Of the Nature of Things

by Lucretius

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Book I - Substance Is Eternal

This terror, then, this darkness of the mind,
     Not sunrise with its flaring spokes of light,
     Nor glittering arrows of morning can disperse,
     But only Nature's aspect and her law,
     Which, teaching us, hath this exordium:
     Nothing from nothing ever yet was born.
     Fear holds dominion over mortality
     Only because, seeing in land and sky
     So much the cause whereof no wise they know,
     Men think Divinities are working there.
     Meantime, when once we know from nothing still
     Nothing can be create, we shall divine
     More clearly what we seek: those elements
     From which alone all things created are,
     And how accomplished by no tool of Gods.
     Suppose all sprang from all things: any kind
     Might take its origin from any thing,
     No fixed seed required. Men from the sea
     Might rise, and from the land the scaly breed,
     And, fowl full fledged come bursting from the sky;
     The horned cattle, the herds and all the wild
     Would haunt with varying offspring tilth and waste;
     Nor would the same fruits keep their olden trees,
     But each might grow from any stock or limb
     By chance and change. Indeed, and were there not
     For each its procreant atoms, could things have
     Each its unalterable mother old?
     But, since produced from fixed seeds are all,
     Each birth goes forth upon the shores of light
     From its own stuff, from its own primal bodies.
     And all from all cannot become, because
     In each resides a secret power its own.
     Again, why see we lavished o'er the lands
     At spring the rose, at summer heat the corn,
     The vines that mellow when the autumn lures,
     If not because the fixed seeds of things
     At their own season must together stream,
     And new creations only be revealed
     When the due times arrive and pregnant earth
     Safely may give unto the shores of light
     Her tender progenies? But if from naught
     Were their becoming, they would spring abroad
     Suddenly, unforeseen, in alien months,
     With no primordial germs, to be preserved
     From procreant unions at an adverse hour.
     Nor on the mingling of the living seeds
     Would space be needed for the growth of things
     Were life an increment of nothing: then
     The tiny babe forthwith would walk a man,
     And from the turf would leap a branching tree—
     Wonders unheard of; for, by Nature, each
     Slowly increases from its lawful seed,
     And through that increase shall conserve its kind.
     Whence take the proof that things enlarge and feed
     From out their proper matter. Thus it comes
     That earth, without her seasons of fixed rains,
     Could bear no produce such as makes us glad,
     And whatsoever lives, if shut from food,
     Prolongs its kind and guards its life no more.
     Thus easier 'tis to hold that many things
     Have primal bodies in common (as we see
     The single letters common to many words)
     Than aught exists without its origins.
     Moreover, why should Nature not prepare
     Men of a bulk to ford the seas afoot,
     Or rend the mighty mountains with their hands,
     Or conquer Time with length of days, if not
     Because for all begotten things abides
     The changeless stuff, and what from that may spring
     Is fixed forevermore? Lastly we see
     How far the tilled surpass the fields untilled
     And to the labour of our hands return
     Their more abounding crops; there are indeed
     Within the earth primordial germs of things,
     Which, as the ploughshare turns the fruitful clods
     And kneads the mould, we quicken into birth.
     Else would ye mark, without all toil of ours,
     Spontaneous generations, fairer forms.
     Confess then, naught from nothing can become,
     Since all must have their seeds, wherefrom to grow,
     Wherefrom to reach the gentle fields of air.
     Hence too it comes that Nature all dissolves
     Into their primal bodies again, and naught
     Perishes ever to annihilation.
     For, were aught mortal in its every part,
     Before our eyes it might be snatched away
     Unto destruction; since no force were needed
     To sunder its members and undo its bands.
     Whereas, of truth, because all things exist,
     With seed imperishable, Nature allows
     Destruction nor collapse of aught, until
     Some outward force may shatter by a blow,
     Or inward craft, entering its hollow cells,
     Dissolve it down. And more than this, if Time,
     That wastes with eld the works along the world,
     Destroy entire, consuming matter all,
     Whence then may Venus back to light of life
     Restore the generations kind by kind?
     Or how, when thus restored, may daedal Earth
     Foster and plenish with her ancient food,
     Which, kind by kind, she offers unto each?
     Whence may the water-springs, beneath the sea,
     Or inland rivers, far and wide away,
     Keep the unfathomable ocean full?
     And out of what does Ether feed the stars?
     For lapsed years and infinite age must else
     Have eat all shapes of mortal stock away:
     But be it the Long Ago contained those germs,
     By which this sum of things recruited lives,
     Those same infallibly can never die,
     Nor nothing to nothing evermore return.
     And, too, the selfsame power might end alike
     All things, were they not still together held
     By matter eternal, shackled through its parts,
     Now more, now less. A touch might be enough
     To cause destruction. For the slightest force
     Would loose the weft of things wherein no part
     Were of imperishable stock. But now
     Because the fastenings of primordial parts
     Are put together diversely and stuff
     Is everlasting, things abide the same
     Unhurt and sure, until some power comes on
     Strong to destroy the warp and woof of each:
     Nothing returns to naught; but all return
     At their collapse to primal forms of stuff.
     Lo, the rains perish which Ether-father throws
     Down to the bosom of Earth-mother; but then
     Upsprings the shining grain, and boughs are green
     Amid the trees, and trees themselves wax big
     And lade themselves with fruits; and hence in turn
     The race of man and all the wild are fed;
     Hence joyful cities thrive with boys and girls;
     And leafy woodlands echo with new birds;
     Hence cattle, fat and drowsy, lay their bulk
     Along the joyous pastures whilst the drops
     Of white ooze trickle from distended bags;
     Hence the young scamper on their weakling joints
     Along the tender herbs, fresh hearts afrisk
     With warm new milk. Thus naught of what so seems
     Perishes utterly, since Nature ever
     Upbuilds one thing from other, suffering naught
     To come to birth but through some other's death.

