Of the Nature of Things

by Lucretius

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Book III - Nature and Composition of the Mind

First, then, I say, the mind which oft we call
     The intellect, wherein is seated life's
     Counsel and regimen, is part no less
     Of man than hand and foot and eyes are parts
     Of one whole breathing creature. [But some hold]
     That sense of mind is in no fixed part seated,
     But is of body some one vital state,—
     Named "harmony" by Greeks, because thereby
     We live with sense, though intellect be not
     In any part: as oft the body is said
     To have good health (when health, however, 's not
     One part of him who has it), so they place
     The sense of mind in no fixed part of man.
     Mightily, diversly, meseems they err.
     Often the body palpable and seen
     Sickens, while yet in some invisible part
     We feel a pleasure; oft the other way,
     A miserable in mind feels pleasure still
     Throughout his body—quite the same as when
     A foot may pain without a pain in head.
     Besides, when these our limbs are given o'er
     To gentle sleep and lies the burdened frame
     At random void of sense, a something else
     Is yet within us, which upon that time
     Bestirs itself in many a wise, receiving
     All motions of joy and phantom cares of heart.
     Now, for to see that in man's members dwells
     Also the soul, and body ne'er is wont
     To feel sensation by a "harmony"
     Take this in chief: the fact that life remains
     Oft in our limbs, when much of body's gone;
     Yet that same life, when particles of heat,
     Though few, have scattered been, and through the mouth
     Air has been given forth abroad, forthwith
     Forever deserts the veins, and leaves the bones.
     Thus mayst thou know that not all particles
     Perform like parts, nor in like manner all
     Are props of weal and safety: rather those—
     The seeds of wind and exhalations warm—
     Take care that in our members life remains.
     Therefore a vital heat and wind there is
     Within the very body, which at death
     Deserts our frames. And so, since nature of mind
     And even of soul is found to be, as 'twere,
     A part of man, give over "harmony"—
     Name to musicians brought from Helicon,—
     Unless themselves they filched it otherwise,
     To serve for what was lacking name till then.
     Whate'er it be, they're welcome to it—thou,
     Hearken my other maxims.

                                   Mind and soul,
     I say, are held conjoined one with other,
     And form one single nature of themselves;
     But chief and regnant through the frame entire
     Is still that counsel which we call the mind,
     And that cleaves seated in the midmost breast.
     Here leap dismay and terror; round these haunts
     Be blandishments of joys; and therefore here
     The intellect, the mind. The rest of soul,
     Throughout the body scattered, but obeys—
     Moved by the nod and motion of the mind.
     This, for itself, sole through itself, hath thought;
     This for itself hath mirth, even when the thing
     That moves it, moves nor soul nor body at all.
     And as, when head or eye in us is smit
     By assailing pain, we are not tortured then
     Through all the body, so the mind alone
     Is sometimes smitten, or livens with a joy,
     Whilst yet the soul's remainder through the limbs
     And through the frame is stirred by nothing new.
     But when the mind is moved by shock more fierce,
     We mark the whole soul suffering all at once
     Along man's members: sweats and pallors spread
     Over the body, and the tongue is broken,
     And fails the voice away, and ring the ears,
     Mists blind the eyeballs, and the joints collapse,—
     Aye, men drop dead from terror of the mind.
     Hence, whoso will can readily remark
     That soul conjoined is with mind, and, when
     'Tis strook by influence of the mind, forthwith
     In turn it hits and drives the body too.

     And this same argument establisheth
     That nature of mind and soul corporeal is:
     For when 'tis seen to drive the members on,
     To snatch from sleep the body, and to change
     The countenance, and the whole state of man
     To rule and turn,—what yet could never be
     Sans contact, and sans body contact fails—
     Must we not grant that mind and soul consist
     Of a corporeal nature?—And besides
     Thou markst that likewise with this body of ours
     Suffers the mind and with our body feels.
     If the dire speed of spear that cleaves the bones
     And bares the inner thews hits not the life,
     Yet follows a fainting and a foul collapse,
     And, on the ground, dazed tumult in the mind,
     And whiles a wavering will to rise afoot.
     So nature of mind must be corporeal, since
     From stroke and spear corporeal 'tis in throes.

