Of the Nature of Things

by Lucretius

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Book IV - Some Vital Functions

In these affairs
     We crave that thou wilt passionately flee
     The one offence, and anxiously wilt shun
     The error of presuming the clear lights
     Of eyes created were that we might see;
     Or thighs and knees, aprop upon the feet,
     Thuswise can bended be, that we might step
     With goodly strides ahead; or forearms joined
     Unto the sturdy uppers, or serving hands
     On either side were given, that we might do
     Life's own demands. All such interpretation
     Is aft-for-fore with inverse reasoning,
     Since naught is born in body so that we
     May use the same, but birth engenders use:
     No seeing ere the lights of eyes were born,
     No speaking ere the tongue created was;
     But origin of tongue came long before
     Discourse of words, and ears created were
     Much earlier than any sound was heard;
     And all the members, so meseems, were there
     Before they got their use: and therefore, they
     Could not be gendered for the sake of use.
     But contrariwise, contending in the fight
     With hand to hand, and rending of the joints,
     And fouling of the limbs with gore, was there,
     O long before the gleaming spears ere flew;
     And nature prompted man to shun a wound,
     Before the left arm by the aid of art
     Opposed the shielding targe. And, verily,
     Yielding the weary body to repose,
     Far ancienter than cushions of soft beds,
     And quenching thirst is earlier than cups.
     These objects, therefore, which for use and life
     Have been devised, can be conceived as found
     For sake of using. But apart from such
     Are all which first were born and afterwards
     Gave knowledge of their own utility—
     Chief in which sort we note the senses, limbs:
     Wherefore, again, 'tis quite beyond thy power
     To hold that these could thus have been create
     For office of utility.

     'Tis nothing strange that all the breathing creatures
     Seek, even by nature of their frame, their food.
     Yes, since I've taught thee that from off the things
     Stream and depart innumerable bodies
     In modes innumerable too; but most
     Must be the bodies streaming from the living—
     Which bodies, vexed by motion evermore,
     Are through the mouth exhaled innumerable,
     When weary creatures pant, or through the sweat
     Squeezed forth innumerable from deep within.
     Thus body rarefies, so undermined
     In all its nature, and pain attends its state.
     And so the food is taken to underprop
     The tottering joints, and by its interfusion
     To re-create their powers, and there stop up
     The longing, open-mouthed through limbs and veins,
     For eating. And the moist no less departs
     Into all regions that demand the moist;
     And many heaped-up particles of hot,
     Which cause such burnings in these bellies of ours,
     The liquid on arriving dissipates
     And quenches like a fire, that parching heat
     No longer now can scorch the frame. And so,
     Thou seest how panting thirst is washed away
     From off our body, how the hunger-pang
     It, too, appeased.

                        Now, how it comes that we,
     Whene'er we wish, can step with strides ahead,
     And how 'tis given to move our limbs about,
     And what device is wont to push ahead
     This the big load of our corporeal frame,
     I'll say to thee—do thou attend what's said.
     I say that first some idol-films of walking
     Into our mind do fall and smite the mind,
     As said before. Thereafter will arises;
     For no one starts to do a thing, before
     The intellect previsions what it wills;
     And what it there pre-visioneth depends
     On what that image is. When, therefore, mind
     Doth so bestir itself that it doth will
     To go and step along, it strikes at once
     That energy of soul that's sown about
     In all the body through the limbs and frame—
     And this is easy of performance, since
     The soul is close conjoined with the mind.
     Next, soul in turn strikes body, and by degrees
     Thus the whole mass is pushed along and moved.
     Then too the body rarefies, and air,
     Forsooth as ever of such nimbleness,
     Comes on and penetrates aboundingly
     Through opened pores, and thus is sprinkled round
     Unto all smallest places in our frame.
     Thus then by these twain factors, severally,
     Body is borne like ship with oars and wind.
     Nor yet in these affairs is aught for wonder
     That particles so fine can whirl around
     So great a body and turn this weight of ours;
     For wind, so tenuous with its subtle body,
     Yet pushes, driving on the mighty ship
     Of mighty bulk; one hand directs the same,
     Whatever its momentum, and one helm
     Whirls it around, whither ye please; and loads,
     Many and huge, are moved and hoisted high
     By enginery of pulley-blocks and wheels,
     With but light strain.

