Of the Nature of Things

by Lucretius

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

Book I - The Infinity of the Universe

Now learn of what remains! More keenly hear!
     And for myself, my mind is not deceived
     How dark it is: But the large hope of praise
     Hath strook with pointed thyrsus through my heart;
     On the same hour hath strook into my breast
     Sweet love of the Muses, wherewith now instinct,
     I wander afield, thriving in sturdy thought,
     Through unpathed haunts of the Pierides,
     Trodden by step of none before. I joy
     To come on undefiled fountains there,
     To drain them deep; I joy to pluck new flowers,
     To seek for this my head a signal crown
     From regions where the Muses never yet
     Have garlanded the temples of a man:
     First, since I teach concerning mighty things,
     And go right on to loose from round the mind
     The tightened coils of dread religion;
     Next, since, concerning themes so dark, I frame
     Songs so pellucid, touching all throughout
     Even with the Muses' charm—which, as 'twould seem,
     Is not without a reasonable ground:
     But as physicians, when they seek to give
     Young boys the nauseous wormwood, first do touch
     The brim around the cup with the sweet juice
     And yellow of the honey, in order that
     The thoughtless age of boyhood be cajoled
     As far as the lips, and meanwhile swallow down
     The wormwood's bitter draught, and, though befooled,
     Be yet not merely duped, but rather thus
     Grow strong again with recreated health:
     So now I too (since this my doctrine seems
     In general somewhat woeful unto those
     Who've had it not in hand, and since the crowd
     Starts back from it in horror) have desired
     To expound our doctrine unto thee in song
     Soft-speaking and Pierian, and, as 'twere,
     To touch it with sweet honey of the Muse—
     If by such method haply I might hold
     The mind of thee upon these lines of ours,
     Till thou see through the nature of all things,
     And how exists the interwoven frame.

     But since I've taught that bodies of matter, made
     Completely solid, hither and thither fly
     Forevermore unconquered through all time,
     Now come, and whether to the sum of them
     There be a limit or be none, for thee
     Let us unfold; likewise what has been found
     To be the wide inane, or room, or space
     Wherein all things soever do go on,
     Let us examine if it finite be
     All and entire, or reach unmeasured round
     And downward an illimitable profound.

     Thus, then, the All that is is limited
     In no one region of its onward paths,
     For then 'tmust have forever its beyond.
     And a beyond 'tis seen can never be
     For aught, unless still further on there be
     A somewhat somewhere that may bound the same—
     So that the thing be seen still on to where
     The nature of sensation of that thing
     Can follow it no longer. Now because
     Confess we must there's naught beside the sum,
     There's no beyond, and so it lacks all end.
     It matters nothing where thou post thyself,
     In whatsoever regions of the same;
     Even any place a man has set him down
     Still leaves about him the unbounded all
     Outward in all directions; or, supposing
     A moment the all of space finite to be,
     If some one farthest traveller runs forth
     Unto the extreme coasts and throws ahead
     A flying spear, is't then thy wish to think
     It goes, hurled off amain, to where 'twas sent
     And shoots afar, or that some object there
     Can thwart and stop it? For the one or other
     Thou must admit and take. Either of which
     Shuts off escape for thee, and does compel
     That thou concede the all spreads everywhere,
     Owning no confines. Since whether there be
     Aught that may block and check it so it comes
     Not where 'twas sent, nor lodges in its goal,
     Or whether borne along, in either view
     'Thas started not from any end. And so
     I'll follow on, and whereso'er thou set
     The extreme coasts, I'll query, "what becomes
     Thereafter of thy spear?" 'Twill come to pass
     That nowhere can a world's-end be, and that
     The chance for further flight prolongs forever
     The flight itself. Besides, were all the space
     Of the totality and sum shut in
     With fixed coasts, and bounded everywhere,
     Then would the abundance of world's matter flow
     Together by solid weight from everywhere
     Still downward to the bottom of the world,
     Nor aught could happen under cope of sky,
     Nor could there be a sky at all or sun—
     Indeed, where matter all one heap would lie,
     By having settled during infinite time.
     But in reality, repose is given
     Unto no bodies 'mongst the elements,
     Because there is no bottom whereunto
     They might, as 'twere, together flow, and where
     They might take up their undisturbed abodes.
     In endless motion everything goes on
     Forevermore; out of all regions, even
     Out of the pit below, from forth the vast,
     Are hurtled bodies evermore supplied.
     The nature of room, the space of the abyss
     Is such that even the flashing thunderbolts
     Can neither speed upon their courses through,
     Gliding across eternal tracts of time,
     Nor, further, bring to pass, as on they run,
     That they may bate their journeying one whit:
     Such huge abundance spreads for things around—
     Room off to every quarter, without end.
     Lastly, before our very eyes is seen
     Thing to bound thing: air hedges hill from hill,
     And mountain walls hedge air; land ends the sea,
     And sea in turn all lands; but for the All
     Truly is nothing which outside may bound.
     That, too, the sum of things itself may not
     Have power to fix a measure of its own,
     Great nature guards, she who compels the void
     To bound all body, as body all the void,
     Thus rendering by these alternates the whole
     An infinite; or else the one or other,
     Being unbounded by the other, spreads,
     Even by its single nature, ne'ertheless
     Immeasurably forth....
     Nor sea, nor earth, nor shining vaults of sky,
     Nor breed of mortals, nor holy limbs of gods
     Could keep their place least portion of an hour:
     For, driven apart from out its meetings fit,
     The stock of stuff, dissolved, would be borne
     Along the illimitable inane afar,
     Or rather, in fact, would ne'er have once combined
     And given a birth to aught, since, scattered wide,
     It could not be united. For of truth
     Neither by counsel did the primal germs
     'Stablish themselves, as by keen act of mind,
     Each in its proper place; nor did they make,
     Forsooth, a compact how each germ should move;
     But since, being many and changed in many modes
     Along the All, they're driven abroad and vexed
     By blow on blow, even from all time of old,
     They thus at last, after attempting all
     The kinds of motion and conjoining, come
     Into those great arrangements out of which
     This sum of things established is create,
     By which, moreover, through the mighty years,
     It is preserved, when once it has been thrown
     Into the proper motions, bringing to pass
     That ever the streams refresh the greedy main
     With river-waves abounding, and that earth,
     Lapped in warm exhalations of the sun,
     Renews her broods, and that the lusty race
     Of breathing creatures bears and blooms, and that
     The gliding fires of ether are alive—
     What still the primal germs nowise could do,
     Unless from out the infinite of space
     Could come supply of matter, whence in season
     They're wont whatever losses to repair.
     For as the nature of breathing creatures wastes,
     Losing its body, when deprived of food:
     So all things have to be dissolved as soon
     As matter, diverted by what means soever
     From off its course, shall fail to be on hand.
     Nor can the blows from outward still conserve,
     On every side, whatever sum of a world
     Has been united in a whole. They can
     Indeed, by frequent beating, check a part,
     Till others arriving may fulfil the sum;
     But meanwhile often are they forced to spring
     Rebounding back, and, as they spring, to yield,
     Unto those elements whence a world derives,
     Room and a time for flight, permitting them
     To be from off the massy union borne
     Free and afar. Wherefore, again, again:
     Needs must there come a many for supply;
     And also, that the blows themselves shall be
     Unfailing ever, must there ever be
     An infinite force of matter all sides round.

