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On the Nature of Things

By Lucretius
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On the Nature of Things

By Lucretius

Written 50 B.C.E

Translated by William Ellery Leonard

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Book V
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O who can build with puissant breast a song
Worthy the majesty of these great finds?
Or who in words so strong that he can frame
The fit laudations for deserts of him
Who left us heritors of such vast prizes,
By his own breast discovered and sought out?-
There shall be none, methinks, of mortal stock.
For if must needs be named for him the name
Demanded by the now known majesty
Of these high matters, then a god was he,-
Hear me, illustrious Memmius- a god;
Who first and chief found out that plan of life
Which now is called philosophy, and who
By cunning craft, out of such mighty waves,
Out of such mighty darkness, moored life
In havens so serene, in light so clear.
Compare those old discoveries divine
Of others: lo, according to the tale,
Ceres established for mortality
The grain, and Bacchus juice of vine-born grape,
Though life might yet without these things abide,
Even as report saith now some peoples live.
But man's well-being was impossible
Without a breast all free. Wherefore the more
That man doth justly seem to us a god,
From whom sweet solaces of life, afar
Distributed o'er populous domains,
Now soothe the minds of men. But if thou thinkest
Labours of Hercules excel the same,
Much farther from true reasoning thou farest.
For what could hurt us now that mighty maw
Of Nemeaean Lion, or what the Boar
Who bristled in Arcadia? Or, again,
O what could Cretan Bull, or Hydra, pest
Of Lerna, fenced with vipers venomous?
Or what the triple-breasted power of her
The three-fold Geryon...

The sojourners in the Stymphalian fens
So dreadfully offend us, or the Steeds
Of Thracian Diomedes breathing fire
From out their nostrils off along the zones
Bistonian and Ismarian? And the Snake,
The dread fierce gazer, guardian of the golden
And gleaming apples of the Hesperides,
Coiled round the tree-trunk with tremendous bulk,
O what, again, could he inflict on us
Along the Atlantic shore and wastes of sea?-
Where neither one of us approacheth nigh
Nor no barbarian ventures. And the rest
Of all those monsters slain, even if alive,
Unconquered still, what injury could they do?
None, as I guess. For so the glutted earth
Swarms even now with savage beasts, even now
Is filled with anxious terrors through the woods
And mighty mountains and the forest deeps-
Quarters 'tis ours in general to avoid.
But lest the breast be purged, what conflicts then,
What perils, must bosom, in our own despite!
O then how great and keen the cares of lust
That split the man distraught! How great the fears!
And lo, the pride, grim greed, and wantonness-
How great the slaughters in their train! and lo,
Debaucheries and every breed of sloth!
Therefore that man who subjugated these,
And from the mind expelled, by words indeed,
Not arms, O shall it not be seemly him
To dignify by ranking with the gods?-
And all the more since he was wont to give,
Concerning the immortal gods themselves,
Many pronouncements with a tongue divine,
And to unfold by his pronouncements all
The nature of the world.

Argument of the Book and New Proem Against Teleological Concept

And walking now
In his own footprints, I do follow through
His reasonings, and with pronouncements teach
The covenant whereby all things are framed,
How under that covenant they must abide
Nor ever prevail to abrogate the aeons'
Inexorable decrees- how (as we've found),
In class of mortal objects, o'er all else,
The mind exists of earth-born frame create
And impotent unscathed to abide
Across the mighty aeons, and how come
In sleep those idol-apparitions
That so befool intelligence when we
Do seem to view a man whom life has left.
Thus far we've gone; the order of my plan
Hath brought me now unto the point where I
Must make report how, too, the universe
Consists of mortal body, born in time,
And in what modes that congregated stuff
Established itself as earth and sky,
Ocean, and stars, and sun, and ball of moon;
And then what living creatures rose from out
The old telluric places, and what ones
Were never born at all; and in what mode
The human race began to name its things
And use the varied speech from man to man;
And in what modes hath bosomed in their breasts
That awe of gods, which halloweth in all lands
Fanes, altars, groves, lakes, idols of the gods.
Also I shall untangle by what power
The steersman Nature guides the sun's courses,
And the meanderings of the moon, lest we,
Percase, should fancy that of own free will
They circle their perennial courses round,
Timing their motions for increase of crops
And living creatures, or lest we should think
They roll along by any plan of gods.
For even those men who have learned full well
That godheads lead a long life free of care,
If yet meanwhile they wonder by what plan
Things can go on (and chiefly yon high things
Observed o'erhead on the ethereal coasts),
Again are hurried back unto the fears
Of old religion and adopt again
Harsh masters, deemed almighty- wretched men,
Unwitting what can be and what cannot,
And by what law to each its scope prescribed,
Its boundary stone that clings so deep in Time.