     Now, of what body, what components formed
     Is this same mind I will go on to tell.
     First, I aver, 'tis superfine, composed
     Of tiniest particles—that such the fact
     Thou canst perceive, if thou attend, from this:
     Nothing is seen to happen with such speed
     As what the mind proposes and begins;
     Therefore the same bestirs itself more swiftly
     Than aught whose nature's palpable to eyes.
     But what's so agile must of seeds consist
     Most round, most tiny, that they may be moved,
     When hit by impulse slight. So water moves,
     In waves along, at impulse just the least—
     Being create of little shapes that roll;
     But, contrariwise, the quality of honey
     More stable is, its liquids more inert,
     More tardy its flow; for all its stock of matter
     Cleaves more together, since, indeed, 'tis made
     Of atoms not so smooth, so fine, and round.
     For the light breeze that hovers yet can blow
     High heaps of poppy-seed away for thee
     Downward from off the top; but, contrariwise,
     A pile of stones or spiny ears of wheat
     It can't at all. Thus, in so far as bodies
     Are small and smooth, is their mobility;
     But, contrariwise, the heavier and more rough,
     The more immovable they prove. Now, then,
     Since nature of mind is movable so much,
     Consist it must of seeds exceeding small
     And smooth and round. Which fact once known to thee,
     Good friend, will serve thee opportune in else.
     This also shows the nature of the same,
     How nice its texture, in how small a space
     'Twould go, if once compacted as a pellet:
     When death's unvexed repose gets hold on man
     And mind and soul retire, thou markest there
     From the whole body nothing ta'en in form,
     Nothing in weight. Death grants ye everything,
     But vital sense and exhalation hot.
     Thus soul entire must be of smallmost seeds,
     Twined through the veins, the vitals, and the thews,
     Seeing that, when 'tis from whole body gone,
     The outward figuration of the limbs
     Is unimpaired and weight fails not a whit.
     Just so, when vanished the bouquet of wine,
     Or when an unguent's perfume delicate
     Into the winds away departs, or when
     From any body savour's gone, yet still
     The thing itself seems minished naught to eyes,
     Thereby, nor aught abstracted from its weight—
     No marvel, because seeds many and minute
     Produce the savours and the redolence
     In the whole body of the things. And so,
     Again, again, nature of mind and soul
     'Tis thine to know created is of seeds
     The tiniest ever, since at flying-forth
     It beareth nothing of the weight away.

     Yet fancy not its nature simple so.
     For an impalpable aura, mixed with heat,
     Deserts the dying, and heat draws off the air;
     And heat there's none, unless commixed with air:
     For, since the nature of all heat is rare,
     Athrough it many seeds of air must move.
     Thus nature of mind is triple; yet those all
     Suffice not for creating sense—since mind
     Accepteth not that aught of these can cause
     Sense-bearing motions, and much less the thoughts
     A man revolves in mind. So unto these
     Must added be a somewhat, and a fourth;
     That somewhat's altogether void of name;
     Than which existeth naught more mobile, naught
     More an impalpable, of elements
     More small and smooth and round. That first transmits
     Sense-bearing motions through the frame, for that
     Is roused the first, composed of little shapes;
     Thence heat and viewless force of wind take up
     The motions, and thence air, and thence all things
     Are put in motion; the blood is strook, and then
     The vitals all begin to feel, and last
     To bones and marrow the sensation comes—
     Pleasure or torment. Nor will pain for naught
     Enter so far, nor a sharp ill seep through,
     But all things be perturbed to that degree
     That room for life will fail, and parts of soul
     Will scatter through the body's every pore.
     Yet as a rule, almost upon the skin
     These motion aIl are stopped, and this is why
     We have the power to retain our life.

