Of the Nature of Things

by Lucretius

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Book III - Proem

O thou who first uplifted in such dark
     So clear a torch aloft, who first shed light
     Upon the profitable ends of man,
     O thee I follow, glory of the Greeks,
     And set my footsteps squarely planted now
     Even in the impress and the marks of thine—
     Less like one eager to dispute the palm,
     More as one craving out of very love
     That I may copy thee!—for how should swallow
     Contend with swans or what compare could be
     In a race between young kids with tumbling legs
     And the strong might of the horse? Our father thou,
     And finder-out of truth, and thou to us
     Suppliest a father's precepts; and from out
     Those scriven leaves of thine, renowned soul
     (Like bees that sip of all in flowery wolds),
     We feed upon thy golden sayings all—
     Golden, and ever worthiest endless life.
     For soon as ever thy planning thought that sprang
     From god-like mind begins its loud proclaim
     Of nature's courses, terrors of the brain
     Asunder flee, the ramparts of the world
     Dispart away, and through the void entire
     I see the movements of the universe.
     Rises to vision the majesty of gods,
     And their abodes of everlasting calm
     Which neither wind may shake nor rain-cloud splash,
     Nor snow, congealed by sharp frosts, may harm
     With its white downfall: ever, unclouded sky
     O'er roofs, and laughs with far-diffused light.
     And nature gives to them their all, nor aught
     May ever pluck their peace of mind away.
     But nowhere to my vision rise no more
     The vaults of Acheron, though the broad earth
     Bars me no more from gazing down o'er all
     Which under our feet is going on below
     Along the void. O, here in these affairs
     Some new divine delight and trembling awe
     Takes hold through me, that thus by power of thine
     Nature, so plain and manifest at last,
     Hath been on every side laid bare to man!

     And since I've taught already of what sort
     The seeds of all things are, and how, distinct
     In divers forms, they flit of own accord,
     Stirred with a motion everlasting on,
     And in what mode things be from them create,
     Now, after such matters, should my verse, meseems,
     Make clear the nature of the mind and soul,
     And drive that dread of Acheron without,
     Headlong, which so confounds our human life
     Unto its deeps, pouring o'er all that is
     The black of death, nor leaves not anything
     To prosper—a liquid and unsullied joy.
     For as to what men sometimes will affirm:
     That more than Tartarus (the realm of death)
     They fear diseases and a life of shame,
     And know the substance of the soul is blood,
     Or rather wind (if haply thus their whim),
     And so need naught of this our science, then
     Thou well may'st note from what's to follow now
     That more for glory do they braggart forth
     Than for belief. For mark these very same:
     Exiles from country, fugitives afar
     From sight of men, with charges foul attaint,
     Abased with every wretchedness, they yet
     Live, and where'er the wretches come, they yet
     Make the ancestral sacrifices there,
     Butcher the black sheep, and to gods below
     Offer the honours, and in bitter case
     Turn much more keenly to religion.
     Wherefore, it's surer testing of a man
     In doubtful perils—mark him as he is
     Amid adversities; for then alone
     Are the true voices conjured from his breast,
     The mask off-stripped, reality behind.
     And greed, again, and the blind lust of honours
     Which force poor wretches past the bounds of law,
     And, oft allies and ministers of crime,
     To push through nights and days with hugest toil
     To rise untrammelled to the peaks of power—
     These wounds of life in no mean part are kept
     Festering and open by this fright of death.
     For ever we see fierce Want and foul Disgrace
     Dislodged afar from secure life and sweet,
     Like huddling Shapes before the doors of death.
     And whilst, from these, men wish to scape afar,
     Driven by false terror, and afar remove,
     With civic blood a fortune they amass,
     They double their riches, greedy, heapers-up
     Of corpse on corpse they have a cruel laugh
     For the sad burial of a brother-born,
     And hatred and fear of tables of their kin.
     Likewise, through this same terror, envy oft
     Makes them to peak because before their eyes
     That man is lordly, that man gazed upon
     Who walks begirt with honour glorious,
     Whilst they in filth and darkness roll around;
     Some perish away for statues and a name,
     And oft to that degree, from fright of death,
     Will hate of living and beholding light
     Take hold on humankind that they inflict
     Their own destruction with a gloomy heart—
     Forgetful that this fear is font of cares,
     This fear the plague upon their sense of shame,
     And this that breaks the ties of comradry
     And oversets all reverence and faith,
     Mid direst slaughter. For long ere to-day
     Often were traitors to country and dear parents
     Through quest to shun the realms of Acheron.
     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 sun disperse,
     But only nature's aspect and her law.

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