Of the Nature of Things

by Lucretius

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

Book IV - The Senses and Mental Pictures

Bodies that strike the eyes, awaking sight.
     From certain things flow odours evermore,
     As cold from rivers, heat from sun, and spray
     From waves of ocean, eater-out of walls
     Around the coasts. Nor ever cease to flit
     The varied voices, sounds athrough the air.
     Then too there comes into the mouth at times
     The wet of a salt taste, when by the sea
     We roam about; and so, whene'er we watch
     The wormword being mixed, its bitter stings.
     To such degree from all things is each thing
     Borne streamingly along, and sent about
     To every region round; and nature grants
     Nor rest nor respite of the onward flow,
     Since 'tis incessantly we feeling have,
     And all the time are suffered to descry
     And smell all things at hand, and hear them sound.
     Besides, since shape examined by our hands
     Within the dark is known to be the same
     As that by eyes perceived within the light
     And lustrous day, both touch and sight must be
     By one like cause aroused. So, if we test
     A square and get its stimulus on us
     Within the dark, within the light what square
     Can fall upon our sight, except a square
     That images the things? Wherefore it seems
     The source of seeing is in images,
     Nor without these can anything be viewed.

     Now these same films I name are borne about
     And tossed and scattered into regions all.
     But since we do perceive alone through eyes,
     It follows hence that whitherso we turn
     Our sight, all things do strike against it there
     With form and hue. And just how far from us
     Each thing may be away, the image yields
     To us the power to see and chance to tell:
     For when 'tis sent, at once it shoves ahead
     And drives along the air that's in the space
     Betwixt it and our eyes. And thus this air
     All glides athrough our eyeballs, and, as 'twere,
     Brushes athrough our pupils and thuswise
     Passes across. Therefore it comes we see
     How far from us each thing may be away,
     And the more air there be that's driven before,
     And too the longer be the brushing breeze
     Against our eyes, the farther off removed
     Each thing is seen to be: forsooth, this work
     With mightily swift order all goes on,
     So that upon one instant we may see
     What kind the object and how far away.

     Nor over-marvellous must this be deemed
     In these affairs that, though the films which strike
     Upon the eyes cannot be singly seen,
     The things themselves may be perceived. For thus
     When the wind beats upon us stroke by stroke
     And when the sharp cold streams, 'tis not our wont
     To feel each private particle of wind
     Or of that cold, but rather all at once;
     And so we see how blows affect our body,
     As if one thing were beating on the same
     And giving us the feel of its own body
     Outside of us. Again, whene'er we thump
     With finger-tip upon a stone, we touch
     But the rock's surface and the outer hue,
     Nor feel that hue by contact—rather feel
     The very hardness deep within the rock.

     Now come, and why beyond a looking-glass
     An image may be seen, perceive. For seen
     It soothly is, removed far within.
     'Tis the same sort as objects peered upon
     Outside in their true shape, whene'er a door
     Yields through itself an open peering-place,
     And lets us see so many things outside
     Beyond the house. Also that sight is made
     By a twofold twin air: for first is seen
     The air inside the door-posts; next the doors,
     The twain to left and right; and afterwards
     A light beyond comes brushing through our eyes,
     Then other air, then objects peered upon
     Outside in their true shape. And thus, when first
     The image of the glass projects itself,
     As to our gaze it comes, it shoves ahead
     And drives along the air that's in the space
     Betwixt it and our eyes, and brings to pass
     That we perceive the air ere yet the glass.
     But when we've also seen the glass itself,
     Forthwith that image which from us is borne
     Reaches the glass, and there thrown back again
     Comes back unto our eyes, and driving rolls
     Ahead of itself another air, that then
     'Tis this we see before itself, and thus
     It looks so far removed behind the glass.
     Wherefore again, again, there's naught for wonder