But for the rest, lest we delay thee here
Longer by empty promises- behold,
Before all else, the seas, the lands, the sky:
O Memmius, their threefold nature, lo,
Their bodies three, three aspects so unlike,
Three frames so vast, a single day shall give
Unto annihilation! Then shall crash
That massive form and fabric of the world
Sustained so many aeons! Nor do I
Fail to perceive how strange and marvellous
This fact must strike the intellect of man,-
Annihilation of the sky and earth
That is to be,- and with what toil of words
'Tis mine to prove the same; as happens oft
When once ye offer to man's listening ears
Something before unheard of, but may not
Subject it to the view of eyes for him
Nor put it into hand- the sight and touch,
Whereby the opened highways of belief
Lead most directly into human breast
And regions of intelligence. But yet
I will speak out. The fact itself, perchance,
Will force belief in these my words, and thou
Mayst see, in little time, tremendously
With risen commotions of the lands all things
Quaking to pieces- which afar from us
May she, the steersman Nature, guide: and may
Reason, O rather than the fact itself,
Persuade us that all things can be o'erthrown
And sink with awful-sounding breakage down!

But ere on this I take a step to utter
Oracles holier and soundlier based
Than ever the Pythian pronounced for men
From out the tripod and the Delphian laurel,
I will unfold for thee with learned words
Many a consolation, lest perchance,
Still bridled by religion, thou suppose
Lands, sun, and sky, sea, constellations, moon,
Must dure forever, as of frame divine-
And so conclude that it is just that those,
(After the manner of the Giants), should all
Pay the huge penalties for monstrous crime,
Who by their reasonings do overshake
The ramparts of the universe and wish
There to put out the splendid sun of heaven,
Branding with mortal talk immortal things-
Though these same things are even so far removed
From any touch of deity and seem
So far unworthy of numbering with the gods,
That well they may be thought to furnish rather
A goodly instance of the sort of things
That lack the living motion, living sense.
For sure 'tis quite beside the mark to think
That judgment and the nature of the mind
In any kind of body can exist-
Just as in ether can't exist a tree,
Nor clouds in the salt sea, nor in the fields
Can fishes live, nor blood in timber be,
Nor sap in boulders: fixed and arranged
Where everything may grow and have its place.
Thus nature of mind cannot arise alone
Without the body, nor have its being far
From thews and blood. Yet if 'twere possible?-
Much rather might this very power of mind
Be in the head, the shoulders, or the heels,
And, born in any part soever, yet
In the same man, in the same vessel abide
But since within this body even of ours
Stands fixed and appears arranged sure
Where soul and mind can each exist and grow,
Deny we must the more that they can dure
Outside the body and the breathing form
In rotting clods of earth, in the sun's fire,
In water, or in ether's skiey coasts.
Therefore these things no whit are furnished
With sense divine, since never can they be
With life-force quickened.
Likewise, thou canst ne'er
Believe the sacred seats of gods are here
In any regions of this mundane world;
Indeed, the nature of the gods, so subtle,
So far removed from these our senses, scarce
Is seen even by intelligence of mind.
And since they've ever eluded touch and thrust
Of human hands, they cannot reach to grasp
Aught tangible to us. For what may not
Itself be touched in turn can never touch.
Wherefore, besides, also their seats must be
Unlike these seats of ours,- even subtle too,
As meet for subtle essence- as I'll prove
Hereafter unto thee with large discourse.
Further, to say that for the sake of men
They willed to prepare this world's magnificence,
And that 'tis therefore duty and behoof
To praise the work of gods as worthy praise,
And that 'tis sacrilege for men to shake
Ever by any force from out their seats
What hath been stablished by the Forethought old
To everlasting for races of mankind,
And that 'tis sacrilege to assault by words
And overtopple all from base to beam,-
Memmius, such notions to concoct and pile,
