itself seems minished naught to eyes, Thereby, nor aught abstracted from its weight- No marvel, because seeds many and minute Produce the savors and the redolence 3150In the whole body of the things. . . .

    [The soul is mortal.


    Now come: that thou mayst able be to know That minds and the light souls of all that live Have mortal birth and death, I will go on 3380Verses to build meet for thy rule of life, Sought after long, discovered with sweet toil. . . .

    [The atoms of the soul disperse at death, just as the atoms of the body do.


    Now, then, since thou seest, Their liquids depart, their waters flow away, When jars are shivered, and since fog and smoke 3400Depart into the winds away, believe The soul no less is shed abroad and dies More quickly far, more quickly is dissolved Back to its primal bodies, when withdrawn From out man's members it has gone away. 3405For, sure, if body (container of the same Like as a jar), when shivered from some cause, And rarefied by loss of blood from veins, Cannot for longer hold the soul, how then Thinkst thou it can be held by any air- 3410A stuff much rarer than our bodies be?

    [The mind comes into being with the body and matures with it.


    Besides we feel that mind to being comes Along with body, with body grows and ages. For just as children totter round about With frames infirm and tender, so there follows 3415A weakling wisdom in their minds; and then, Where years have ripened into robust powers, Counsel is also greater, more increased The power of mind; thereafter, where already The body's shattered by master-powers of eld, 3420And fallen the frame with its enfeebled powers, Thought hobbles, tongue wanders, and the mind gives way;

    [The mind similarly ceases with the body.


    All fails, all's lacking at the selfsame time. Therefore it suits that even the soul's dissolved, Like smoke, into the lofty winds of air; 3425Since we behold the same to being come Along with body and grow, and, as I've taught, Crumble and crack, therewith outworn by eld.

    [The mind suffers, just as the body does.


    Then, too, we see, that, just as body takes Monstrous diseases and the dreadful pain, 3430So mind its bitter cares, the grief, the fear; Wherefore it tallies that the mind no less Partaker is of death; for pain and disease Are both artificers of death. . . .

    Thus, since within the body itself of man 3485The mind and soul are by such great diseases Shaken, so miserably in labor distraught, Why, then, believe that in the open air, Without a body, they can pass their life, Immortal, battling with the master winds?

    [The mind has a fixed place in the body, like a limb, and cannot exist without the body.


    And since the mind is of a man one part, Which in one fixed place remains, like ears, And eyes, and every sense which pilots life; And just as hand, or eye, or nose, apart, 3515Severed from us, can neither feel nor be, But in the least of time is left to rot, Thus mind alone can never be, without The body and the man himself, which seems, As 'twere the vessel of the same- or aught 3520Whate'er thou'lt feign as yet more closely joined: Since body cleaves to mind by surest bonds.

    [The mind disperses, just as the body decays.


    Once more, since body's unable to sustain Division from the soul, without decay And obscene stench, how canst thou doubt but that 3555The soul, uprisen from the body's deeps, Has filtered away, wide-drifted like a smoke, Or that the changed body crumbling fell With ruin so entire, because, indeed, Its deep foundations have been moved from place, 3560The soul out-filtering even through the frame, And through the body's every winding way And orifice? . . .

    [If the soul exists after the body, it must have five senses.


    Besides, if nature of soul immortal be, And able to feel, when from our frame disjoined, 3615The same, I fancy, must be thought to be Endowed with senses five,- nor is there way But this whereby to image to ourselves How under-souls may roam in Acheron. Thus painters and the elder race of bards 3620Have pictured souls with senses so endowed. But neither eyes, nor nose, nor hand, alone Apart from body can exist for soul, Nor tongue nor ears apart. And hence indeed Alone by self they can nor feel nor be. . . .

    [The mind belongs to the body, just as other visible things belong to a particular environment.


    Again, in ether can't exist a tree, Nor clouds in ocean deeps, nor in the fields Can fishes live, nor blood in timber be, 3840Nor sap in boulders: fixed and arranged Where everything may grow and have its place. Thus nature of mind cannot arise alone Without the body, nor exist afar From thews and blood. But if 'twere possible, 3845Much 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. . . .

    [Mortal things cannot be joined to immortal things.


    For, verily, the mortal to conjoin 3855With the eternal, and to feign they feel Together, and can function each with each, Is but to dote: for what can be conceived Of more unlike, discrepant, ill-assorted, Than something mortal in a union joined 3860With an immortal . . . ?

    [The fear of death is therefore foolish.


    Therefore death to us Is nothing, nor concerns us in the least, Since nature of mind is mortal evermore. . . .

    [Feeling is impossible for something that does not exist.


