Of the Nature of Things

by Lucretius

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Book II - Atomic Forms and Their Combinations

Now come, and next hereafter apprehend
     What sorts, how vastly different in form,
     How varied in multitudinous shapes they are—
     These old beginnings of the universe;
     Not in the sense that only few are furnished
     With one like form, but rather not at all
     In general have they likeness each with each,
     No marvel: since the stock of them's so great
     That there's no end (as I have taught) nor sum,
     They must indeed not one and all be marked
     By equal outline and by shape the same.

     Moreover, humankind, and the mute flocks
     Of scaly creatures swimming in the streams,
     And joyous herds around, and all the wild,
     And all the breeds of birds—both those that teem
     In gladsome regions of the water-haunts,
     About the river-banks and springs and pools,
     And those that throng, flitting from tree to tree,
     Through trackless woods—Go, take which one thou wilt,
     In any kind: thou wilt discover still
     Each from the other still unlike in shape.
     Nor in no other wise could offspring know
     Mother, nor mother offspring—which we see
     They yet can do, distinguished one from other,
     No less than human beings, by clear signs.
     Thus oft before fair temples of the gods,
     Beside the incense-burning altars slain,
     Drops down the yearling calf, from out its breast
     Breathing warm streams of blood; the orphaned mother,
     Ranging meanwhile green woodland pastures round,
     Knows well the footprints, pressed by cloven hoofs,
     With eyes regarding every spot about,
     For sight somewhere of youngling gone from her;
     And, stopping short, filleth the leafy lanes
     With her complaints; and oft she seeks again
     Within the stall, pierced by her yearning still.
     Nor tender willows, nor dew-quickened grass,
     Nor the loved streams that glide along low banks,
     Can lure her mind and turn the sudden pain;
     Nor other shapes of calves that graze thereby
     Distract her mind or lighten pain the least—
     So keen her search for something known and hers.
     Moreover, tender kids with bleating throats
     Do know their horned dams, and butting lambs
     The flocks of sheep, and thus they patter on,
     Unfailingly each to its proper teat,
     As nature intends. Lastly, with any grain,
     Thou'lt see that no one kernel in one kind
     Is so far like another, that there still
     Is not in shapes some difference running through.
     By a like law we see how earth is pied
     With shells and conchs, where, with soft waves, the sea
     Beats on the thirsty sands of curving shores.
     Wherefore again, again, since seeds of things
     Exist by nature, nor were wrought with hands
     After a fixed pattern of one other,
     They needs must flitter to and fro with shapes
     In types dissimilar to one another.

     Easy enough by thought of mind to solve
     Why fires of lightning more can penetrate
     Than these of ours from pitch-pine born on earth.
     For thou canst say lightning's celestial fire,
     So subtle, is formed of figures finer far,
     And passes thus through holes which this our fire,
     Born from the wood, created from the pine,
     Cannot. Again, light passes through the horn
     On the lantern's side, while rain is dashed away.
     And why?—unless those bodies of light should be
     Finer than those of water's genial showers.
     We see how quickly through a colander
     The wines will flow; how, on the other hand,
     The sluggish olive-oil delays: no doubt,
     Because 'tis wrought of elements more large,
     Or else more crook'd and intertangled. Thus
     It comes that the primordials cannot be
     So suddenly sundered one from other, and seep,
     One through each several hole of anything.

