Of the Nature of Things

by Lucretius

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Book IV - The Passion of Love

This craving 'tis that's Venus unto us:
     From this, engender all the lures of love,
     From this, O first hath into human hearts
     Trickled that drop of joyance which ere long
     Is by chill care succeeded. Since, indeed,
     Though she thou lovest now be far away,
     Yet idol-images of her are near
     And the sweet name is floating in thy ear.
     But it behooves to flee those images;
     And scare afar whatever feeds thy love;
     And turn elsewhere thy mind; and vent the sperm,
     Within thee gathered, into sundry bodies,
     Nor, with thy thoughts still busied with one love,
     Keep it for one delight, and so store up
     Care for thyself and pain inevitable.
     For, lo, the ulcer just by nourishing
     Grows to more life with deep inveteracy,
     And day by day the fury swells aflame,
     And the woe waxes heavier day by day—
     Unless thou dost destroy even by new blows
     The former wounds of love, and curest them
     While yet they're fresh, by wandering freely round
     After the freely-wandering Venus, or
     Canst lead elsewhere the tumults of thy mind.

     Nor doth that man who keeps away from love
     Yet lack the fruits of Venus; rather takes
     Those pleasures which are free of penalties.
     For the delights of Venus, verily,
     Are more unmixed for mortals sane-of-soul
     Than for those sick-at-heart with love-pining.
     Yea, in the very moment of possessing,
     Surges the heat of lovers to and fro,
     Restive, uncertain; and they cannot fix
     On what to first enjoy with eyes and hands.
     The parts they sought for, those they squeeze so tight,
     And pain the creature's body, close their teeth
     Often against her lips, and smite with kiss
     Mouth into mouth,—because this same delight
     Is not unmixed; and underneath are stings
     Which goad a man to hurt the very thing,
     Whate'er it be, from whence arise for him
     Those germs of madness. But with gentle touch
     Venus subdues the pangs in midst of love,
     And the admixture of a fondling joy
     Doth curb the bites of passion. For they hope
     That by the very body whence they caught
     The heats of love their flames can be put out.
     But nature protests 'tis all quite otherwise;
     For this same love it is the one sole thing
     Of which, the more we have, the fiercer burns
     The breast with fell desire. For food and drink
     Are taken within our members; and, since they
     Can stop up certain parts, thus, easily
     Desire of water is glutted and of bread.
     But, lo, from human face and lovely bloom
     Naught penetrates our frame to be enjoyed
     Save flimsy idol-images and vain—
     A sorry hope which oft the winds disperse.
     As when the thirsty man in slumber seeks
     To drink, and water ne'er is granted him
     Wherewith to quench the heat within his members,
     But after idols of the liquids strives
     And toils in vain, and thirsts even whilst he gulps
     In middle of the torrent, thus in love
     Venus deludes with idol-images
     The lovers. Nor they cannot sate their lust
     By merely gazing on the bodies, nor
     They cannot with their palms and fingers rub
     Aught from each tender limb, the while they stray
     Uncertain over all the body. Then,
     At last, with members intertwined, when they
     Enjoy the flower of their age, when now
     Their bodies have sweet presage of keen joys,
     And Venus is about to sow the fields
     Of woman, greedily their frames they lock,
     And mingle the slaver of their mouths, and breathe
     Into each other, pressing teeth on mouths—
     Yet to no purpose, since they're powerless
     To rub off aught, or penetrate and pass
     With body entire into body—for oft
     They seem to strive and struggle thus to do;
     So eagerly they cling in Venus' bonds,
     Whilst melt away their members, overcome
     By violence of delight. But when at last
     Lust, gathered in the thews, hath spent itself,
     There come a brief pause in the raging heat—
     But then a madness just the same returns
     And that old fury visits them again,
     When once again they seek and crave to reach
     They know not what, all powerless to find
     The artifice to subjugate the bane.
     In such uncertain state they waste away
     With unseen wound.

                       To which be added too,
     They squander powers and with the travail wane;
     Be added too, they spend their futile years
     Under another's beck and call; their duties
     Neglected languish and their honest name
     Reeleth sick, sick; and meantime their estates
     Are lost in Babylonian tapestries;
     And unguents and dainty Sicyonian shoes
     Laugh on her feet; and (as ye may be sure)
     Big emeralds of green light are set in gold;
     And rich sea-purple dress by constant wear
     Grows shabby and all soaked with Venus' sweat;
     And the well-earned ancestral property
     Becometh head-bands, coifs, and many a time
     The cloaks, or garments Alidensian
     Or of the Cean isle. And banquets, set
     With rarest cloth and viands, are prepared—
     And games of chance, and many a drinking cup,
     And unguents, crowns and garlands. All in vain,
     Since from amid the well-spring of delights
     Bubbles some drop of bitter to torment
     Among the very flowers—when haply mind
     Gnaws into self, now stricken with remorse
     For slothful years and ruin in baudels,
     Or else because she's left him all in doubt
     By launching some sly word, which still like fire
     Lives wildly, cleaving to his eager heart;
     Or else because he thinks she darts her eyes
     Too much about and gazes at another,—
     And in her face sees traces of a laugh.