                       Now, by what modes this sleep
     Pours through our members waters of repose
     And frees the breast from cares of mind, I'll tell
     In verses sweeter than they many are;
     Even as the swan's slight note is better far
     Than that dispersed clamour of the cranes
     Among the southwind's aery clouds. Do thou
     Give me sharp ears and a sagacious mind,—
     That thou mayst not deny the things to be
     Whereof I'm speaking, nor depart away
     With bosom scorning these the spoken truths,
     Thyself at fault unable to perceive.
     Sleep chiefly comes when energy of soul
     Hath now been scattered through the frame, and part
     Expelled abroad and gone away, and part
     Crammed back and settling deep within the frame—
     Whereafter then our loosened members droop.
     For doubt is none that by the work of soul
     Exist in us this sense, and when by slumber
     That sense is thwarted, we are bound to think
     The soul confounded and expelled abroad—
     Yet not entirely, else the frame would lie
     Drenched in the everlasting cold of death.
     In sooth, where no one part of soul remained
     Lurking among the members, even as fire
     Lurks buried under many ashes, whence
     Could sense amain rekindled be in members,
     As flame can rise anew from unseen fire?

     By what devices this strange state and new
     May be occasioned, and by what the soul
     Can be confounded and the frame grow faint,
     I will untangle: see to it, thou, that I
     Pour forth my words not unto empty winds.
     In first place, body on its outer parts—
     Since these are touched by neighbouring aery gusts—
     Must there be thumped and strook by blows of air
     Repeatedly. And therefore almost all
     Are covered either with hides, or else with shells,
     Or with the horny callus, or with bark.
     Yet this same air lashes their inner parts,
     When creatures draw a breath or blow it out.
     Wherefore, since body thus is flogged alike
     Upon the inside and the out, and blows
     Come in upon us through the little pores
     Even inward to our body's primal parts
     And primal elements, there comes to pass
     By slow degrees, along our members then,
     A kind of overthrow; for then confounded
     Are those arrangements of the primal germs
     Of body and of mind. It comes to pass
     That next a part of soul's expelled abroad,
     A part retreateth in recesses hid,
     A part, too, scattered all about the frame,
     Cannot become united nor engage
     In interchange of motion. Nature now
     So hedges off approaches and the paths;
     And thus the sense, its motions all deranged,
     Retires down deep within; and since there's naught,
     As 'twere, to prop the frame, the body weakens,
     And all the members languish, and the arms
     And eyelids fall, and, as ye lie abed,
     Even there the houghs will sag and loose their powers.
     Again, sleep follows after food, because
     The food produces same result as air,
     Whilst being scattered round through all the veins;
     And much the heaviest is that slumber which,
     Full or fatigued, thou takest; since 'tis then
     That the most bodies disarrange themselves,
     Bruised by labours hard. And in same wise,
     This three-fold change: a forcing of the soul
     Down deeper, more a casting-forth of it,
     A moving more divided in its parts
     And scattered more.