     Now in my eagerness to tell thee how
     They are commixed, through what unions fit
     They function so, my country's pauper-speech
     Constrains me sadly. As I can, however,
     I'll touch some points and pass. In such a wise
     Course these primordials 'mongst one another
     With inter-motions that no one can be
     From other sundered, nor its agency
     Perform, if once divided by a space;
     Like many powers in one body they work.
     As in the flesh of any creature still
     Is odour and savour and a certain warmth,
     And yet from all of these one bulk of body
     Is made complete, so, viewless force of wind
     And warmth and air, commingled, do create
     One nature, by that mobile energy
     Assisted which from out itself to them
     Imparts initial motion, whereby first
     Sense-bearing motion along the vitals springs.
     For lurks this essence far and deep and under,
     Nor in our body is aught more shut from view,
     And 'tis the very soul of all the soul.
     And as within our members and whole frame
     The energy of mind and power of soul
     Is mixed and latent, since create it is
     Of bodies small and few, so lurks this fourth,
     This essence void of name, composed of small,
     And seems the very soul of all the soul,
     And holds dominion o'er the body all.
     And by like reason wind and air and heat
     Must function so, commingled through the frame,
     And now the one subside and now another
     In interchange of dominance, that thus
     From all of them one nature be produced,
     Lest heat and wind apart, and air apart,
     Make sense to perish, by disseverment.
     There is indeed in mind that heat it gets
     When seething in rage, and flashes from the eyes
     More swiftly fire; there is, again, that wind,
     Much, and so cold, companion of all dread,
     Which rouses the shudder in the shaken frame;
     There is no less that state of air composed,
     Making the tranquil breast, the serene face.
     But more of hot have they whose restive hearts,
     Whose minds of passion quickly seethe in rage—
     Of which kind chief are fierce abounding lions,
     Who often with roaring burst the breast o'erwrought,
     Unable to hold the surging wrath within;
     But the cold mind of stags has more of wind,
     And speedier through their inwards rouses up
     The icy currents which make their members quake.
     But more the oxen live by tranquil air,
     Nor e'er doth smoky torch of wrath applied,
     O'erspreading with shadows of a darkling murk,
     Rouse them too far; nor will they stiffen stark,
     Pierced through by icy javelins of fear;
     But have their place half-way between the two—
     Stags and fierce lions. Thus the race of men:
     Though training make them equally refined,
     It leaves those pristine vestiges behind
     Of each mind's nature. Nor may we suppose
     Evil can e'er be rooted up so far
     That one man's not more given to fits of wrath,
     Another's not more quickly touched by fear,
     A third not more long-suffering than he should.
     And needs must differ in many things besides
     The varied natures and resulting habits
     Of humankind—of which not now can I
     Expound the hidden causes, nor find names
     Enough for all the divers shapes of those
     Primordials whence this variation springs.
     But this meseems I'm able to declare:
     Those vestiges of natures left behind
     Which reason cannot quite expel from us
     Are still so slight that naught prevents a man
     From living a life even worthy of the gods.

     So then this soul is kept by all the body,
     Itself the body's guard, and source of weal:
     For they with common roots cleave each to each,
     Nor can be torn asunder without death.
     Not easy 'tis from lumps of frankincense
     To tear their fragrance forth, without its nature
     Perishing likewise: so, not easy 'tis
     From all the body nature of mind and soul
     To draw away, without the whole dissolved.
     With seeds so intertwined even from birth,
     They're dowered conjointly with a partner-life;
     No energy of body or mind, apart,
     Each of itself without the other's power,
     Can have sensation; but our sense, enkindled
     Along the vitals, to flame is blown by both
     With mutual motions. Besides the body alone
     Is nor begot nor grows, nor after death
     Seen to endure. For not as water at times
     Gives off the alien heat, nor is thereby
     Itself destroyed, but unimpaired remains—
     Not thus, I say, can the deserted frame
     Bear the dissevering of its joined soul,
     But, rent and ruined, moulders all away.
     Thus the joint contact of the body and soul
     Learns from their earliest age the vital motions,
     Even when still buried in the mother's womb;
     So no dissevering can hap to them,
     Without their bane and ill. And thence mayst see
     That, as conjoined is their source of weal,
     Conjoined also must their nature be.