Is verily- to dote. Our gratefulness,
O what emoluments could it confer
Upon Immortals and upon the Blessed
That they should take a step to manage aught
For sake of us? Or what new factor could,
After so long a time, inveigle them-
The hitherto reposeful- to desire
To change their former life? For rather he
Whom old things chafe seems likely to rejoice
At new; but one that in fore-passed time
Hath chanced upon no ill, through goodly years.
O what could ever enkindle in such an one
Passion for strange experiment? Or what
The evil for us, if we had ne'er been born?-
As though, forsooth, in darkling realms and woe
Our life were lying till should dawn at last
The day-spring of creation! Whosoever
Hath been begotten wills perforce to stay
In life, so long as fond delight detains;
But whoso ne'er hath tasted love of life,
And ne'er was in the count of living things,
What hurts it him that he was never born?
Whence, further, first was planted in the gods
The archetype for gendering the world
And the fore-notion of what man is like,
So that they knew and pre-conceived with mind
Just what they wished to make? Or how were known
Ever the energies of primal germs,
And what those germs, by interchange of place,
Could thus produce, if nature's self had not
Given example for creating all?
For in such wise primordials of things,
Many in many modes, astir by blows
From immemorial aeons, in motion too
By their own weights, have evermore been wont
To be so borne along and in all modes
To meet together and to try all sorts
Which, by combining one with other, they
Are powerful to create, that thus it is
No marvel now, if they have also fallen
Into arrangements such, and if they've passed
Into vibrations such, as those whereby
This sum of things is carried on to-day
By fixed renewal. But knew I never what
The seeds primordial were, yet would I dare
This to affirm, even from deep judgments based
Upon the ways and conduct of the skies-
This to maintain by many a fact besides-
That in no wise the nature of all things
For us was fashioned by a power divine-
So great the faults it stands encumbered with.
First, mark all regions which are overarched
By the prodigious reaches of the sky:
One yawning part thereof the mountain-chains
And forests of the beasts do have and hold;
And cliffs, and desert fens, and wastes of sea
(Which sunder afar the beaches of the lands)
Possess it merely; and, again, thereof
Well-nigh two-thirds intolerable heat
And a perpetual fall of frost doth rob
From mortal kind. And what is left to till,
Even that the force of Nature would o'errun
With brambles, did not human force oppose,-
Long wont for livelihood to groan and sweat
Over the two-pronged mattock and to cleave
The soil in twain by pressing on the plough.

Unless, by the ploughshare turning the fruitful clods
And kneading the mould, we quicken into birth,
The crops spontaneously could not come up
Into the free bright air. Even then sometimes,
When things acquired by the sternest toil
Are now in leaf, are now in blossom all,
Either the skiey sun with baneful heats
Parches, or sudden rains or chilling rime
Destroys, or flaws of winds with furious whirl
Torment and twist. Beside these matters, why
Doth Nature feed and foster on land and sea
The dreadful breed of savage beasts, the foes
Of the human clan? Why do the seasons bring
Distempers with them? Wherefore stalks at large
Death, so untimely? Then, again, the babe,
Like to the castaway of the raging surf,
Lies naked on the ground, speechless, in want
Of every help for life, when Nature first
Hath poured him forth upon the shores of light
With birth-pangs from within the mother's womb,
And with a plaintive wail he fills the place,-
As well befitting one for whom remains
In life a journey through so many ills.
But all the flocks and herds and all wild beasts
Come forth and grow, nor need the little rattles,
Nor must be treated to the humouring nurse's
Dear, broken chatter; nor seek they divers clothes
To suit the changing skies; nor need, in fine,
Nor arms, nor lofty ramparts, wherewithal
Their own to guard- because the earth herself
And Nature, artificer of the world, bring forth
Aboundingly all things for all.

