Of the Nature of Things

by Lucretius

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Book I - Proem

Mother of Rome, delight of Gods and men,
     Dear Venus that beneath the gliding stars
     Makest to teem the many-voyaged main
     And fruitful lands—for all of living things
     Through thee alone are evermore conceived,
     Through thee are risen to visit the great sun—
     Before thee, Goddess, and thy coming on,
     Flee stormy wind and massy cloud away,
     For thee the daedal Earth bears scented flowers,
     For thee waters of the unvexed deep
     Smile, and the hollows of the serene sky
     Glow with diffused radiance for thee!
     For soon as comes the springtime face of day,
     And procreant gales blow from the West unbarred,
     First fowls of air, smit to the heart by thee,
     Foretoken thy approach, O thou Divine,
     And leap the wild herds round the happy fields
     Or swim the bounding torrents. Thus amain,
     Seized with the spell, all creatures follow thee
     Whithersoever thou walkest forth to lead,
     And thence through seas and mountains and swift streams,
     Through leafy homes of birds and greening plains,
     Kindling the lure of love in every breast,
     Thou bringest the eternal generations forth,
     Kind after kind. And since 'tis thou alone
     Guidest the Cosmos, and without thee naught
     Is risen to reach the shining shores of light,
     Nor aught of joyful or of lovely born,
     Thee do I crave co-partner in that verse
     Which I presume on Nature to compose
     For Memmius mine, whom thou hast willed to be
     Peerless in every grace at every hour—
     Wherefore indeed, Divine one, give my words
     Immortal charm. Lull to a timely rest
     O'er sea and land the savage works of war,
     For thou alone hast power with public peace
     To aid mortality; since he who rules
     The savage works of battle, puissant Mars,
     How often to thy bosom flings his strength
     O'ermastered by the eternal wound of love—
     And there, with eyes and full throat backward thrown,
     Gazing, my Goddess, open-mouthed at thee,
     Pastures on love his greedy sight, his breath
     Hanging upon thy lips. Him thus reclined
     Fill with thy holy body, round, above!
     Pour from those lips soft syllables to win
     Peace for the Romans, glorious Lady, peace!
     For in a season troublous to the state
     Neither may I attend this task of mine
     With thought untroubled, nor mid such events
     The illustrious scion of the Memmian house
     Neglect the civic cause.

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

     I know how hard it is in Latian verse
     To tell the dark discoveries of the Greeks,
     Chiefly because our pauper-speech must find
     Strange terms to fit the strangeness of the thing;
     Yet worth of thine and the expected joy
     Of thy sweet friendship do persuade me on
     To bear all toil and wake the clear nights through,
     Seeking with what of words and what of song
     I may at last most gloriously uncloud
     For thee the light beyond, wherewith to view
     The core of being at the centre hid.
     And for the rest, summon to judgments true,
     Unbusied ears and singleness of mind
     Withdrawn from cares; lest these my gifts, arranged
     For thee with eager service, thou disdain
     Before thou comprehendest: since for thee
     I prove the supreme law of Gods and sky,
     And the primordial germs of things unfold,
     Whence Nature all creates, and multiplies
     And fosters all, and whither she resolves
     Each in the end when each is overthrown.
     This ultimate stock we have devised to name
     Procreant atoms, matter, seeds of things,
     Or primal bodies, as primal to the world.

     I fear perhaps thou deemest that we fare
     An impious road to realms of thought profane;
     But 'tis that same religion oftener far
     Hath bred the foul impieties of men:
     As once at Aulis, the elected chiefs,
     Foremost of heroes, Danaan counsellors,
     Defiled Diana's altar, virgin queen,
     With Agamemnon's daughter, foully slain.
     She felt the chaplet round her maiden locks
     And fillets, fluttering down on either cheek,
     And at the altar marked her grieving sire,
     The priests beside him who concealed the knife,
     And all the folk in tears at sight of her.
     With a dumb terror and a sinking knee
     She dropped; nor might avail her now that first
     'Twas she who gave the king a father's name.
     They raised her up, they bore the trembling girl
     On to the altar—hither led not now
     With solemn rites and hymeneal choir,
     But sinless woman, sinfully foredone,
     A parent felled her on her bridal day,
     Making his child a sacrificial beast
     To give the ships auspicious winds for Troy:
     Such are the crimes to which Religion leads.

     And there shall come the time when even thou,
     Forced by the soothsayer's terror-tales, shalt seek
     To 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
     By 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,
     Whether 'tis born, or enter in at birth,
     And whether, snatched by death, it die with us,
     Or visit the shadows and the vasty caves
     Of Orcus, or by some divine decree
     Enter the brute herds, as our Ennius sang,
     Who first from lovely Helicon brought down
     A laurel wreath of bright perennial leaves,
     Renowned forever among the Italian clans.
     Yet Ennius too in everlasting verse
     Proclaims those vaults of Acheron to be,
     Though thence, he said, nor souls nor bodies fare,
     But only phantom figures, strangely wan,
     And tells how once from out those regions rose
     Old Homer's ghost to him and shed salt tears
     And with his words unfolded Nature's source.
     Then 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
     Of 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.

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