     These ills are found in prospering love and true;
     But in crossed love and helpless there be such
     As through shut eyelids thou canst still take in—
     Uncounted ills; so that 'tis better far
     To watch beforehand, in the way I've shown,
     And guard against enticements. For to shun
     A fall into the hunting-snares of love
     Is not so hard, as to get out again,
     When tangled in the very nets, and burst
     The stoutly-knotted cords of Aphrodite.
     Yet even when there enmeshed with tangled feet,
     Still canst thou scape the danger-lest indeed
     Thou standest in the way of thine own good,
     And overlookest first all blemishes
     Of mind and body of thy much preferred,
     Desirable dame. For so men do,
     Eyeless with passion, and assign to them
     Graces not theirs in fact. And thus we see
     Creatures in many a wise crooked and ugly
     The prosperous sweethearts in a high esteem;
     And lovers gird each other and advise
     To placate Venus, since their friends are smit
     With a base passion—miserable dupes
     Who seldom mark their own worst bane of all.
     The black-skinned girl is "tawny like the honey";
     The filthy and the fetid's "negligee";
     The cat-eyed she's "a little Pallas," she;
     The sinewy and wizened's "a gazelle";
     The pudgy and the pigmy is "piquant,
     One of the Graces sure"; the big and bulky
     O she's "an Admiration, imposante";
     The stuttering and tongue-tied "sweetly lisps";
     The mute girl's "modest"; and the garrulous,
     The spiteful spit-fire, is "a sparkling wit";
     And she who scarcely lives for scrawniness
     Becomes "a slender darling"; "delicate"
     Is she who's nearly dead of coughing-fit;
     The pursy female with protuberant breasts
     She is "like Ceres when the goddess gave
     Young Bacchus suck"; the pug-nosed lady-love
     "A Satyress, a feminine Silenus";
     The blubber-lipped is "all one luscious kiss"—
     A weary while it were to tell the whole.
     But let her face possess what charm ye will,
     Let Venus' glory rise from all her limbs,—
     Forsooth there still are others; and forsooth
     We lived before without her; and forsooth
     She does the same things—and we know she does—
     All, as the ugly creature, and she scents,
     Yes she, her wretched self with vile perfumes;
     Whom even her handmaids flee and giggle at
     Behind her back. But he, the lover, in tears
     Because shut out, covers her threshold o'er
     Often with flowers and garlands, and anoints
     Her haughty door-posts with the marjoram,
     And prints, poor fellow, kisses on the doors—
     Admitted at last, if haply but one whiff
     Got to him on approaching, he would seek
     Decent excuses to go out forthwith;
     And his lament, long pondered, then would fall
     Down at his heels; and there he'd damn himself
     For his fatuity, observing how
     He had assigned to that same lady more—
     Than it is proper to concede to mortals.
     And these our Venuses are 'ware of this.
     Wherefore the more are they at pains to hide
     All the-behind-the-scenes of life from those
     Whom they desire to keep in bonds of love—
     In vain, since ne'ertheless thou canst by thought
     Drag all the matter forth into the light
     And well search out the cause of all these smiles;
     And if of graceful mind she be and kind,
     Do thou, in thy turn, overlook the same,
     And thus allow for poor mortality.
     Nor sighs the woman always with feigned love,
     Who links her body round man's body locked
     And holds him fast, making his kisses wet
     With lips sucked into lips; for oft she acts
     Even from desire, and, seeking mutual joys,
     Incites him there to run love's race-course through.
     Nor otherwise can cattle, birds, wild beasts,
     And sheep and mares submit unto the males,
     Except that their own nature is in heat,
     And burns abounding and with gladness takes
     Once more the Venus of the mounting males.
     And seest thou not how those whom mutual pleasure
     Hath bound are tortured in their common bonds?
     How often in the cross-roads dogs that pant
     To get apart strain eagerly asunder
     With utmost might?—When all the while they're fast
     In the stout links of Venus. But they'd ne'er
     So pull, except they knew those mutual joys—
     So powerful to cast them unto snares
     And hold them bound. Wherefore again, again,
     Even as I say, there is a joint delight.