     And in these problems, shrink, my Memmius, far
     From yielding faith to that notorious talk:
     That all things inward to the centre press;
     And thus the nature of the world stands firm
     With never blows from outward, nor can be
     Nowhere disparted—since all height and depth
     Have always inward to the centre pressed
     (If thou art ready to believe that aught
     Itself can rest upon itself ); or that
     The ponderous bodies which be under earth
     Do all press upwards and do come to rest
     Upon the earth, in some way upside down,
     Like to those images of things we see
     At present through the waters. They contend,
     With like procedure, that all breathing things
     Head downward roam about, and yet cannot
     Tumble from earth to realms of sky below,
     No more than these our bodies wing away
     Spontaneously to vaults of sky above;
     That, when those creatures look upon the sun,
     We view the constellations of the night;
     And that with us the seasons of the sky
     They thus alternately divide, and thus
     Do pass the night coequal to our days,
     But a vain error has given these dreams to fools,
     Which they've embraced with reasoning perverse
     For centre none can be where world is still
     Boundless, nor yet, if now a centre were,
     Could aught take there a fixed position more
     Than for some other cause 'tmight be dislodged.
     For all of room and space we call the void
     Must both through centre and non-centre yield
     Alike to weights where'er their motions tend.
     Nor is there any place, where, when they've come,
     Bodies can be at standstill in the void,
     Deprived of force of weight; nor yet may void
     Furnish support to any,—nay, it must,
     True to its bent of nature, still give way.
     Thus in such manner not at all can things
     Be held in union, as if overcome
     By craving for a centre.

                                  But besides,
     Seeing they feign that not all bodies press
     To centre inward, rather only those
     Of earth and water (liquid of the sea,
     And the big billows from the mountain slopes,
     And whatsoever are encased, as 'twere,
     In earthen body), contrariwise, they teach
     How the thin air, and with it the hot fire,
     Is borne asunder from the centre, and how,
     For this all ether quivers with bright stars,
     And the sun's flame along the blue is fed
     (Because the heat, from out the centre flying,
     All gathers there), and how, again, the boughs
     Upon the tree-tops could not sprout their leaves,
     Unless, little by little, from out the earth
     For each were nutriment...

     Lest, after the manner of the winged flames,
     The ramparts of the world should flee away,
     Dissolved amain throughout the mighty void,
     And lest all else should likewise follow after,
     Aye, lest the thundering vaults of heaven should burst
     And splinter upward, and the earth forthwith
     Withdraw from under our feet, and all its bulk,
     Among its mingled wrecks and those of heaven,
     With slipping asunder of the primal seeds,
     Should pass, along the immeasurable inane,
     Away forever, and, that instant, naught
     Of wrack and remnant would be left, beside
     The desolate space, and germs invisible.
     For on whatever side thou deemest first
     The primal bodies lacking, lo, that side
     Will be for things the very door of death:
     Wherethrough the throng of matter all will dash,
     Out and abroad.

                    These points, if thou wilt ponder,
     Then, with but paltry trouble led along...

     For one thing after other will grow clear,
     Nor shall the blind night rob thee of the road,
     To hinder thy gaze on nature's Farthest-forth.
     Thus things for things shall kindle torches new.

Return to the Of the Nature of Things Summary Return to the Lucretius Library

Anton Chekhov
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Susan Glaspell
Mark Twain
Edgar Allan Poe
Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
Herman Melville
Stephen Leacock
Kate Chopin
Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson