Of the Nature of Things

by Lucretius

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Book II - Infinite Worlds

Once more, we all from seed celestial spring,
     To all is that same father, from whom earth,
     The fostering mother, as she takes the drops
     Of liquid moisture, pregnant bears her broods—
     The shining grains, and gladsome shrubs and trees,
     And bears the human race and of the wild
     The generations all, the while she yields
     The foods wherewith all feed their frames and lead
     The genial life and propagate their kind;
     Wherefore she owneth that maternal name,
     By old desert. What was before from earth,
     The same in earth sinks back, and what was sent
     From shores of ether, that, returning home,
     The vaults of sky receive. Nor thus doth death
     So far annihilate things that she destroys
     The bodies of matter; but she dissipates
     Their combinations, and conjoins anew
     One element with others; and contrives
     That all things vary forms and change their colours
     And get sensations and straight give them o'er.
     And thus may'st know it matters with what others
     And in what structure the primordial germs
     Are held together, and what motions they
     Among themselves do give and get; nor think
     That aught we see hither and thither afloat
     Upon the crest of things, and now a birth
     And straightway now a ruin, inheres at rest
     Deep in the eternal atoms of the world.

     Why, even in these our very verses here
     It matters much with what and in what order
     Each element is set: the same denote
     Sky, and the ocean, lands, and streams, and sun;
     The same, the grains, and trees, and living things.
     And if not all alike, at least the most—
     But what distinctions by positions wrought!
     And thus no less in things themselves, when once
     Around are changed the intervals between,
     The paths of matter, its connections, weights,
     Blows, clashings, motions, order, structure, shapes,
     The things themselves must likewise changed be.

     Now to true reason give thy mind for us.
     Since here strange truth is putting forth its might
     To hit thee in thine ears, a new aspect
     Of things to show its front. Yet naught there is
     So easy that it standeth not at first
     More hard to credit than it after is;
     And naught soe'er that's great to such degree,
     Nor wonderful so far, but all mankind
     Little by little abandon their surprise.
     Look upward yonder at the bright clear sky
     And what it holds—the stars that wander o'er,
     The moon, the radiance of the splendour-sun:
     Yet all, if now they first for mortals were,
     If unforeseen now first asudden shown,
     What might there be more wonderful to tell,
     What that the nations would before have dared
     Less to believe might be?—I fancy, naught—
     So strange had been the marvel of that sight.
     The which o'erwearied to behold, to-day
     None deigns look upward to those lucent realms.
     Then, spew not reason from thy mind away,
     Beside thyself because the matter's new,
     But rather with keen judgment nicely weigh;
     And if to thee it then appeareth true,
     Render thy hands, or, if 'tis false at last,
     Gird thee to combat. For my mind-of-man
     Now seeks the nature of the vast Beyond
     There on the other side, that boundless sum
     Which lies without the ramparts of the world,
     Toward which the spirit longs to peer afar,
     Toward which indeed the swift elan of thought
     Flies unencumbered forth.

                               Firstly, we find,
     Off to all regions round, on either side,
     Above, beneath, throughout the universe
     End is there none—as I have taught, as too
     The very thing of itself declares aloud,
     And as from nature of the unbottomed deep
     Shines clearly forth. Nor can we once suppose
     In any way 'tis likely, (seeing that space
     To all sides stretches infinite and free,
     And seeds, innumerable in number, in sum
     Bottomless, there in many a manner fly,
     Bestirred in everlasting motion there),
     That only this one earth and sky of ours
     Hath been create and that those bodies of stuff,
     So many, perform no work outside the same;
     Seeing, moreover, this world too hath been
     By nature fashioned, even as seeds of things
     By innate motion chanced to clash and cling—
     After they'd been in many a manner driven
     Together at random, without design, in vain—
     And as at last those seeds together dwelt,
     Which, when together of a sudden thrown,
     Should alway furnish the commencements fit
     Of mighty things—the earth, the sea, the sky,
     And race of living creatures. Thus, I say,
     Again, again, 'tmust be confessed there are
     Such congregations of matter otherwhere,
     Like this our world which vasty ether holds
     In huge embrace.

                      Besides, when matter abundant
     Is ready there, when space on hand, nor object
     Nor any cause retards, no marvel 'tis
     That things are carried on and made complete,
     Perforce. And now, if store of seeds there is
     So great that not whole life-times of the living
     Can count the tale...
     And if their force and nature abide the same,
     Able to throw the seeds of things together
     Into their places, even as here are thrown
     The seeds together in this world of ours,
     'Tmust be confessed in other realms there are
     Still other worlds, still other breeds of men,
     And other generations of the wild.

     Hence too it happens in the sum there is
     No one thing single of its kind in birth,
     And single and sole in growth, but rather it is
     One member of some generated race,
     Among full many others of like kind.
     First, cast thy mind abroad upon the living:
     Thou'lt find the race of mountain-ranging wild
     Even thus to be, and thus the scions of men
     To be begot, and lastly the mute flocks
     Of scaled fish, and winged frames of birds.
     Wherefore confess we must on grounds the same
     That earth, sun, moon, and ocean, and all else,
     Exist not sole and single—rather in number
     Exceeding number. Since that deeply set
     Old boundary stone of life remains for them
     No less, and theirs a body of mortal birth
     No less, than every kind which here on earth
     Is so abundant in its members found.