The World is Not Eternal

And first,
Since body of earth and water, air's light breath,
And fiery exhalations (of which four
This sum of things is seen to be compact)
So all have birth and perishable frame,
Thus the whole nature of the world itself
Must be conceived as perishable too.
For, verily, those things of which we see
The parts and members to have birth in time
And perishable shapes, those same we mark
To be invariably born in time
And born to die. And therefore when I see
The mightiest members and the parts of this
Our world consumed and begot again,
'Tis mine to know that also sky above
And earth beneath began of old in time
And shall in time go under to disaster.
And lest in these affairs thou deemest me
To have seized upon this point by sleight to serve
My own caprice- because I have assumed
That earth and fire are mortal things indeed,
And have not doubted water and the air
Both perish too and have affirmed the same
To be again begotten and wax big-
Mark well the argument: in first place, lo,
Some certain parts of earth, grievously parched
By unremitting suns, and trampled on
By a vast throng of feet, exhale abroad
A powdery haze and flying clouds of dust,
Which the stout winds disperse in the whole air.
A part, moreover, of her sod and soil
Is summoned to inundation by the rains;
And rivers graze and gouge the banks away.
Besides, whatever takes a part its own
In fostering and increasing aught...

Is rendered back; and since, beyond a doubt,
Earth, the all-mother, is beheld to be
Likewise the common sepulchre of things,
Therefore thou seest her minished of her plenty,
And then again augmented with new growth.