     In those which render from the mirror's plane
     A vision back, since each thing comes to pass
     By means of the two airs. Now, in the glass
     The right part of our members is observed
     Upon the left, because, when comes the image
     Hitting against the level of the glass,
     'Tis not returned unshifted; but forced off
     Backwards in line direct and not oblique,—
     Exactly as whoso his plaster-mask
     Should dash, before 'twere dry, on post or beam,
     And it should straightway keep, at clinging there,
     Its shape, reversed, facing him who threw,
     And so remould the features it gives back:
     It comes that now the right eye is the left,
     The left the right. An image too may be
     From mirror into mirror handed on,
     Until of idol-films even five or six
     Have thus been gendered. For whatever things
     Shall hide back yonder in the house, the same,
     However far removed in twisting ways,
     May still be all brought forth through bending paths
     And by these several mirrors seen to be
     Within the house, since nature so compels
     All things to be borne backward and spring off
     At equal angles from all other things.
     To such degree the image gleams across
     From mirror unto mirror; where 'twas left
     It comes to be the right, and then again
     Returns and changes round unto the left.
     Again, those little sides of mirrors curved
     Proportionate to the bulge of our own flank
     Send back to us their idols with the right
     Upon the right; and this is so because
     Either the image is passed on along
     From mirror unto mirror, and thereafter,
     When twice dashed off, flies back unto ourselves;
     Or else the image wheels itself around,
     When once unto the mirror it has come,
     Since the curved surface teaches it to turn
     To usward. Further, thou might'st well believe
     That these film-idols step along with us
     And set their feet in unison with ours
     And imitate our carriage, since from that
     Part of a mirror whence thou hast withdrawn
     Straightway no images can be returned.

     Further, our eye-balls tend to flee the bright
     And shun to gaze thereon; the sun even blinds,
     If thou goest on to strain them unto him,
     Because his strength is mighty, and the films
     Heavily downward from on high are borne
     Through the pure ether and the viewless winds,
     And strike the eyes, disordering their joints.
     So piecing lustre often burns the eyes,
     Because it holdeth many seeds of fire
     Which, working into eyes, engender pain.
     Again, whatever jaundiced people view
     Becomes wan-yellow, since from out their bodies
     Flow many seeds wan-yellow forth to meet
     The films of things, and many too are mixed
     Within their eye, which by contagion paint
     All things with sallowness. Again, we view
     From dark recesses things that stand in light,
     Because, when first has entered and possessed
     The open eyes this nearer darkling air,
     Swiftly the shining air and luminous
     Followeth in, which purges then the eyes
     And scatters asunder of that other air
     The sable shadows, for in large degrees
     This air is nimbler, nicer, and more strong.
     And soon as ever 'thas filled and oped with light
     The pathways of the eyeballs, which before
     Black air had blocked, there follow straightaway
     Those films of things out-standing in the light,
     Provoking vision—what we cannot do
     From out the light with objects in the dark,
     Because that denser darkling air behind
     Followeth in, and fills each aperture
     And thus blockades the pathways of the eyes
     That there no images of any things
     Can be thrown in and agitate the eyes.

     And when from far away we do behold
     The squared towers of a city, oft
     Rounded they seem,—on this account because
     Each distant angle is perceived obtuse,
     Or rather it is not perceived at all;
     And perishes its blow nor to our gaze
     Arrives its stroke, since through such length of air
     Are borne along the idols that the air
     Makes blunt the idol of the angle's point
     By numerous collidings. When thuswise
     The angles of the tower each and all
     Have quite escaped the sense, the stones appear
     As rubbed and rounded on a turner's wheel—
     Yet not like objects near and truly round,
     But with a semblance to them, shadowily.
     Likewise, our shadow in the sun appears
     To move along and follow our own steps
     And imitate our carriage—if thou thinkest
     Air that is thus bereft of light can walk,
     Following the gait and motion of mankind.
     For what we use to name a shadow, sure
     Is naught but air deprived of light. No marvel:
     Because the earth from spot to spot is reft
     Progressively of light of sun, whenever
     In moving round we get within its way,
     While any spot of earth by us abandoned
     Is filled with light again, on this account
     It comes to pass that what was body's shadow
     Seems still the same to follow after us
     In one straight course. Since, evermore pour in
     New lights of rays, and perish then the old,
     Just like the wool that's drawn into the flame.
     Therefore the earth is easily spoiled of light
     And easily refilled and from herself
     Washeth the black shadows quite away.