     And when perchance, in mingling seed with his,
     The female hath o'erpowered the force of male
     And by a sudden fling hath seized it fast,
     Then are the offspring, more from mothers' seed,
     More like their mothers; as, from fathers' seed,
     They're like to fathers. But whom seest to be
     Partakers of each shape, one equal blend
     Of parents' features, these are generate
     From fathers' body and from mothers' blood,
     When mutual and harmonious heat hath dashed
     Together seeds, aroused along their frames
     By Venus' goads, and neither of the twain
     Mastereth or is mastered. Happens too
     That sometimes offspring can to being come
     In likeness of their grandsires, and bring back
     Often the shapes of grandsires' sires, because
     Their parents in their bodies oft retain
     Concealed many primal germs, commixed
     In many modes, which, starting with the stock,
     Sire handeth down to son, himself a sire;
     Whence Venus by a variable chance
     Engenders shapes, and diversely brings back
     Ancestral features, voices too, and hair.
     A female generation rises forth
     From seed paternal, and from mother's body
     Exist created males: since sex proceeds
     No more from singleness of seed than faces
     Or bodies or limbs of ours: for every birth
     Is from a twofold seed; and what's created
     Hath, of that parent which it is more like,
     More than its equal share; as thou canst mark,—
     Whether the breed be male or female stock.

     Nor do the powers divine grudge any man
     The fruits of his seed-sowing, so that never
     He be called "father" by sweet children his,
     And end his days in sterile love forever.
     What many men suppose; and gloomily
     They sprinkle the altars with abundant blood,
     And make the high platforms odorous with burnt gifts,
     To render big by plenteous seed their wives—
     And plague in vain godheads and sacred lots.
     For sterile are these men by seed too thick,
     Or else by far too watery and thin.
     Because the thin is powerless to cleave
     Fast to the proper places, straightaway
     It trickles from them, and, returned again,
     Retires abortively. And then since seed
     More gross and solid than will suit is spent
     By some men, either it flies not forth amain
     With spurt prolonged enough, or else it fails
     To enter suitably the proper places,
     Or, having entered, the seed is weakly mixed
     With seed of the woman: harmonies of Venus
     Are seen to matter vastly here; and some
     Impregnate some more readily, and from some
     Some women conceive more readily and become
     Pregnant. And many women, sterile before
     In several marriage-beds, have yet thereafter
     Obtained the mates from whom they could conceive
     The baby-boys, and with sweet progeny
     Grow rich. And even for husbands (whose own wives,
     Although of fertile wombs, have borne for them
     No babies in the house) are also found
     Concordant natures so that they at last
     Can bulwark their old age with goodly sons.
     A matter of great moment 'tis in truth,
     That seeds may mingle readily with seeds
     Suited for procreation, and that thick
     Should mix with fluid seeds, with thick the fluid.
     And in this business 'tis of some import
     Upon what diet life is nourished:
     For some foods thicken seeds within our members,
     And others thin them out and waste away.
     And in what modes the fond delight itself
     Is carried on—this too importeth vastly.
     For commonly 'tis thought that wives conceive
     More readily in manner of wild-beasts,
     After the custom of the four-foot breeds,
     Because so postured, with the breasts beneath
     And buttocks then upreared, the seeds can take
     Their proper places. Nor is need the least
     For wives to use the motions of blandishment;
     For thus the woman hinders and resists
     Her own conception, if too joyously
     Herself she treats the Venus of the man
     With haunches heaving, and with all her bosom
     Now yielding like the billows of the sea—
     Aye, from the ploughshare's even course and track
     She throws the furrow, and from proper places
     Deflects the spurt of seed. And courtesans
     Are thuswise wont to move for their own ends,
     To keep from pregnancy and lying in,
     And all the while to render Venus more
     A pleasure for the men—the which meseems
     Our wives have never need of.

                                 Sometimes too
     It happens—and through no divinity
     Nor arrows of Venus—that a sorry chit
     Of scanty grace will be beloved by man;
     For sometimes she herself by very deeds,
     By her complying ways, and tidy habits,
     Will easily accustom thee to pass
     With her thy life-time—and, moreover, lo,
     Long habitude can gender human love,
     Even as an object smitten o'er and o'er
     By blows, however lightly, yet at last
     Is overcome and wavers. Seest thou not,
     Besides, how drops of water falling down
     Against the stones at last bore through the stones?

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