     And note, besides, that liquor of honey or milk
     Yields in the mouth agreeable taste to tongue,
     Whilst nauseous wormwood, pungent centaury,
     With their foul flavour set the lips awry;
     Thus simple 'tis to see that whatsoever
     Can touch the senses pleasingly are made
     Of smooth and rounded elements, whilst those
     Which seem the bitter and the sharp, are held
     Entwined by elements more crook'd, and so
     Are wont to tear their ways into our senses,
     And rend our body as they enter in.
     In short all good to sense, all bad to touch,
     Being up-built of figures so unlike,
     Are mutually at strife—lest thou suppose
     That the shrill rasping of a squeaking saw
     Consists of elements as smooth as song
     Which, waked by nimble fingers, on the strings
     The sweet musicians fashion; or suppose
     That same-shaped atoms through men's nostrils pierce
     When foul cadavers burn, as when the stage
     Is with Cilician saffron sprinkled fresh,
     And the altar near exhales Panchaean scent;
     Or hold as of like seed the goodly hues
     Of things which feast our eyes, as those which sting
     Against the smarting pupil and draw tears,
     Or show, with gruesome aspect, grim and vile.
     For never a shape which charms our sense was made
     Without some elemental smoothness; whilst
     Whate'er is harsh and irksome has been framed
     Still with some roughness in its elements.
     Some, too, there are which justly are supposed
     To be nor smooth nor altogether hooked,
     With bended barbs, but slightly angled-out,
     To tickle rather than to wound the sense—
     And of which sort is the salt tartar of wine
     And flavours of the gummed elecampane.
     Again, that glowing fire and icy rime
     Are fanged with teeth unlike whereby to sting
     Our body's sense, the touch of each gives proof.
     For touch—by sacred majesties of Gods!—
     Touch is indeed the body's only sense—
     Be't that something in-from-outward works,
     Be't that something in the body born
     Wounds, or delighteth as it passes out
     Along the procreant paths of Aphrodite;
     Or be't the seeds by some collision whirl
     Disordered in the body and confound
     By tumult and confusion all the sense—
     As thou mayst find, if haply with the hand
     Thyself thou strike thy body's any part.
     On which account, the elemental forms
     Must differ widely, as enabled thus
     To cause diverse sensations.

                                And, again,
     What seems to us the hardened and condensed
     Must be of atoms among themselves more hooked,
     Be held compacted deep within, as 'twere
     By branch-like atoms—of which sort the chief
     Are diamond stones, despisers of all blows,
     And stalwart flint and strength of solid iron,
     And brazen bars, which, budging hard in locks,
     Do grate and scream. But what are liquid, formed
     Of fluid body, they indeed must be
     Of elements more smooth and round—because
     Their globules severally will not cohere:
     To suck the poppy-seeds from palm of hand
     Is quite as easy as drinking water down,
     And they, once struck, roll like unto the same.
     But that thou seest among the things that flow
     Some bitter, as the brine of ocean is,
     Is not the least a marvel...
     For since 'tis fluid, smooth its atoms are
     And round, with painful rough ones mixed therein;
     Yet need not these be held together hooked:
     In fact, though rough, they're globular besides,
     Able at once to roll, and rasp the sense.
     And that the more thou mayst believe me here,
     That with smooth elements are mixed the rough
     (Whence Neptune's salt astringent body comes),
     There is a means to separate the twain,
     And thereupon dividedly to see
     How the sweet water, after filtering through
     So often underground, flows freshened forth
     Into some hollow; for it leaves above
     The primal germs of nauseating brine,
     Since cling the rough more readily in earth.
     Lastly, whatso thou markest to disperse
     Upon the instant—smoke, and cloud, and flame—
     Must not (even though not all of smooth and round)
     Be yet co-linked with atoms intertwined,
     That thus they can, without together cleaving,
     So pierce our body and so bore the rocks.
     Whatever we see...
     Given to senses, that thou must perceive
     They're not from linked but pointed elements.

     The which now having taught, I will go on
     To bind thereto a fact to this allied
     And drawing from this its proof: these primal germs
     Vary, yet only with finite tale of shapes.
     For were these shapes quite infinite, some seeds
     Would have a body of infinite increase.
     For in one seed, in one small frame of any,
     The shapes can't vary from one another much.
     Assume, we'll say, that of three minim parts
     Consist the primal bodies, or add a few:
     When, now, by placing all these parts of one
     At top and bottom, changing lefts and rights,
     Thou hast with every kind of shift found out
     What the aspect of shape of its whole body
     Each new arrangement gives, for what remains,
     If thou percase wouldst vary its old shapes,
     New parts must then be added; follows next,
     If thou percase wouldst vary still its shapes,
     That by like logic each arrangement still
     Requires its increment of other parts.
     Ergo, an augmentation of its frame
     Follows upon each novelty of forms.
     Wherefore, it cannot be thou'lt undertake
     That seeds have infinite differences in form,
     Lest thus thou forcest some indeed to be
     Of an immeasurable immensity—
     Which I have taught above cannot be proved.

     And now for thee barbaric robes, and gleam
     Of Meliboean purple, touched with dye
     Of the Thessalian shell...
     The peacock's golden generations, stained
     With spotted gaieties, would lie o'erthrown
     By some new colour of new things more bright;
     The odour of myrrh and savours of honey despised;
     The swan's old lyric, and Apollo's hymns,
     Once modulated on the many chords,
     Would likewise sink o'ermastered and be mute:
     For, lo, a somewhat, finer than the rest,
     Would be arising evermore. So, too,
     Into some baser part might all retire,
     Even as we said to better might they come:
     For, lo, a somewhat, loathlier than the rest
     To nostrils, ears, and eyes, and taste of tongue,
     Would then, by reasoning reversed, be there.
     Since 'tis not so, but unto things are given
     Their fixed limitations which do bound
     Their sum on either side, 'tmust be confessed
     That matter, too, by finite tale of shapes
     Does differ. Again, from earth's midsummer heats
     Unto the icy hoar-frosts of the year
     The forward path is fixed, and by like law
     O'ertravelled backwards at the dawn of spring.
     For each degree of hot, and each of cold,
     And the half-warm, all filling up the sum
     In due progression, lie, my Memmius, there
     Betwixt the two extremes: the things create
     Must differ, therefore, by a finite change,
     Since at each end marked off they ever are
     By fixed point—on one side plagued by flames
     And on the other by congealing frosts.

     The which now having taught, I will go on
     To bind thereto a fact to this allied
     And drawing from this its proof: those primal germs
     Which have been fashioned all of one like shape
     Are infinite in tale; for, since the forms
     Themselves are finite in divergences,
     Then those which are alike will have to be
     Infinite, else the sum of stuff remains
     A finite—what I've proved is not the fact,
     Showing in verse how corpuscles of stuff,
     From everlasting and to-day the same,
     Uphold the sum of things, all sides around
     By old succession of unending blows.
     For though thou view'st some beasts to be more rare,
     And mark'st in them a less prolific stock,
     Yet in another region, in lands remote,
     That kind abounding may make up the count;
     Even as we mark among the four-foot kind
     Snake-handed elephants, whose thousands wall
     With ivory ramparts India about,
     That her interiors cannot entered be—
     So big her count of brutes of which we see
     Such few examples. Or suppose, besides,
     We feign some thing, one of its kind and sole
     With body born, to which is nothing like
     In all the lands: yet now unless shall be
     An infinite count of matter out of which
     Thus to conceive and bring it forth to life,
     It cannot be created and—what's more—
     It cannot take its food and get increase.
     Yea, if through all the world in finite tale
     Be tossed the procreant bodies of one thing,
     Whence, then, and where in what mode, by what power,
     Shall they to meeting come together there,
     In such vast ocean of matter and tumult strange?—
     No means they have of joining into one.
     But, just as, after mighty ship-wrecks piled,
     The mighty main is wont to scatter wide
     The rowers' banks, the ribs, the yards, the prow,
     The masts and swimming oars, so that afar
     Along all shores of lands are seen afloat
     The carven fragments of the rended poop,
     Giving a lesson to mortality
     To shun the ambush of the faithless main,
     The violence and the guile, and trust it not
     At any hour, however much may smile
     The crafty enticements of the placid deep:
     Exactly thus, if once thou holdest true
     That certain seeds are finite in their tale,
     The various tides of matter, then, must needs
     Scatter them flung throughout the ages all,
     So that not ever can they join, as driven
     Together into union, nor remain
     In union, nor with increment can grow—
     But facts in proof are manifest for each:
     Things can be both begotten and increase.
     'Tis therefore manifest that primal germs,
     Are infinite in any class thou wilt—
     From whence is furnished matter for all things.

     Nor can those motions that bring death prevail
     Forever, nor eternally entomb
     The welfare of the world; nor, further, can
     Those motions that give birth to things and growth
     Keep them forever when created there.
     Thus the long war, from everlasting waged,
     With equal strife among the elements
     Goes on and on. Now here, now there, prevail
     The vital forces of the world—or fall.
     Mixed with the funeral is the wildered wail
     Of infants coming to the shores of light:
     No night a day, no dawn a night hath followed
     That heard not, mingling with the small birth-cries,
     The wild laments, companions old of death
     And the black rites.

                           This, too, in these affairs
     'Tis fit thou hold well sealed, and keep consigned
     With no forgetting brain: nothing there is
     Whose nature is apparent out of hand
     That of one kind of elements consists—
     Nothing there is that's not of mixed seed.
     And whatsoe'er possesses in itself
     More largely many powers and properties
     Shows thus that here within itself there are
     The largest number of kinds and differing shapes
     Of elements. And, chief of all, the earth
     Hath in herself first bodies whence the springs,
     Rolling chill waters, renew forevermore
     The unmeasured main; hath whence the fires arise—
     For burns in many a spot her flamed crust,
     Whilst the impetuous Aetna raves indeed
     From more profounder fires—and she, again,
     Hath in herself the seed whence she can raise
     The shining grains and gladsome trees for men;
     Whence, also, rivers, fronds, and gladsome pastures
     Can she supply for mountain-roaming beasts.
     Wherefore great mother of gods, and mother of beasts,
     And parent of man hath she alone been named.

     Her hymned the old and learned bards of Greece

     Seated in chariot o'er the realms of air
     To drive her team of lions, teaching thus
     That the great earth hangs poised and cannot lie
     Resting on other earth. Unto her car
     They've yoked the wild beasts, since a progeny,
     However savage, must be tamed and chid
     By care of parents. They have girt about
     With turret-crown the summit of her head,
     Since, fortressed in her goodly strongholds high,
     'Tis she sustains the cities; now, adorned
     With that same token, to-day is carried forth,
     With solemn awe through many a mighty land,
     The image of that mother, the divine.
     Her the wide nations, after antique rite,
     Do name Idaean Mother, giving her
     Escort of Phrygian bands, since first, they say,
     From out those regions 'twas that grain began
     Through all the world. To her do they assign
     The Galli, the emasculate, since thus
     They wish to show that men who violate
     The majesty of the mother and have proved
     Ingrate to parents are to be adjudged
     Unfit to give unto the shores of light
     A living progeny. The Galli come:
     And hollow cymbals, tight-skinned tambourines
     Resound around to bangings of their hands;
     The fierce horns threaten with a raucous bray;
     The tubed pipe excites their maddened minds
     In Phrygian measures; they bear before them knives,
     Wild emblems of their frenzy, which have power
     The rabble's ingrate heads and impious hearts
     To panic with terror of the goddess' might.
     And so, when through the mighty cities borne,
     She blesses man with salutations mute,
     They strew the highway of her journeyings
     With coin of brass and silver, gifting her
     With alms and largesse, and shower her and shade
     With flowers of roses falling like the snow
     Upon the Mother and her companion-bands.
     Here is an armed troop, the which by Greeks
     Are called the Phrygian Curetes. Since
     Haply among themselves they use to play
     In games of arms and leap in measure round
     With bloody mirth and by their nodding shake
     The terrorizing crests upon their heads,
     This is the armed troop that represents
     The arm'd Dictaean Curetes, who, in Crete,
     As runs the story, whilom did out-drown
     That infant cry of Zeus, what time their band,
     Young boys, in a swift dance around the boy,
     To measured step beat with the brass on brass,
     That Saturn might not get him for his jaws,
     And give its mother an eternal wound
     Along her heart. And 'tis on this account
     That armed they escort the mighty Mother,
     Or else because they signify by this
     That she, the goddess, teaches men to be
     Eager with armed valour to defend
     Their motherland, and ready to stand forth,
     The guard and glory of their parents' years.
     A tale, however beautifully wrought,
     That's wide of reason by a long remove:
     For all the gods must of themselves enjoy
     Immortal aeons and supreme repose,
     Withdrawn from our affairs, detached, afar:
     Immune from peril and immune from pain,
     Themselves abounding in riches of their own,
     Needing not us, they are not touched by wrath
     They are not taken by service or by gift.
     Truly is earth insensate for all time;
     But, by obtaining germs of many things,
     In many a way she brings the many forth
     Into the light of sun. And here, whoso
     Decides to call the ocean Neptune, or
     The grain-crop Ceres, and prefers to abuse
     The name of Bacchus rather than pronounce
     The liquor's proper designation, him
     Let us permit to go on calling earth
     Mother of Gods, if only he will spare
     To taint his soul with foul religion.
      So, too, the wooly flocks, and horned kine,
      And brood of battle-eager horses, grazing
     Often together along one grassy plain,
     Under the cope of one blue sky, and slaking
     From out one stream of water each its thirst,
     All live their lives with face and form unlike,
     Keeping the parents' nature, parents' habits,
     Which, kind by kind, through ages they repeat.
     So great in any sort of herb thou wilt,
     So great again in any river of earth
     Are the distinct diversities of matter.
     Hence, further, every creature—any one
     From out them all—compounded is the same
     Of bones, blood, veins, heat, moisture, flesh, and thews—
     All differing vastly in their forms, and built
     Of elements dissimilar in shape.
     Again, all things by fire consumed ablaze,
     Within their frame lay up, if naught besides,
     At least those atoms whence derives their power
     To throw forth fire and send out light from under,
     To shoot the sparks and scatter embers wide.
     If, with like reasoning of mind, all else
     Thou traverse through, thou wilt discover thus
     That in their frame the seeds of many things
     They hide, and divers shapes of seeds contain.
     Further, thou markest much, to which are given
     Along together colour and flavour and smell,
     Among which, chief, are most burnt offerings.

     Thus must they be of divers shapes composed.
     A smell of scorching enters in our frame
     Where the bright colour from the dye goes not;
     And colour in one way, flavour in quite another
     Works inward to our senses—so mayst see
     They differ too in elemental shapes.
     Thus unlike forms into one mass combine,
     And things exist by intermixed seed.

     But still 'tmust not be thought that in all ways
     All things can be conjoined; for then wouldst view
     Portents begot about thee every side:
     Hulks of mankind half brute astarting up,
     At times big branches sprouting from man's trunk,
     Limbs of a sea-beast to a land-beast knit,
     And nature along the all-producing earth
     Feeding those dire Chimaeras breathing flame
     From hideous jaws—Of which 'tis simple fact
     That none have been begot; because we see
     All are from fixed seed and fixed dam
     Engendered and so function as to keep
     Throughout their growth their own ancestral type.
     This happens surely by a fixed law:
     For from all food-stuff, when once eaten down,
     Go sundered atoms, suited to each creature,
     Throughout their bodies, and, conjoining there,
     Produce the proper motions; but we see
     How, contrariwise, nature upon the ground
     Throws off those foreign to their frame; and many
     With viewless bodies from their bodies fly,
     By blows impelled—those impotent to join
     To any part, or, when inside, to accord
     And to take on the vital motions there.
     But think not, haply, living forms alone
     Are bound by these laws: they distinguished all.

     For just as all things of creation are,
     In their whole nature, each to each unlike,
     So must their atoms be in shape unlike—
     Not since few only are fashioned of like form,
     But since they all, as general rule, are not
     The same as all. Nay, here in these our verses,
     Elements many, common to many words,
     Thou seest, though yet 'tis needful to confess
     The words and verses differ, each from each,
     Compounded out of different elements—
     Not since few only, as common letters, run
     Through all the words, or no two words are made,
     One and the other, from all like elements,
     But since they all, as general rule, are not
     The same as all. Thus, too, in other things,
     Whilst many germs common to many things
     There are, yet they, combined among themselves,
     Can form new wholes to others quite unlike.
     Thus fairly one may say that humankind,
     The grains, the gladsome trees, are all made up
     Of different atoms. Further, since the seeds
     Are different, difference must there also be
     In intervening spaces, thoroughfares,
     Connections, weights, blows, clashings, motions, all
     Which not alone distinguish living forms,
     But sunder earth's whole ocean from the lands,
     And hold all heaven from the lands away.
     Now come, this wisdom by my sweet toil sought
     Look thou perceive, lest haply thou shouldst guess
     That the white objects shining to thine eyes
     Are gendered of white atoms, or the black
     Of a black seed; or yet believe that aught
     That's steeped in any hue should take its dye
     From bits of matter tinct with hue the same.
     For matter's bodies own no hue the least—
     Or like to objects or, again, unlike.
     But, if percase it seem to thee that mind
     Itself can dart no influence of its own
     Into these bodies, wide thou wand'rest off.
     For since the blind-born, who have ne'er surveyed
     The light of sun, yet recognise by touch
     Things that from birth had ne'er a hue for them,
     'Tis thine to know that bodies can be brought
     No less unto the ken of our minds too,
     Though yet those bodies with no dye be smeared.
     Again, ourselves whatever in the dark
     We touch, the same we do not find to be
     Tinctured with any colour.

                             Now that here
     I win the argument, I next will teach

     Now, every colour changes, none except,
     And every...
     Which the primordials ought nowise to do.
     Since an immutable somewhat must remain,
     Lest all things utterly be brought to naught.
     For change of anything from out its bounds
     Means instant death of that which was before.
     Wherefore be mindful not to stain with colour
     The seeds of things, lest things return for thee
     All utterly to naught.

                            But now, if seeds
     Receive no property of colour, and yet
     Be still endowed with variable forms
     From which all kinds of colours they beget
     And vary (by reason that ever it matters much
     With what seeds, and in what positions joined,
     And what the motions that they give and get),
     Forthwith most easily thou mayst devise
     Why what was black of hue an hour ago
     Can of a sudden like the marble gleam,—
     As ocean, when the high winds have upheaved
     Its level plains, is changed to hoary waves
     Of marble whiteness: for, thou mayst declare,
     That, when the thing we often see as black
     Is in its matter then commixed anew,
     Some atoms rearranged, and some withdrawn,
     And added some, 'tis seen forthwith to turn
     Glowing and white. But if of azure seeds
     Consist the level waters of the deep,
     They could in nowise whiten: for however
     Thou shakest azure seeds, the same can never
     Pass into marble hue. But, if the seeds—
     Which thus produce the ocean's one pure sheen—
     Be now with one hue, now another dyed,
     As oft from alien forms and divers shapes
     A cube's produced all uniform in shape,
     'Twould be but natural, even as in the cube
     We see the forms to be dissimilar,
     That thus we'd see in brightness of the deep
     (Or in whatever one pure sheen thou wilt)
     Colours diverse and all dissimilar.
     Besides, the unlike shapes don't thwart the least
     The whole in being externally a cube;
     But differing hues of things do block and keep
     The whole from being of one resultant hue.
     Then, too, the reason which entices us
     At times to attribute colours to the seeds
     Falls quite to pieces, since white things are not
     Create from white things, nor are black from black,
     But evermore they are create from things
     Of divers colours. Verily, the white
     Will rise more readily, is sooner born
     Out of no colour, than of black or aught
     Which stands in hostile opposition thus.

     Besides, since colours cannot be, sans light,
     And the primordials come not forth to light,
     'Tis thine to know they are not clothed with colour—
     Truly, what kind of colour could there be
     In the viewless dark? Nay, in the light itself
     A colour changes, gleaming variedly,
     When smote by vertical or slanting ray.
     Thus in the sunlight shows the down of doves
     That circles, garlanding, the nape and throat:
     Now it is ruddy with a bright gold-bronze,
     Now, by a strange sensation it becomes
     Green-emerald blended with the coral-red.
     The peacock's tail, filled with the copious light,
     Changes its colours likewise, when it turns.
     Wherefore, since by some blow of light begot,
     Without such blow these colours can't become.

     And since the pupil of the eye receives
     Within itself one kind of blow, when said
     To feel a white hue, then another kind,
     When feeling a black or any other hue,
     And since it matters nothing with what hue
     The things thou touchest be perchance endowed,
     But rather with what sort of shape equipped,
     'Tis thine to know the atoms need not colour,
     But render forth sensations, as of touch,
     That vary with their varied forms.

     Since special shapes have not a special colour,
     And all formations of the primal germs
     Can be of any sheen thou wilt, why, then,
     Are not those objects which are of them made
     Suffused, each kind with colours of every kind?
     For then 'twere meet that ravens, as they fly,
     Should dartle from white pinions a white sheen,
     Or swans turn black from seed of black, or be
     Of any single varied dye thou wilt.

     Again, the more an object's rent to bits,
     The more thou see its colour fade away
     Little by little till 'tis quite extinct;
     As happens when the gaudy linen's picked
     Shred after shred away: the purple there,
     Phoenician red, most brilliant of all dyes,
     Is lost asunder, ravelled thread by thread;
     Hence canst perceive the fragments die away
     From out their colour, long ere they depart
     Back to the old primordials of things.
     And, last, since thou concedest not all bodies
     Send out a voice or smell, it happens thus
     That not to all thou givest sounds and smells.
     So, too, since we behold not all with eyes,
     'Tis thine to know some things there are as much
     Orphaned of colour, as others without smell,
     And reft of sound; and those the mind alert
     No less can apprehend than it can mark
     The things that lack some other qualities.

     But think not haply that the primal bodies
     Remain despoiled alone of colour: so,
     Are they from warmth dissevered and from cold
     And from hot exhalations; and they move,
     Both sterile of sound and dry of juice; and throw
     Not any odour from their proper bodies.
     Just as, when undertaking to prepare
     A liquid balm of myrrh and marjoram,
     And flower of nard, which to our nostrils breathes
     Odour of nectar, first of all behooves
     Thou seek, as far as find thou may and can,
     The inodorous olive-oil (which never sends
     One whiff of scent to nostrils), that it may
     The least debauch and ruin with sharp tang
     The odorous essence with its body mixed
     And in it seethed. And on the same account
     The primal germs of things must not be thought
     To furnish colour in begetting things,
     Nor sound, since pow'rless they to send forth aught
     From out themselves, nor any flavour, too,
     Nor cold, nor exhalation hot or warm.

     The rest; yet since these things are mortal all—
     The pliant mortal, with a body soft;
     The brittle mortal, with a crumbling frame;
     The hollow with a porous-all must be
     Disjoined from the primal elements,
     If still we wish under the world to lay
     Immortal ground-works, whereupon may rest
     The sum of weal and safety, lest for thee
     All things return to nothing utterly.

     Now, too: whate'er we see possessing sense
     Must yet confessedly be stablished all
     From elements insensate. And those signs,
     So clear to all and witnessed out of hand,
     Do not refute this dictum nor oppose;
     But rather themselves do lead us by the hand,
     Compelling belief that living things are born
     Of elements insensate, as I say.
     Sooth, we may see from out the stinking dung
     Live worms spring up, when, after soaking rains,
     The drenched earth rots; and all things change the same:
     Lo, change the rivers, the fronds, the gladsome pastures
     Into the cattle, the cattle their nature change
     Into our bodies, and from our body, oft
     Grow strong the powers and bodies of wild beasts
     And mighty-winged birds. Thus nature changes
     All foods to living frames, and procreates
     From them the senses of live creatures all,
     In manner about as she uncoils in flames
     Dry logs of wood and turns them all to fire.
     And seest not, therefore, how it matters much
     After what order are set the primal germs,
     And with what other germs they all are mixed,
     And what the motions that they give and get?

     But now, what is't that strikes thy sceptic mind,
     Constraining thee to sundry arguments
     Against belief that from insensate germs
     The sensible is gendered?—Verily,
     'Tis this: that liquids, earth, and wood, though mixed,
     Are yet unable to gender vital sense.
     And, therefore, 'twill be well in these affairs
     This to remember: that I have not said
     Senses are born, under conditions all,
     From all things absolutely which create
     Objects that feel; but much it matters here
     Firstly, how small the seeds which thus compose
     The feeling thing, then, with what shapes endowed,
     And lastly what they in positions be,
     In motions, in arrangements. Of which facts
     Naught we perceive in logs of wood and clods;
     And yet even these, when sodden by the rains,
     Give birth to wormy grubs, because the bodies
     Of matter, from their old arrangements stirred
     By the new factor, then combine anew
     In such a way as genders living things.

     Next, they who deem that feeling objects can
     From feeling objects be create, and these,
     In turn, from others that are wont to feel