And for the rest, that sea, and streams, and springs
Forever with new waters overflow
And that perennially the fluids well.
Needeth no words- the mighty flux itself
Of multitudinous waters round about
Declareth this. But whatso water first
Streams up is ever straightway carried off,
And thus it comes to pass that all in all
There is no overflow; in part because
The burly winds (that over-sweep amain)
And skiey sun (that with his rays dissolves)
Do minish the level seas; in part because
The water is diffused underground
Through all the lands. The brine is filtered off,
And then the liquid stuff seeps back again
And all re-gathers at the river-heads,
Whence in fresh-water currents on it flows
Over the lands, adown the channels which
Were cleft erstwhile and erstwhile bore along
The liquid-footed floods.
Now, then, of air
I'll speak, which hour by hour in all its body
Is changed innumerably. For whatso'er
Streams up in dust or vapour off of things,
The same is all and always borne along
Into the mighty ocean of the air;
And did not air in turn restore to things
Bodies, and thus recruit them as they stream,
All things by this time had resolved been
And changed into air. Therefore it never
Ceases to be engendered off of things
And to return to things, since verily
In constant flux do all things stream.
The abounding well-spring of the liquid light,
The ethereal sun, doth flood the heaven o'er
With constant flux of radiance ever new,
And with fresh light supplies the place of light,
Upon the instant. For whatever effulgence
Hath first streamed off, no matter where it falls,
Is lost unto the sun. And this 'tis thine
To know from these examples: soon as clouds
Have first begun to under-pass the sun,
And, as it were, to rend the days of light
In twain, at once the lower part of them
Is lost entire, and earth is overcast
Where'er the thunderheads are rolled along-
So know thou mayst that things forever need
A fresh replenishment of gleam and glow,
And each effulgence, foremost flashed forth,
Perisheth one by one. Nor otherwise
Can things be seen in sunlight, lest alway
The fountain-head of light supply new light.
Indeed your earthly beacons of the night,
The hanging lampions and the torches, bright
With darting gleams and dense with livid soot,
Do hurry in like manner to supply
With ministering heat new light amain;
Are all alive to quiver with their fires,-
Are so alive, that thus the light ne'er leaves
The spots it shines on, as if rent in twain:
So speedily is its destruction veiled
By the swift birth of flame from all the fires.
Thus, then, we must suppose that sun and moon
And stars dart forth their light from under-births
Ever and ever new, and whatso flames
First rise do perish always one by one-
Lest, haply, thou shouldst think they each endure
Again, perceivest not
How stones are also conquered by Time?-
Not how the lofty towers ruin down,
And boulders crumble?- Not how shrines of gods
And idols crack outworn?- Nor how indeed
The holy Influence hath yet no power
There to postpone the Terminals of Fate,
Or headway make 'gainst Nature's fixed decrees?
Again, behold we not the monuments
Of heroes, now in ruins, asking us,
In their turn likewise, if we don't believe
They also age with eld? Behold we not
The rended basalt ruining amain
Down from the lofty mountains, powerless
To dure and dree the mighty forces there
Of finite time?- for they would never fall
Rended asudden, if from infinite Past
They had prevailed against all engin'ries
Of the assaulting aeons, with no crash.
Again, now look at This, which round, above,
Contains the whole earth in its one embrace:
If from itself it procreates all things-
As some men tell- and takes them to itself
When once destroyed, entirely must it be
Of mortal birth and body; for whate'er
From out itself giveth to other things
Increase and food, the same perforce must be
Minished, and then recruited when it takes
Things back into itself.
Besides all this,
If there had been no origin-in-birth
Of lands and sky, and they had ever been
The everlasting, why, ere Theban war
And obsequies of Troy, have other bards
Not also chanted other high affairs?
Whither have sunk so oft so many deeds
Of heroes? Why do those deeds live no more,
Ingrafted in eternal monuments
Of glory? Verily, I guess, because
The Sum is new, and of a recent date
The nature of our universe, and had
Not long ago its own exordium.
Wherefore, even now some arts are being still
Refined, still increased: now unto ships
Is being added many a new device;
And but the other day musician-folk
Gave birth to melic sounds of organing;
And, then, this nature, this account of things
Hath been discovered latterly, and I
Myself have been discovered only now,
As first among the first, able to turn
The same into ancestral Roman speech.
Yet if, percase, thou deemest that ere this
Existed all things even the same, but that
Perished the cycles of the human race
In fiery exhalations, or cities fell
By some tremendous quaking of the world,
Or rivers in fury, after constant rains,
Had plunged forth across the lands of earth
And whelmed the towns- then, all the more must thou
Confess, defeated by the argument,
That there shall be annihilation too
Of lands and sky. For at a time when things
Were being taxed by maladies so great,
And so great perils, if some cause more fell
Had then assailed them, far and wide they would
Have gone to disaster and supreme collapse.
And by no other reasoning are we
Seen to be mortal, save that all of us
Sicken in turn with those same maladies
With which have sickened in the past those men
Whom Nature hath removed from life.
Whatever abides eternal must indeed
Either repel all strokes, because 'tis made
Of solid body, and permit no entrance
Of aught with power to sunder from within
The parts compact- as are those seeds of stuff
Whose nature we've exhibited before;
Or else be able to endure through time
For this: because they are from blows exempt,
As is the void, the which abides untouched,
Unsmit by any stroke; or else because
There is no room around, whereto things can,
As 'twere, depart in dissolution all-
Even as the sum of sums eternal is,
Without or place beyond whereto things may
Asunder fly, or bodies which can smite,
And thus dissolve them by the blows of might.
But not of solid body, as I've shown,
Exists the nature of the world, because
In things is intermingled there a void;
Nor is the world yet as the void, nor are,
Moreover, bodies lacking which, percase,
Rising from out the infinite, can fell
With fury-whirlwinds all this sum of things,
Or bring upon them other cataclysm
Of peril strange; and yonder, too, abides
The infinite space and the profound abyss-
Whereinto, lo, the ramparts of the world
Can yet be shivered. Or some other power
Can pound upon them till they perish all.
Thus is the door of doom, O nowise barred
Against the sky, against the sun and earth
And deep-sea waters, but wide open stands
And gloats upon them, monstrous and agape.
Wherefore, again, 'tis needful to confess
That these same things are born in time; for things
Which are of mortal body could indeed
Never from infinite past until to-day
Have spurned the multitudinous assaults
Of the immeasurable aeons old.