    For if woe and ail Perchance are toward, then the man to whom 3940The bane can happen must himself be there At that same time. But death precludeth this, Forbidding life to him on whom might crowd Such irk and care; and granted 'tis to know: Nothing for us there is to dread in death, 3945No wretchedness for him who is no more, The same estate as if ne'er born before, When death immortal hath ta'en the mortal life. . . .

    [Death should be of no greater concern than sleep.


    But ask the mourner what's the bitterness 4000That man should waste in an eternal grief, If, after all, the thing's but sleep and rest? For when the soul and frame together are sunk In slumber, no one then demands his self Or being. Well, this sleep may be forever, 4005Without desire of any selfhood more, For all it matters unto us asleep. Yet not at all do those primordial germs Roam round our members, at that time, afar From their own motions that produce our senses- 4010Since, when he's startled from his sleep, a man Collects his senses. Death is, then, to us Much less- if there can be a less than that Which is itself a nothing: for there comes Hard upon death a scattering more great 4015Of the throng of matter, and no man wakes up On whom once falls the icy pause of life. This too, O often from the soul men say, Along their couches holding of the cups, With faces shaded by fresh wreaths awry: 4020"Brief is this fruit of joy to paltry man, Soon, soon departed, and thereafter, no, It may not be recalled."- As if, forsooth, It were their prime of evils in great death To parch, poor tongues, with thirst and arid drought, 4025Or chafe for any lack. . . .

    [Old age is no reason to complain.


    Yet should one complain, Riper in years and elder, and lament, 4055Poor devil, his death more sorely than is fit, Then would she not, with greater right, on him Cry out, inveighing with a voice more shrill: "Off with thy tears, and choke thy whines, buffoon! Thou wrinklest- after thou hast had the sum 4060Of the guerdons of life; yet, since thou cravest ever What's not at hand, condemning present good, That life has slipped away, unperfected And unavailing unto thee. And now, Or ere thou guessed it, death beside thy head 4065Stands- and before thou canst be going home Sated and laden with the goodly feast. But now yield all that's alien to thine age,- Up, with good grace! make room for sons: thou must." Justly, I fancy, would she reason thus, 4070Justly inveigh and gird: since ever the old Outcrowded by the new gives way, and ever The one thing from the others is repaired. Nor no man is consigned to the abyss Of Tartarus, the black. For stuff must be, 4075That thus the after-generations grow, Though these, their life completed, follow thee; And thus like thee are generations all- Already fallen, or some time to fall. So one thing from another rises ever; 4080And in fee-simple life is given to none, But unto all mere usufruct. Look back: Nothing to us was all fore-passed eld Of time the eternal, ere we had a birth. 4085And Nature holds this like a mirror up Of time-to-be when we are dead and gone. And what is there so horrible appears? Now what is there so sad about it all? Is't not serener far than any sleep?

    [Understanding the nature of things is the only way to live life and face death.


    If men, in that same way as on the mind They feel the load that wearies with its weight, 4185Could also know the causes whence it comes, And why so great the heap of ill on heart, O not in this sort would they live their life, As now so much we see them, knowing not What 'tis they want, and seeking ever and ever 4190A change of place, as if to drop the burden. The man who sickens of his home goes out, Forth from his splendid halls, and straight returns, Feeling i'faith no better off abroad. He races, driving his Gallic ponies along, 4195Down to his villa, madly,- as in haste To hurry help to a house afire.- At once He yawns, as soon as foot has touched the threshold, Or drowsily goes off in sleep and seeks Forgetfulness, or maybe bustles about 4200And makes for town again. In such a way Each human flees himself- a self in sooth, As happens, he by no means can escape; And willy-nilly he cleaves to it and loathes, Sick, sick, and guessing not the cause of ail. 4205Yet should he see but that, O chiefly then, Leaving all else, he'd study to divine The nature of things, since here is in debate Eternal time and not the single hour, Mortal's estate in whatsoever remains 4210After great death. And too, when all is said, What evil lust of life is this so great Subdues us to live, so dreadfully distraught In perils and alarms? one fixed end 4215Of life abideth for mortality; Death's not to shun, and we must go to meet. Besides we're busied with the same devices, Ever and ever, and we are at them ever, And there's no new delight that may be forged 4220By living on. But whilst the thing we long for Is lacking, that seems good above all else; Thereafter, when we've touched it, something else We long for; ever one equal thirst of life Grips us agape. And doubtful 'tis what fortune 4225The future times may carry, or what be That chance may bring, or what the issue next Awaiting us. Nor by prolonging life Take we the least away from death's own time, Nor can we pluck one moment off, whereby 4230To minish the aeons of our state of death. Therefore, O man, by living on, fulfill As many generations as thou may: Eternal death shall there be waiting still; And he who died with light of yesterday 4235Shall be no briefer time in death's No more Than he who perished months or years before.