     And yet in this we don't at all concede
     That eyes be cheated. For their task it is
     To note in whatsoever place be light,
     In what be shadow: whether or no the gleams
     Be still the same, and whether the shadow which
     Just now was here is that one passing thither,
     Or whether the facts be what we said above,
     'Tis after all the reasoning of mind
     That must decide; nor can our eyeballs know
     The nature of reality. And so
     Attach thou not this fault of mind to eyes,
     Nor lightly think our senses everywhere
     Are tottering. The ship in which we sail
     Is borne along, although it seems to stand;
     The ship that bides in roadstead is supposed
     There to be passing by. And hills and fields
     Seem fleeing fast astern, past which we urge
     The ship and fly under the bellying sails.
     The stars, each one, do seem to pause, affixed
     To the ethereal caverns, though they all
     Forever are in motion, rising out
     And thence revisiting their far descents
     When they have measured with their bodies bright
     The span of heaven. And likewise sun and moon
     Seem biding in a roadstead,—objects which,
     As plain fact proves, are really borne along.
     Between two mountains far away aloft
     From midst the whirl of waters open lies
     A gaping exit for the fleet, and yet
     They seem conjoined in a single isle.
     When boys themselves have stopped their spinning round,
     The halls still seem to whirl and posts to reel,
     Until they now must almost think the roofs
     Threaten to ruin down upon their heads.
     And now, when nature begins to lift on high
     The sun's red splendour and the tremulous fires,
     And raise him o'er the mountain-tops, those mountains—
     O'er which he seemeth then to thee to be,
     His glowing self hard by atingeing them
     With his own fire—are yet away from us
     Scarcely two thousand arrow-shots, indeed
     Oft scarce five hundred courses of a dart;
     Although between those mountains and the sun
     Lie the huge plains of ocean spread beneath
     The vasty shores of ether, and intervene
     A thousand lands, possessed by many a folk
     And generations of wild beasts. Again,
     A pool of water of but a finger's depth,
     Which lies between the stones along the pave,
     Offers a vision downward into earth
     As far, as from the earth o'erspread on high
     The gulfs of heaven; that thus thou seemest to view
     Clouds down below and heavenly bodies plunged
     Wondrously in heaven under earth.
     Then too, when in the middle of the stream
     Sticks fast our dashing horse, and down we gaze
     Into the river's rapid waves, some force
     Seems then to bear the body of the horse,
     Though standing still, reversely from his course,
     And swiftly push up-stream. And wheresoe'er
     We cast our eyes across, all objects seem
     Thus to be onward borne and flow along
     In the same way as we. A portico,
     Albeit it stands well propped from end to end
     On equal columns, parallel and big,
     Contracts by stages in a narrow cone,
     When from one end the long, long whole is seen,—
     Until, conjoining ceiling with the floor,
     And the whole right side with the left, it draws
     Together to a cone's nigh-viewless point.
     To sailors on the main the sun he seems
     From out the waves to rise, and in the waves
     To set and bury his light—because indeed
     They gaze on naught but water and the sky.
     Again, to gazers ignorant of the sea,
     Vessels in port seem, as with broken poops,
     To lean upon the water, quite agog;
     For any portion of the oars that's raised
     Above the briny spray is straight, and straight
     The rudders from above. But other parts,
     Those sunk, immersed below the water-line,
     Seem broken all and bended and inclined
     Sloping to upwards, and turned back to float
     Almost atop the water. And when the winds
     Carry the scattered drifts along the sky
     In the night-time, then seem to glide along
     The radiant constellations 'gainst the clouds
     And there on high to take far other course
     From that whereon in truth they're borne. And then,
     If haply our hand be set beneath one eye
     And press below thereon, then to our gaze
     Each object which we gaze on seems to be,
     By some sensation twain—then twain the lights
     Of lampions burgeoning in flowers of flame,
     And twain the furniture in all the house,
     Two-fold the visages of fellow-men,
     And twain their bodies. And again, when sleep
     Has bound our members down in slumber soft
     And all the body lies in deep repose,
     Yet then we seem to self to be awake
     And move our members; and in night's blind gloom
     We think to mark the daylight and the sun;
     And, shut within a room, yet still we seem
     To change our skies, our oceans, rivers, hills,
     To cross the plains afoot, and hear new sounds,
     Though still the austere silence of the night
     Abides around us, and to speak replies,
     Though voiceless. Other cases of the sort
     Wondrously many do we see, which all
     Seek, so to say, to injure faith in sense—
     In vain, because the largest part of these
     Deceives through mere opinions of the mind,
     Which we do add ourselves, feigning to see
     What by the senses are not seen at all.
     For naught is harder than to separate
     Plain facts from dubious, which the mind forthwith
     Adds by itself.

