Of the Nature of Things

by Lucretius

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

Book II - Proem

'Tis sweet, when, down the mighty main, the winds
     Roll up its waste of waters, from the land
     To watch another's labouring anguish far,
     Not that we joyously delight that man
     Should thus be smitten, but because 'tis sweet
     To mark what evils we ourselves be spared;
     'Tis sweet, again, to view the mighty strife
     Of armies embattled yonder o'er the plains,
     Ourselves no sharers in the peril; but naught
     There is more goodly than to hold the high
     Serene plateaus, well fortressed by the wise,
     Whence thou may'st look below on other men
     And see them ev'rywhere wand'ring, all dispersed
     In their lone seeking for the road of life;
     Rivals in genius, or emulous in rank,
     Pressing through days and nights with hugest toil
     For summits of power and mastery of the world.
     O wretched minds of men! O blinded hearts!
     In how great perils, in what darks of life
     Are spent the human years, however brief!—
     O not to see that nature for herself
     Barks after nothing, save that pain keep off,
     Disjoined from the body, and that mind enjoy
     Delightsome feeling, far from care and fear!
     Therefore we see that our corporeal life
     Needs little, altogether, and only such
     As takes the pain away, and can besides
     Strew underneath some number of delights.
     More grateful 'tis at times (for nature craves
     No artifice nor luxury), if forsooth
     There be no golden images of boys
     Along the halls, with right hands holding out
     The lamps ablaze, the lights for evening feasts,
     And if the house doth glitter not with gold
     Nor gleam with silver, and to the lyre resound
     No fretted and gilded ceilings overhead,
     Yet still to lounge with friends in the soft grass
     Beside a river of water, underneath
     A big tree's boughs, and merrily to refresh
     Our frames, with no vast outlay—most of all
     If the weather is laughing and the times of the year
     Besprinkle the green of the grass around with flowers.
     Nor yet the quicker will hot fevers go,
     If on a pictured tapestry thou toss,
     Or purple robe, than if 'tis thine to lie
     Upon the poor man's bedding. Wherefore, since
     Treasure, nor rank, nor glory of a reign
     Avail us naught for this our body, thus
     Reckon them likewise nothing for the mind:
     Save then perchance, when thou beholdest forth
     Thy legions swarming round the Field of Mars,
     Rousing a mimic warfare—either side
     Strengthened with large auxiliaries and horse,
     Alike equipped with arms, alike inspired;
     Or save when also thou beholdest forth
     Thy fleets to swarm, deploying down the sea:
     For then, by such bright circumstance abashed,
     Religion pales and flees thy mind; O then
     The fears of death leave heart so free of care.
     But if we note how all this pomp at last
     Is but a drollery and a mocking sport,
     And of a truth man's dread, with cares at heels,
     Dreads not these sounds of arms, these savage swords
     But among kings and lords of all the world
     Mingles undaunted, nor is overawed
     By gleam of gold nor by the splendour bright
     Of purple robe, canst thou then doubt that this
     Is aught, but power of thinking?—when, besides
     The whole of life but labours in the dark.
     For just as children tremble and fear all
     In the viewless dark, so even we at times
     Dread in the light so many things that be
     No whit more fearsome than what children feign,
     Shuddering, will be upon them in the dark.
     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.

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