Of the Nature of Things

by Lucretius

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Book I - Nothing Exists per se Except Atoms and the Void

But, now again to weave the tale begun,
     All 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.
     For common instinct of our race declares
     That body of itself exists: unless
     This primal faith, deep-founded, fail us not,
     Naught will there be whereunto to appeal
     On things occult when seeking aught to prove
     By reasonings of mind. Again, without
     That place and room, which we do call the inane,
     Nowhere could bodies then be set, nor go
     Hither or thither at all—as shown before.
     Besides, there's naught of which thou canst declare
     It lives disjoined from body, shut from void—
     A kind of third in nature. For whatever
     Exists must be a somewhat; and the same,
     If tangible, however fight and slight,
     Will yet increase the count of body's sum,
     With its own augmentation big or small;
     But, if intangible and powerless ever
     To keep a thing from passing through itself
     On any side, 'twill be naught else but that
     Which we do call the empty, the inane.
     Again, whate'er exists, as of itself,
     Must either act or suffer action on it,
     Or else be that wherein things move and be:
     Naught, saving body, acts, is acted on;
     Naught but the inane can furnish room. And thus,
     Beside the inane and bodies, is no third
     Nature amid the number of all things—
     Remainder none to fall at any time
     Under our senses, nor be seized and seen
     By any man through reasonings of mind.
     Name o'er creation with what names thou wilt,
     Thou'lt find but properties of those first twain,
     Or see but accidents those twain produce.

     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
     To 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,
     We'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,
     Disjoined from motion and repose of things.
     Thus, when they say there "is" the ravishment
     Of Princess Helen, "is" the siege and sack
     Of Trojan Town, look out, they force us not
     To admit these acts existent by themselves,
     Merely because those races of mankind
     (Of whom these acts were accidents) long since
     Irrevocable age has borne away:
     For all past actions may be said to be
     But accidents, in one way, of mankind,—
     In other, of some region of the world.
     Add, too, had been no matter, and no room
     Wherein all things go on, the fire of love
     Upblown by that fair form, the glowing coal
     Under the Phrygian Alexander's breast,
     Had ne'er enkindled that renowned strife
     Of savage war, nor had the wooden horse
     Involved in flames old Pergama, by a birth
     At midnight of a brood of the Hellenes.
     And thus thou canst remark that every act
     At bottom exists not of itself, nor is
     As body is, nor has like name with void;
     But rather of sort more fitly to be called
     An accident of body, and of place
     Wherein all things go on.

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