                     Again, if one suppose
     That naught is known, he knows not whether this
     Itself is able to be known, since he
     Confesses naught to know. Therefore with him
     I waive discussion—who has set his head
     Even where his feet should be. But let me grant
     That this he knows,—I question: whence he knows
     What 'tis to know and not-to-know in turn,
     And what created concept of the truth,
     And what device has proved the dubious
     To differ from the certain?—since in things
     He's heretofore seen naught of true. Thou'lt find
     That from the senses first hath been create
     Concept of truth, nor can the senses be
     Rebutted. For criterion must be found
     Worthy of greater trust, which shall defeat
     Through own authority the false by true;
     What, then, than these our senses must there be
     Worthy a greater trust? Shall reason, sprung
     From some false sense, prevail to contradict
     Those senses, sprung as reason wholly is
     From out the senses?—For lest these be true,
     All reason also then is falsified.
     Or shall the ears have power to blame the eyes,
     Or yet the touch the ears? Again, shall taste
     Accuse this touch or shall the nose confute
     Or eyes defeat it? Methinks not so it is:
     For unto each has been divided off
     Its function quite apart, its power to each;
     And thus we're still constrained to perceive
     The soft, the cold, the hot apart, apart
     All divers hues and whatso things there be
     Conjoined with hues. Likewise the tasting tongue
     Has its own power apart, and smells apart
     And sounds apart are known. And thus it is
     That no one sense can e'er convict another.
     Nor shall one sense have power to blame itself,
     Because it always must be deemed the same,
     Worthy of equal trust. And therefore what
     At any time unto these senses showed,
     The same is true. And if the reason be
     Unable to unravel us the cause
     Why objects, which at hand were square, afar
     Seemed rounded, yet it more availeth us,
     Lacking the reason, to pretend a cause
     For each configuration, than to let
     From out our hands escape the obvious things
     And injure primal faith in sense, and wreck
     All those foundations upon which do rest
     Our life and safety. For not only reason
     Would topple down; but even our very life
     Would straightaway collapse, unless we dared
     To trust our senses and to keep away
     From headlong heights and places to be shunned
     Of a like peril, and to seek with speed
     Their opposites! Again, as in a building,
     If the first plumb-line be askew, and if
     The square deceiving swerve from lines exact,
     And if the level waver but the least
     In any part, the whole construction then
     Must turn out faulty—shelving and askew,
     Leaning to back and front, incongruous,
     That now some portions seem about to fall,
     And falls the whole ere long—betrayed indeed
     By first deceiving estimates: so too
     Thy calculations in affairs of life
     Must be askew and false, if sprung for thee
     From senses false. So all that troop of words
     Marshalled against the senses is quite vain.

     And now remains to demonstrate with ease
     How other senses each their things perceive.