     When soft they make them; for all sense is linked
     With flesh, and thews, and veins—and such, we see,
     Are fashioned soft and of a mortal frame.
     Yet be't that these can last forever on:
     They'll have the sense that's proper to a part,
     Or else be judged to have a sense the same
     As that within live creatures as a whole.
     But of themselves those parts can never feel,
     For all the sense in every member back
     To something else refers—a severed hand,
     Or any other member of our frame,
     Itself alone cannot support sensation.
     It thus remains they must resemble, then,
     Live creatures as a whole, to have the power
     Of feeling sensation concordant in each part
     With the vital sense; and so they're bound to feel
     The things we feel exactly as do we.
     If such the case, how, then, can they be named
     The primal germs of things, and how avoid
     The highways of destruction?—since they be
     Mere living things and living things be all
     One and the same with mortal. Grant they could,
     Yet by their meetings and their unions all,
     Naught would result, indeed, besides a throng
     And hurly-burly all of living things—
     Precisely as men, and cattle, and wild beasts,
     By mere conglomeration each with each
     Can still beget not anything of new.
     But if by chance they lose, inside a body,
     Their own sense and another sense take on,
     What, then, avails it to assign them that
     Which is withdrawn thereafter? And besides,
     To touch on proof that we pronounced before,
     Just as we see the eggs of feathered fowls
     To change to living chicks, and swarming worms
     To bubble forth when from the soaking rains
     The earth is sodden, sure, sensations all
     Can out of non-sensations be begot.

     But if one say that sense can so far rise
     From non-sense by mutation, or because
     Brought forth as by a certain sort of birth,
     'Twill serve to render plain to him and prove
     There is no birth, unless there be before
     Some formed union of the elements,
     Nor any change, unless they be unite.

     In first place, senses can't in body be
     Before its living nature's been begot,—
     Since all its stuff, in faith, is held dispersed
     About through rivers, air, and earth, and all
     That is from earth created, nor has met
     In combination, and, in proper mode,
     Conjoined into those vital motions which
     Kindle the all-perceiving senses—they
     That keep and guard each living thing soever.

     Again, a blow beyond its nature's strength
     Shatters forthwith each living thing soe'er,
     And on it goes confounding all the sense
     Of body and mind. For of the primal germs
     Are loosed their old arrangements, and, throughout,
     The vital motions blocked,—until the stuff,
     Shaken profoundly through the frame entire,
     Undoes the vital knots of soul from body
     And throws that soul, to outward wide-dispersed,
     Through all the pores. For what may we surmise
     A blow inflicted can achieve besides
     Shaking asunder and loosening all apart?
     It happens also, when less sharp the blow,
     The vital motions which are left are wont
     Oft to win out—win out, and stop and still
     The uncouth tumults gendered by the blow,
     And call each part to its own courses back,
     And shake away the motion of death which now
     Begins its own dominion in the body,
     And kindle anew the senses almost gone.
     For by what other means could they the more
     Collect their powers of thought and turn again
     From very doorways of destruction
     Back unto life, rather than pass whereto
     They be already well-nigh sped and so
     Pass quite away?

                      Again, since pain is there
     Where bodies of matter, by some force stirred up,
     Through vitals and through joints, within their seats
     Quiver and quake inside, but soft delight,
     When they remove unto their place again:
     'Tis thine to know the primal germs can be
     Assaulted by no pain, nor from themselves
     Take no delight; because indeed they are
     Not made of any bodies of first things,
     Under whose strange new motions they might ache
     Or pluck the fruit of any dear new sweet.
     And so they must be furnished with no sense.

     Once more, if thus, that every living thing
     May have sensation, needful 'tis to assign
     Sense also to its elements, what then
     Of those fixed elements from which mankind
     Hath been, by their peculiar virtue, formed?
     Of verity, they'll laugh aloud, like men,
     Shaken asunder by a spasm of mirth,
     Or sprinkle with dewy tear-drops cheeks and chins,
     And have the cunning hardihood to say
     Much on the composition of the world,
     And in their turn inquire what elements
     They have themselves,—since, thus the same in kind
     As a whole mortal creature, even they
     Must also be from other elements,
     And then those others from others evermore—
     So that thou darest nowhere make a stop.
     Oho, I'll follow thee until thou grant
     The seed (which here thou say'st speaks, laughs, and

     Is yet derived out of other seeds
     Which in their turn are doing just the same.
     But if we see what raving nonsense this,
     And that a man may laugh, though not, forsooth,
     Compounded out of laughing elements,
     And think and utter reason with learn'd speech,
     Though not himself compounded, for a fact,
     Of sapient seeds and eloquent, why, then,
     Cannot those things which we perceive to have
     Their own sensation be composed as well
     Of intermixed seeds quite void of sense?

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