     And now, since I have taught that things cannot
     Be born from nothing, nor the same, when born,
     To nothing be recalled, doubt not my words,
     Because our eyes no primal germs perceive;
     For mark those bodies which, though known to be
     In this our world, are yet invisible:
     The winds infuriate lash our face and frame,
     Unseen, and swamp huge ships and rend the clouds,
     Or, eddying wildly down, bestrew the plains
     With mighty trees, or scour the mountain tops
     With forest-crackling blasts. Thus on they rave
     With uproar shrill and ominous moan. The winds,
     'Tis clear, are sightless bodies sweeping through
     The sea, the lands, the clouds along the sky,
     Vexing and whirling and seizing all amain;
     And forth they flow and pile destruction round,
     Even as the water's soft and supple bulk
     Becoming a river of abounding floods,
     Which a wide downpour from the lofty hills
     Swells with big showers, dashes headlong down
     Fragments of woodland and whole branching trees;
     Nor can the solid bridges bide the shock
     As on the waters whelm: the turbulent stream,
     Strong with a hundred rains, beats round the piers,
     Crashes with havoc, and rolls beneath its waves
     Down-toppled masonry and ponderous stone,
     Hurling away whatever would oppose.
     Even so must move the blasts of all the winds,
     Which, when they spread, like to a mighty flood,
     Hither or thither, drive things on before
     And hurl to ground with still renewed assault,
     Or sometimes in their circling vortex seize
     And bear in cones of whirlwind down the world:
     The winds are sightless bodies and naught else—
     Since both in works and ways they rival well
     The mighty rivers, the visible in form.
     Then too we know the varied smells of things
     Yet never to our nostrils see them come;
     With eyes we view not burning heats, nor cold,
     Nor are we wont men's voices to behold.
     Yet these must be corporeal at the base,
     Since thus they smite the senses: naught there is
     Save body, having property of touch.
     And raiment, hung by surf-beat shore, grows moist,
     The same, spread out before the sun, will dry;
     Yet no one saw how sank the moisture in,
     Nor how by heat off-driven. Thus we know,
     That moisture is dispersed about in bits
     Too small for eyes to see. Another case:
     A ring upon the finger thins away
     Along the under side, with years and suns;
     The drippings from the eaves will scoop the stone;
     The hooked ploughshare, though of iron, wastes
     Amid the fields insidiously. We view
     The rock-paved highways worn by many feet;
     And at the gates the brazen statues show
     Their right hands leaner from the frequent touch
     Of wayfarers innumerable who greet.
     We see how wearing-down hath minished these,
     But just what motes depart at any time,
     The envious nature of vision bars our sight.
     Lastly whatever days and nature add
     Little by little, constraining things to grow
     In due proportion, no gaze however keen
     Of these our eyes hath watched and known. No more
     Can we observe what's lost at any time,
     When things wax old with eld and foul decay,
     Or when salt seas eat under beetling crags.
     Thus Nature ever by unseen bodies works.

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