     Firstly, a sound and every voice is heard,
     When, getting into ears, they strike the sense
     With their own body. For confess we must
     Even voice and sound to be corporeal,
     Because they're able on the sense to strike.
     Besides voice often scrapes against the throat,
     And screams in going out do make more rough
     The wind-pipe—naturally enough, methinks,
     When, through the narrow exit rising up
     In larger throng, these primal germs of voice
     Have thus begun to issue forth. In sooth,
     Also the door of the mouth is scraped against
     [By air blown outward] from distended [cheeks].

     And thus no doubt there is, that voice and words
     Consist of elements corporeal,
     With power to pain. Nor art thou unaware
     Likewise how much of body's ta'en away,
     How much from very thews and powers of men
     May be withdrawn by steady talk, prolonged
     Even from the rising splendour of the morn
     To shadows of black evening,—above all
     If 't be outpoured with most exceeding shouts.
     Therefore the voice must be corporeal,
     Since the long talker loses from his frame
     A part.

           Moreover, roughness in the sound
     Comes from the roughness in the primal germs,
     As a smooth sound from smooth ones is create;
     Nor have these elements a form the same
     When the trump rumbles with a hollow roar,
     As when barbaric Berecynthian pipe
     Buzzes with raucous boomings, or when swans
     By night from icy shores of Helicon
     With wailing voices raise their liquid dirge.

     Thus, when from deep within our frame we force
     These voices, and at mouth expel them forth,
     The mobile tongue, artificer of words,
     Makes them articulate, and too the lips
     By their formations share in shaping them.
     Hence when the space is short from starting-point
     To where that voice arrives, the very words
     Must too be plainly heard, distinctly marked.
     For then the voice conserves its own formation,
     Conserves its shape. But if the space between
     Be longer than is fit, the words must be
     Through the much air confounded, and the voice
     Disordered in its flight across the winds—
     And so it haps, that thou canst sound perceive,
     Yet not determine what the words may mean;
     To such degree confounded and encumbered
     The voice approaches us. Again, one word,
     Sent from the crier's mouth, may rouse all ears
     Among the populace. And thus one voice
     Scatters asunder into many voices,
     Since it divides itself for separate ears,
     Imprinting form of word and a clear tone.
     But whatso part of voices fails to hit
     The ears themselves perishes, borne beyond,
     Idly diffused among the winds. A part,
     Beating on solid porticoes, tossed back
     Returns a sound; and sometimes mocks the ear
     With a mere phantom of a word. When this
     Thou well hast noted, thou canst render count
     Unto thyself and others why it is
     Along the lonely places that the rocks
     Give back like shapes of words in order like,
     When search we after comrades wandering
     Among the shady mountains, and aloud
     Call unto them, the scattered. I have seen
     Spots that gave back even voices six or seven
     For one thrown forth—for so the very hills,
     Dashing them back against the hills, kept on
     With their reverberations. And these spots
     The neighbouring country-side doth feign to be
     Haunts of the goat-foot satyrs and the nymphs;
     And tells ye there be fauns, by whose night noise
     And antic revels yonder they declare
     The voiceless silences are broken oft,
     And tones of strings are made and wailings sweet
     Which the pipe, beat by players' finger-tips,
     Pours out; and far and wide the farmer-race
     Begins to hear, when, shaking the garmentings
     Of pine upon his half-beast head, god-Pan
     With puckered lip oft runneth o'er and o'er
     The open reeds,—lest flute should cease to pour
     The woodland music! Other prodigies
     And wonders of this ilk they love to tell,
     Lest they be thought to dwell in lonely spots
     And even by gods deserted. This is why
     They boast of marvels in their story-tellings;
     Or by some other reason are led on—
     Greedy, as all mankind hath ever been,
     To prattle fables into ears.