Again, since battle so fiercely one with other
The four most mighty members the world,
Aroused in an all unholy war,
Seest not that there may be for them an end
Of the long strife?- Or when the skiey sun
And all the heat have won dominion o'er
The sucked-up waters all?- And this they try
Still to accomplish, though as yet they fail,-
For so aboundingly the streams supply
New store of waters that 'tis rather they
Who menace the world with inundations vast
From forth the unplumbed chasms of the sea.
But vain- since winds (that over-sweep amain)
And skiey sun (that with his rays dissolves)
Do minish the level seas and trust their power
To dry up all, before the waters can
Arrive at the end of their endeavouring.
Breathing such vasty warfare, they contend
In balanced strife the one with other still
Concerning mighty issues- though indeed
The fire was once the more victorious,
And once- as goes the tale- the water won
A kingdom in the fields. For fire o'ermastered
And licked up many things and burnt away,
What time the impetuous horses of the Sun
Snatched Phaethon headlong from his skiey road
Down the whole ether and over all the lands.
But the omnipotent Father in keen wrath
Then with the sudden smite of thunderbolt
Did hurl the mighty-minded hero off
Those horses to the earth. And Sol, his sire,
Meeting him as he fell, caught up in hand
The ever-blazing lampion of the world,
And drave together the pell-mell horses there
And yoked them all a-tremble, and amain,
Steering them over along their own old road,
Restored the cosmos- as forsooth we hear
From songs of ancient poets of the Greeks-
A tale too far away from truth, meseems.
For fire can win when from the infinite
Has risen a larger throng of particles
Of fiery stuff; and then its powers succumb,
Somehow subdued again, or else at last
It shrivels in torrid atmospheres the world.
And whilom water too began to win-
As goes the story- when it overwhelmed
The lives of men with billows; and thereafter,
When all that force of water-stuff which forth
From out the infinite had risen up
Did now retire, as somehow turned aside,
The rain-storms stopped, and streams their fury checked.

Formation of the World and Astronomical Questions

But in what modes that conflux of first-stuff
Did found the multitudinous universe
Of earth, and sky, and the unfathomed deeps
Of ocean, and courses of the sun and moon,
I'll now in order tell. For of a truth
Neither by counsel did the primal germs
'Stablish themselves, as by keen act of mind,
Each in its proper place; nor did they make,
Forsooth, a compact how each germ should move;
But, lo, because primordials of things,
Many in many modes, astir by blows
From immemorial aeons, in motion too
By their own weights, have evermore been wont
To be so borne along and in all modes
To meet together and to try all sorts
Which, by combining one with other, they
Are powerful to create: because of this
It comes to pass that those primordials,
Diffused far and wide through mighty aeons,
The while they unions try, and motions too,
Of every kind, meet at the last amain,
And so become oft the commencements fit
Of mighty things- earth, sea, and sky, and race
Of living creatures.
In that long-ago
The wheel of the sun could nowhere be discerned
Flying far up with its abounding blaze,
Nor constellations of the mighty world,
Nor ocean, nor heaven, nor even earth nor air.
Nor aught of things like unto things of ours
Could then be seen- but only some strange storm
And a prodigious hurly-burly mass
Compounded of all kinds of primal germs,
Whose battling discords in disorder kept
Interstices, and paths, coherencies,
And weights, and blows, encounterings, and motions,
Because, by reason of their forms unlike
And varied shapes, they could not all thuswise
Remain conjoined nor harmoniously
Have interplay of movements. But from there
Portions began to fly asunder, and like
With like to join, and to block out a world,
And to divide its members and dispose
Its mightier parts- that is, to set secure
The lofty heavens from the lands, and cause
The sea to spread with waters separate,
And fires of ether separate and pure
Likewise to congregate apart.
For, lo,
First came together the earthy particles
(As being heavy and intertangled) there
In the mid-region, and all began to take
The lowest abodes; and ever the more they got
One with another intertangled, the more
They pressed from out their mass those particles
Which were to form the sea, the stars, the sun,
And moon, and ramparts of the mighty world-
For these consist of seeds more smooth and round
And of much smaller elements than earth.
And thus it was that ether, fraught with fire,
First broke away from out the earthen parts,
Athrough the innumerable pores of earth,
And raised itself aloft, and with itself
Bore lightly off the many starry fires;
And not far otherwise we often see