     Which well perceived if thou hold in mind,
     Then Nature, delivered from every haughty lord,
     And forthwith free, is seen to do all things
     Herself and through herself of own accord,
     Rid of all gods. For—by their holy hearts
     Which pass in long tranquillity of peace
     Untroubled ages and a serene life!—
     Who hath the power (I ask), who hath the power
     To rule the sum of the immeasurable,
     To hold with steady hand the giant reins
     Of the unfathomed deep? Who hath the power
     At once to roll a multitude of skies,
     At once to heat with fires ethereal all
     The fruitful lands of multitudes of worlds,
     To be at all times in all places near,
     To stablish darkness by his clouds, to shake
     The serene spaces of the sky with sound,
     And hurl his lightnings,—ha, and whelm how oft
     In ruins his own temples, and to rave,
     Retiring to the wildernesses, there
     At practice with that thunderbolt of his,
     Which yet how often shoots the guilty by,
     And slays the honourable blameless ones!

     Ere since the birth-time of the world, ere since
     The risen first-born day of sea, earth, sun,
     Have many germs been added from outside,
     Have many seeds been added round about,
     Which the great All, the while it flung them on,
     Brought hither, that from them the sea and lands
     Could grow more big, and that the house of heaven
     Might get more room and raise its lofty roofs
     Far over earth, and air arise around.
     For bodies all, from out all regions, are
     Divided by blows, each to its proper thing,
     And all retire to their own proper kinds:
     The moist to moist retires; earth gets increase
     From earthy body; and fires, as on a forge,
     Beat out new fire; and ether forges ether;
     Till nature, author and ender of the world,
     Hath led all things to extreme bound of growth:
     As haps when that which hath been poured inside
     The vital veins of life is now no more
     Than that which ebbs within them and runs off.
     This is the point where life for each thing ends;
     This is the point where nature with her powers
     Curbs all increase. For whatsoe'er thou seest
     Grow big with glad increase, and step by step
     Climb upward to ripe age, these to themselves
     Take in more bodies than they send from selves,
     Whilst still the food is easily infused
     Through all the veins, and whilst the things are not
     So far expanded that they cast away
     Such numerous atoms as to cause a waste
     Greater than nutriment whereby they wax.
     For 'tmust be granted, truly, that from things
     Many a body ebbeth and runs off;
     But yet still more must come, until the things
     Have touched development's top pinnacle;
     Then old age breaks their powers and ripe strength
     And falls away into a worser part.
     For ever the ampler and more wide a thing,
     As soon as ever its augmentation ends,
     It scatters abroad forthwith to all sides round
     More bodies, sending them from out itself.
     Nor easily now is food disseminate
     Through all its veins; nor is that food enough
     To equal with a new supply on hand
     Those plenteous exhalations it gives off.
     Thus, fairly, all things perish, when with ebbing
     They're made less dense and when from blows without
     They are laid low; since food at last will fail
     Extremest eld, and bodies from outside
     Cease not with thumping to undo a thing
     And overmaster by infesting blows.

     Thus, too, the ramparts of the mighty world
     On all sides round shall taken be by storm,
     And tumble to wrack and shivered fragments down.
     For food it is must keep things whole, renewing;
     'Tis food must prop and give support to all,—
     But to no purpose, since nor veins suffice
     To hold enough, nor nature ministers
     As much as needful. And even now 'tis thus:
     Its age is broken and the earth, outworn
     With many parturitions, scarce creates
     The little lives—she who created erst
     All generations and gave forth at birth
     Enormous bodies of wild beasts of old.
     For never, I fancy, did a golden cord
     From off the firmament above let down
     The mortal generations to the fields;
     Nor sea, nor breakers pounding on the rocks
     Created them; but earth it was who bore—
     The same to-day who feeds them from herself.
     Besides, herself of own accord, she first
     The shining grains and vineyards of all joy
     Created for mortality; herself
     Gave the sweet fruitage and the pastures glad,
     Which now to-day yet scarcely wax in size,
     Even when aided by our toiling arms.
     We break the ox, and wear away the strength
     Of sturdy farm-hands; iron tools to-day
     Barely avail for tilling of the fields,
     So niggardly they grudge our harvestings,
     So much increase our labour. Now to-day
     The aged ploughman, shaking of his head,
     Sighs o'er and o'er that labours of his hands
     Have fallen out in vain, and, as he thinks
     How present times are not as times of old,
     Often he praises the fortunes of his sire,
     And crackles, prating, how the ancient race,
     Fulfilled with piety, supported life
     With simple comfort in a narrow plot,
     Since, man for man, the measure of each field
     Was smaller far i' the old days. And, again,
     The gloomy planter of the withered vine
     Rails at the season's change and wearies heaven,
     Nor grasps that all of things by sure degrees
     Are wasting away and going to the tomb,
     Outworn by venerable length of life.

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