     One need not wonder how it comes about
     That through those places (through which eyes cannot
     View objects manifest) sounds yet may pass
     And assail the ears. For often we observe
     People conversing, though the doors be closed;
     No marvel either, since all voice unharmed
     Can wind through bended apertures of things,
     While idol-films decline to—for they're rent,
     Unless along straight apertures they swim,
     Like those in glass, through which all images
     Do fly across. And yet this voice itself,
     In passing through shut chambers of a house,
     Is dulled, and in a jumble enters ears,
     And sound we seem to hear far more than words.
     Moreover, a voice is into all directions
     Divided up, since off from one another
     New voices are engendered, when one voice
     Hath once leapt forth, outstarting into many—
     As oft a spark of fire is wont to sprinkle
     Itself into its several fires. And so,
     Voices do fill those places hid behind,
     Which all are in a hubbub round about,
     Astir with sound. But idol-films do tend,
     As once sent forth, in straight directions all;
     Wherefore one can inside a wall see naught,
     Yet catch the voices from beyond the same.

     Nor tongue and palate, whereby we flavour feel,
     Present more problems for more work of thought.
     Firstly, we feel a flavour in the mouth,
     When forth we squeeze it, in chewing up our food,—
     As any one perchance begins to squeeze
     With hand and dry a sponge with water soaked.
     Next, all which forth we squeeze is spread about
     Along the pores and intertwined paths
     Of the loose-textured tongue. And so, when smooth
     The bodies of the oozy flavour, then
     Delightfully they touch, delightfully
     They treat all spots, around the wet and trickling
     Enclosures of the tongue. And contrariwise,
     They sting and pain the sense with their assault,
     According as with roughness they're supplied.
     Next, only up to palate is the pleasure
     Coming from flavour; for in truth when down
     'Thas plunged along the throat, no pleasure is,
     Whilst into all the frame it spreads around;
     Nor aught it matters with what food is fed
     The body, if only what thou take thou canst
     Distribute well digested to the frame
     And keep the stomach in a moist career.

     Now, how it is we see some food for some,
     Others for others....

     I will unfold, or wherefore what to some
     Is foul and bitter, yet the same to others
     Can seem delectable to eat,—why here
     So great the distance and the difference is
     That what is food to one to some becomes
     Fierce poison, as a certain snake there is
     Which, touched by spittle of a man, will waste
     And end itself by gnawing up its coil.
     Again, fierce poison is the hellebore
     To us, but puts the fat on goats and quails.
     That thou mayst know by what devices this
     Is brought about, in chief thou must recall
     What we have said before, that seeds are kept
     Commixed in things in divers modes. Again,
     As all the breathing creatures which take food
     Are outwardly unlike, and outer cut
     And contour of their members bounds them round,
     Each differing kind by kind, they thus consist
     Of seeds of varying shape. And furthermore,
     Since seeds do differ, divers too must be
     The interstices and paths (which we do call
     The apertures) in all the members, even
     In mouth and palate too. Thus some must be
     More small or yet more large, three-cornered some
     And others squared, and many others round,
     And certain of them many-angled too
     In many modes. For, as the combination
     And motion of their divers shapes demand,
     The shapes of apertures must be diverse
     And paths must vary according to their walls
     That bound them. Hence when what is sweet to some,
     Becomes to others bitter, for him to whom
     'Tis sweet, the smoothest particles must needs
     Have entered caressingly the palate's pores.
     And, contrariwise, with those to whom that sweet
     Is sour within the mouth, beyond a doubt
     The rough and barbed particles have got
     Into the narrows of the apertures.
     Now easy it is from these affairs to know