     If one, moreover, denies that body feel,
     And holds that soul, through all the body mixed,
     Takes on this motion which we title "sense,"
     He battles in vain indubitable facts:
     For who'll explain what body's feeling is,
     Except by what the public fact itself
     Has given and taught us?"But when soul is parted,
     Body's without all sense." True!—loses what
     Was even in its life-time not its own;
     And much beside it loses, when soul's driven
     Forth from that life-time. Or, to say that eyes
     Themselves can see no thing, but through the same
     The mind looks forth, as out of opened doors,
     Is—a hard saying; since the feel in eyes
     Says the reverse. For this itself draws on
     And forces into the pupils of our eyes
     Our consciousness. And note the case when often
     We lack the power to see refulgent things,
     Because our eyes are hampered by their light—
     With a mere doorway this would happen not;
     For, since it is our very selves that see,
     No open portals undertake the toil.
     Besides, if eyes of ours but act as doors,
     Methinks that, were our sight removed, the mind
     Ought then still better to behold a thing—
     When even the door-posts have been cleared away.

     Herein in these affairs nowise take up
     What honoured sage, Democritus, lays down—
     That proposition, that primordials
     Of body and mind, each super-posed on each,
     Vary alternately and interweave
     The fabric of our members. For not only
     Are the soul-elements smaller far than those
     Which this our body and inward parts compose,
     But also are they in their number less,
     And scattered sparsely through our frame. And thus
     This canst thou guarantee: soul's primal germs
     Maintain between them intervals as large
     At least as are the smallest bodies, which,
     When thrown against us, in our body rouse
     Sense-bearing motions. Hence it comes that we
     Sometimes don't feel alighting on our frames
     The clinging dust, or chalk that settles soft;
     Nor mists of night, nor spider's gossamer
     We feel against us, when, upon our road,
     Its net entangles us, nor on our head
     The dropping of its withered garmentings;
     Nor bird-feathers, nor vegetable down,
     Flying about, so light they barely fall;
     Nor feel the steps of every crawling thing,
     Nor each of all those footprints on our skin
     Of midges and the like. To that degree
     Must many primal germs be stirred in us
     Ere once the seeds of soul that through our frame
     Are intermingled 'gin to feel that those
     Primordials of the body have been strook,
     And ere, in pounding with such gaps between,
     They clash, combine and leap apart in turn.

     But mind is more the keeper of the gates,
     Hath more dominion over life than soul.
     For without intellect and mind there's not
     One part of soul can rest within our frame
     Least part of time; companioning, it goes
     With mind into the winds away, and leaves
     The icy members in the cold of death.
     But he whose mind and intellect abide
     Himself abides in life. However much
     The trunk be mangled, with the limbs lopped off,
     The soul withdrawn and taken from the limbs,
     Still lives the trunk and draws the vital air.
     Even when deprived of all but all the soul,
     Yet will it linger on and cleave to life,—
     Just as the power of vision still is strong,
     If but the pupil shall abide unharmed,
     Even when the eye around it's sorely rent—
     Provided only thou destroyest not
     Wholly the ball, but, cutting round the pupil,
     Leavest that pupil by itself behind—
     For more would ruin sight. But if that centre,
     That tiny part of eye, be eaten through,
     Forthwith the vision fails and darkness comes,
     Though in all else the unblemished ball be clear.
     'Tis by like compact that the soul and mind
     Are each to other bound forevermore.

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