Of the Nature of Things

by Lucretius

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Book I - The Void

But yet creation's neither crammed nor blocked
     About by body: there's in things a void—
     Which to have known will serve thee many a turn,
     Nor will not leave thee wandering in doubt,
     Forever searching in the sum of all,
     And losing faith in these pronouncements mine.
     There's place intangible, a void and room.
     For were it not, things could in nowise move;
     Since body's property to block and check
     Would work on all and at an times the same.
     Thus naught could evermore push forth and go,
     Since naught elsewhere would yield a starting place.
     But now through oceans, lands, and heights of heaven,
     By divers causes and in divers modes,
     Before our eyes we mark how much may move,
     Which, finding not a void, would fail deprived
     Of stir and motion; nay, would then have been
     Nowise begot at all, since matter, then,
     Had staid at rest, its parts together crammed.
     Then too, however solid objects seem,
     They yet are formed of matter mixed with void:
     In rocks and caves the watery moisture seeps,
     And beady drops stand out like plenteous tears;
     And food finds way through every frame that lives;
     The trees increase and yield the season's fruit
     Because their food throughout the whole is poured,
     Even from the deepest roots, through trunks and boughs;
     And voices pass the solid walls and fly
     Reverberant through shut doorways of a house;
     And stiffening frost seeps inward to our bones.
     Which but for voids for bodies to go through
     'Tis clear could happen in nowise at all.
     Again, why see we among objects some
     Of heavier weight, but of no bulkier size?
     Indeed, if in a ball of wool there be
     As much of body as in lump of lead,
     The two should weigh alike, since body tends
     To load things downward, while the void abides,
     By contrary nature, the imponderable.
     Therefore, an object just as large but lighter
     Declares infallibly its more of void;
     Even as the heavier more of matter shows,
     And how much less of vacant room inside.
     That which we're seeking with sagacious quest
     Exists, infallibly, commixed with things—
     The void, the invisible inane.

                                  Right here
     I am compelled a question to expound,
     Forestalling something certain folk suppose,
     Lest it avail to lead thee off from truth:
     Waters (they say) before the shining breed
     Of the swift scaly creatures somehow give,
     And straightway open sudden liquid paths,
     Because the fishes leave behind them room
     To which at once the yielding billows stream.
     Thus things among themselves can yet be moved,
     And change their place, however full the Sum—
     Received opinion, wholly false forsooth.
     For where can scaly creatures forward dart,
     Save where the waters give them room? Again,
     Where can the billows yield a way, so long
     As ever the fish are powerless to go?
     Thus either all bodies of motion are deprived,
     Or things contain admixture of a void
     Where each thing gets its start in moving on.

     Lastly, where after impact two broad bodies
     Suddenly spring apart, the air must crowd
     The whole new void between those bodies formed;
     But air, however it stream with hastening gusts,
     Can yet not fill the gap at once—for first
     It makes for one place, ere diffused through all.
     And then, if haply any think this comes,
     When bodies spring apart, because the air
     Somehow condenses, wander they from truth:
     For then a void is formed, where none before;
     And, too, a void is filled which was before.
     Nor can air be condensed in such a wise;
     Nor, granting it could, without a void, I hold,
     It still could not contract upon itself
     And draw its parts together into one.
     Wherefore, despite demur and counter-speech,
     Confess thou must there is a void in things.

     And still I might by many an argument
     Here scrape together credence for my words.
     But for the keen eye these mere footprints serve,
     Whereby thou mayest know the rest thyself.
     As dogs full oft with noses on the ground,
     Find out the silent lairs, though hid in brush,
     Of beasts, the mountain-rangers, when but once
     They scent the certain footsteps of the way,
     Thus thou thyself in themes like these alone
     Can hunt from thought to thought, and keenly wind
     Along even onward to the secret places
     And drag out truth. But, if thou loiter loth
     Or veer, however little, from the point,
     This I can promise, Memmius, for a fact:
     Such copious drafts my singing tongue shall pour
     From the large well-springs of my plenished breast
     That much I dread slow age will steal and coil
     Along our members, and unloose the gates
     Of life within us, ere for thee my verse
     Hath put within thine ears the stores of proofs
     At hand for one soever question broached.

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