                         And to whate'er pursuit
     A man most clings absorbed, or what the affairs
     On which we theretofore have tarried much,
     And mind hath strained upon the more, we seem
     In sleep not rarely to go at the same.
     The lawyers seem to plead and cite decrees,
     Commanders they to fight and go at frays,
     Sailors to live in combat with the winds,
     And we ourselves indeed to make this book,
     And still to seek the nature of the world
     And set it down, when once discovered, here
     In these my country's leaves. Thus all pursuits,
     All arts in general seem in sleeps to mock
     And master the minds of men. And whosoever
     Day after day for long to games have given
     Attention undivided, still they keep
     (As oft we note), even when they've ceased to grasp
     Those games with their own senses, open paths
     Within the mind wherethrough the idol-films
     Of just those games can come. And thus it is
     For many a day thereafter those appear
     Floating before the eyes, that even awake
     They think they view the dancers moving round
     Their supple limbs, and catch with both the ears
     The liquid song of harp and speaking chords,
     And view the same assembly on the seats,
     And manifold bright glories of the stage—
     So great the influence of pursuit and zest,
     And of the affairs wherein 'thas been the wont
     Of men to be engaged-nor only men,
     But soothly all the animals. Behold,
     Thou'lt see the sturdy horses, though outstretched,
     Yet sweating in their sleep, and panting ever,
     And straining utmost strength, as if for prize,
     As if, with barriers opened now...
     And hounds of huntsmen oft in soft repose
     Yet toss asudden all their legs about,
     And growl and bark, and with their nostrils sniff
     The winds again, again, as though indeed
     They'd caught the scented foot-prints of wild beasts,
     And, even when wakened, often they pursue
     The phantom images of stags, as though
     They did perceive them fleeing on before,
     Until the illusion's shaken off and dogs
     Come to themselves again. And fawning breed
     Of house-bred whelps do feel the sudden urge
     To shake their bodies and start from off the ground,
     As if beholding stranger-visages.
     And ever the fiercer be the stock, the more
     In sleep the same is ever bound to rage.
     But flee the divers tribes of birds and vex
     With sudden wings by night the groves of gods,
     When in their gentle slumbers they have dreamed
     Of hawks in chase, aswooping on for fight.
     Again, the minds of mortals which perform
     With mighty motions mighty enterprises,
     Often in sleep will do and dare the same
     In manner like. Kings take the towns by storm,
     Succumb to capture, battle on the field,
     Raise a wild cry as if their throats were cut
     Even then and there. And many wrestle on
     And groan with pains, and fill all regions round
     With mighty cries and wild, as if then gnawed
     By fangs of panther or of lion fierce.
     Many amid their slumbers talk about
     Their mighty enterprises, and have often
     Enough become the proof of their own crimes.
     Many meet death; many, as if headlong
     From lofty mountains tumbling down to earth
     With all their frame, are frenzied in their fright;
     And after sleep, as if still mad in mind,
     They scarce come to, confounded as they are
     By ferment of their frame. The thirsty man,
     Likewise, he sits beside delightful spring
     Or river and gulpeth down with gaping throat
     Nigh the whole stream. And oft the innocent young,
     By sleep o'ermastered, think they lift their dress
     By pail or public jordan and then void
     The water filtered down their frame entire
     And drench the Babylonian coverlets,
     Magnificently bright. Again, those males
     Into the surging channels of whose years
     Now first has passed the seed (engendered
     Within their members by the ripened days)
     Are in their sleep confronted from without
     By idol-images of some fair form—
     Tidings of glorious face and lovely bloom,
     Which stir and goad the regions turgid now
     With seed abundant; so that, as it were
     With all the matter acted duly out,
     They pour the billows of a potent stream
     And stain their garment.

                            And as said before,
     That seed is roused in us when once ripe age
     Has made our body strong...
     As divers causes give to divers things
     Impulse and irritation, so one force
     In human kind rouses the human seed
     To spurt from man. As soon as ever it issues,
     Forced from its first abodes, it passes down
     In the whole body through the limbs and frame,
     Meeting in certain regions of our thews,
     And stirs amain the genitals of man.
     The goaded regions swell with seed, and then
     Comes the delight to dart the same at what
     The mad desire so yearns, and body seeks
     That object, whence the mind by love is pierced.
     For well-nigh each man falleth toward his wound,
     And our blood spurts even toward the spot from whence
     The stroke wherewith we are strook, and if indeed
     The foe be close, the red jet reaches him.
     Thus, one who gets a stroke from Venus' shafts—
     Whether a boy with limbs effeminate
     Assault him, or a woman darting love
     From all her body—that one strains to get
     Even to the thing whereby he's hit, and longs
     To join with it and cast into its frame
     The fluid drawn even from within its own.
     For the mute craving doth presage delight.

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