     Indeed, where one from o'er-abundant bile
     Is stricken with fever, or in other wise
     Feels the roused violence of some malady,
     There the whole frame is now upset, and there
     All the positions of the seeds are changed,—
     So that the bodies which before were fit
     To cause the savour, now are fit no more,
     And now more apt are others which be able
     To get within the pores and gender sour.
     Both sorts, in sooth, are intermixed in honey—
     What oft we've proved above to thee before.
     Now come, and I will indicate what wise
     Impact of odour on the nostrils touches.
     And first, 'tis needful there be many things
     From whence the streaming flow of varied odours
     May roll along, and we're constrained to think
     They stream and dart and sprinkle themselves about
     Impartially. But for some breathing creatures
     One odour is more apt, to others another—
     Because of differing forms of seeds and pores.
     Thus on and on along the zephyrs bees
     Are led by odour of honey, vultures too
     By carcasses. Again, the forward power
     Of scent in dogs doth lead the hunter on
     Whithersoever the splay-foot of wild beast
     Hath hastened its career; and the white goose,
     The saviour of the Roman citadel,
     Forescents afar the odour of mankind.
     Thus, diversly to divers ones is given
     Peculiar smell that leadeth each along
     To his own food or makes him start aback
     From loathsome poison, and in this wise are
     The generations of the wild preserved.

     Yet is this pungence not alone in odours
     Or in the class of flavours; but, likewise,
     The look of things and hues agree not all
     So well with senses unto all, but that
     Some unto some will be, to gaze upon,
     More keen and painful. Lo, the raving lions,
     They dare not face and gaze upon the cock
     Who's wont with wings to flap away the night
     From off the stage, and call the beaming morn
     With clarion voice—and lions straightway thus
     Bethink themselves of flight, because, ye see,
     Within the body of the cocks there be
     Some certain seeds, which, into lions' eyes
     Injected, bore into the pupils deep
     And yield such piercing pain they can't hold out
     Against the cocks, however fierce they be—
     Whilst yet these seeds can't hurt our gaze the least,
     Either because they do not penetrate,
     Or since they have free exit from the eyes
     As soon as penetrating, so that thus
     They cannot hurt our eyes in any part
     By there remaining.

                        To speak once more of odour;
     Whatever assail the nostrils, some can travel
     A longer way than others. None of them,
     However, 's borne so far as sound or voice—
     While I omit all mention of such things
     As hit the eyesight and assail the vision.
     For slowly on a wandering course it comes
     And perishes sooner, by degrees absorbed
     Easily into all the winds of air;—
     And first, because from deep inside the thing
     It is discharged with labour (for the fact
     That every object, when 'tis shivered, ground,
     Or crumbled by the fire, will smell the stronger
     Is sign that odours flow and part away
     From inner regions of the things). And next,
     Thou mayest see that odour is create
     Of larger primal germs than voice, because
     It enters not through stony walls, wherethrough
     Unfailingly the voice and sound are borne;
     Wherefore, besides, thou wilt observe 'tis not
     So easy to trace out in whatso place
     The smelling object is. For, dallying on
     Along the winds, the particles cool off,
     And then the scurrying messengers of things
     Arrive our senses, when no longer hot.
     So dogs oft wander astray, and hunt the scent.

     Now mark, and hear what objects move the mind,
     And learn, in few, whence unto intellect
     Do come what come. And first I tell thee this:
     That many images of objects rove
     In many modes to every region round—
     So thin that easily the one with other,
     When once they meet, uniteth in mid-air,
     Like gossamer or gold-leaf. For, indeed,
     Far thinner are they in their fabric than
     Those images which take a hold on eyes
     And smite the vision, since through body's pores
     They penetrate, and inwardly stir up
     The subtle nature of mind and smite the sense.
     Thus, Centaurs and the limbs of Scyllas, thus
     The Cerberus-visages of dogs we see,
     And images of people gone before—
     Dead men whose bones earth bosomed long ago;
     Because the images of every kind
     Are everywhere about us borne—in part
     Those which are gendered in the very air
     Of own accord, in part those others which
     From divers things do part away, and those
     Which are compounded, made from out their shapes.
     For soothly from no living Centaur is
     That phantom gendered, since no breed of beast
     Like him was ever; but, when images
     Of horse and man by chance have come together,
     They easily cohere, as aforesaid,
     At once, through subtle nature and fabric thin.
     In the same fashion others of this ilk
     Created are. And when they're quickly borne
     In their exceeding lightness, easily
     (As earlier I showed) one subtle image,
     Compounded, moves by its one blow the mind,
     Itself so subtle and so strangely quick.

     That these things come to pass as I record,
     From this thou easily canst understand:
     So far as one is unto other like,
     Seeing with mind as well as with the eyes
     Must come to pass in fashion not unlike.
     Well, now, since I have shown that I perceive
     Haply a lion through those idol-films
     Such as assail my eyes, 'tis thine to know
     Also the mind is in like manner moved,
     And sees, nor more nor less than eyes do see
     (Except that it perceives more subtle films)
     The lion and aught else through idol-films.
     And when the sleep has overset our frame,
     The mind's intelligence is now awake,
     Still for no other reason, save that these—
     The self-same films as when we are awake—
     Assail our minds, to such degree indeed
     That we do seem to see for sure the man
     Whom, void of life, now death and earth have gained
     Dominion over. And nature forces this
     To come to pass because the body's senses
     Are resting, thwarted through the members all,
     Unable now to conquer false with true;
     And memory lies prone and languishes
     In slumber, nor protests that he, the man
     Whom the mind feigns to see alive, long since
     Hath been the gain of death and dissolution.

     And further, 'tis no marvel idols move
     And toss their arms and other members round
     In rhythmic time—and often in men's sleeps
     It haps an image this is seen to do;
     In sooth, when perishes the former image,
     And other is gendered of another pose,
     That former seemeth to have changed its gestures.
     Of course the change must be conceived as speedy;
     So great the swiftness and so great the store
     Of idol-things, and (in an instant brief
     As mind can mark) so great, again, the store
     Of separate idol-parts to bring supplies.

     It happens also that there is supplied
     Sometimes an image not of kind the same;
     But what before was woman, now at hand
     Is seen to stand there, altered into male;
     Or other visage, other age succeeds;
     But slumber and oblivion take care
     That we shall feel no wonder at the thing.

     And much in these affairs demands inquiry,
     And much, illumination—if we crave
     With plainness to exhibit facts. And first,
     Why doth the mind of one to whom the whim
     To think has come behold forthwith that thing?
     Or do the idols watch upon our will,
     And doth an image unto us occur,
     Directly we desire—if heart prefer
     The sea, the land, or after all the sky?
     Assemblies of the citizens, parades,
     Banquets, and battles, these and all doth she,
     Nature, create and furnish at our word?—
     Maugre the fact that in same place and spot
     Another's mind is meditating things
     All far unlike. And what, again, of this:
     When we in sleep behold the idols step,
     In measure, forward, moving supple limbs,
     Whilst forth they put each supple arm in turn
     With speedy motion, and with eyeing heads
     Repeat the movement, as the foot keeps time?
     Forsooth, the idols they are steeped in art,
     And wander to and fro well taught indeed,—
     Thus to be able in the time of night
     To make such games! Or will the truth be this:
     Because in one least moment that we mark—
     That is, the uttering of a single sound—
     There lurk yet many moments, which the reason
     Discovers to exist, therefore it comes
     That, in a moment how so brief ye will,
     The divers idols are hard by, and ready
     Each in its place diverse? So great the swiftness,
     So great, again, the store of idol-things,
     And so, when perishes the former image,
     And other is gendered of another pose,
     The former seemeth to have changed its gestures.
     And since they be so tenuous, mind can mark
     Sharply alone the ones it strains to see;
     And thus the rest do perish one and all,
     Save those for which the mind prepares itself.
     Further, it doth prepare itself indeed,
     And hopes to see what follows after each—
     Hence this result. For hast thou not observed
     How eyes, essaying to perceive the fine,
     Will strain in preparation, otherwise
     Unable sharply to perceive at all?
     Yet know thou canst that, even in objects plain,
     If thou attendest not, 'tis just the same
     As if 'twere all the time removed and far.
     What marvel, then, that mind doth lose the rest,
     Save those to which 'thas given up itself?
     So 'tis that we conjecture from small signs
     Things wide and weighty, and involve ourselves
     In snarls of self-deceit.

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