And the still lakes and the perennial streams
Exhale a mist, and even as earth herself
Is seen at times to smoke, when first at dawn
The light of the sun, the many-rayed, begins
To redden into gold, over the grass
Begemmed with dew. When all of these are brought
Together overhead, the clouds on high
With now concreted body weave a cover
Beneath the heavens. And thuswise ether too,
Light and diffusive, with concreted body
On all sides spread, on all sides bent itself
Into a dome, and, far and wide diffused
On unto every region on all sides,
Thus hedged all else within its greedy clasp.
Hard upon ether came the origins
Of sun and moon, whose globes revolve in air
Midway between the earth and mightiest ether,-
For neither took them, since they weighed too little
To sink and settle, but too much to glide
Along the upmost shores; and yet they are
In such a wise midway between the twain
As ever to whirl their living bodies round,
And ever to dure as parts of the wide Whole;
In the same fashion as certain members may
In us remain at rest, whilst others move.
When, then, these substances had been withdrawn,
Amain the earth, where now extend the vast
Cerulean zones of all the level seas,
Caved in, and down along the hollows poured
The whirlpools of her brine; and day by day
The more the tides of ether and rays of sun
On every side constrained into one mass
The earth by lashing it again, again,
Upon its outer edges (so that then,
Being thus beat upon, 'twas all condensed
About its proper centre), ever the more
The salty sweat, from out its body squeezed,
Augmented ocean and the fields of foam
By seeping through its frame, and all the more
Those many particles of heat and air
Escaping, began to fly aloft, and form,
By condensation there afar from earth,
The high refulgent circuits of the heavens.
The plains began to sink, and windy slopes
Of the high mountains to increase; for rocks
Could not subside, nor all the parts of ground
Settle alike to one same level there.

Thus, then, the massy weight of earth stood firm
With now concreted body, when (as 'twere)
All of the slime of the world, heavy and gross,
Had run together and settled at the bottom,
Like lees or bilge. Then ocean, then the air,
Then ether herself, the fraught-with-fire, were all
Left with their liquid bodies pure and free,
And each more lighter than the next below;
And ether, most light and liquid of the three,
Floats on above the long aerial winds,
Nor with the brawling of the winds of air
Mingles its liquid body. It doth leave
All there- those under-realms below her heights-
There to be overset in whirlwinds wild,-
Doth leave all there to brawl in wayward gusts,
Whilst, gliding with a fixed impulse still,
Itself it bears its fires along. For, lo,
That ether can flow thus steadily on, on,
With one unaltered urge, the Pontus proves-
That sea which floweth forth with fixed tides,
Keeping one onward tenor as it glides.

And that the earth may there abide at rest
In the mid-region of the world, it needs
Must vanish bit by bit in weight and lessen,
And have another substance underneath,
Conjoined to it from its earliest age
In linked unison with the vasty world's
Realms of the air in which it roots and lives.
On this account, the earth is not a load,
Nor presses down on winds of air beneath;
Even as unto a man his members be
Without all weight- the head is not a load
Unto the neck; nor do we feel the whole
Weight of the body to centre in the feet.
But whatso weights come on us from without,
Weights laid upon us, these harass and chafe,
Though often far lighter. For to such degree
It matters always what the innate powers
Of any given thing may be. The earth
Was, then, no alien substance fetched amain,
And from no alien firmament cast down
On alien air; but was conceived, like air,
In the first origin of this the world,
As a fixed portion of the same, as now
Our members are seen to be a part of us.

Besides, the earth, when of a sudden shook
By the big thunder, doth with her motion shake
All that's above her- which she ne'er could do
By any means, were earth not bounden fast
Unto the great world's realms of air and sky:
For they cohere together with common roots,
Conjoined both, even from their earliest age,
In linked unison. Aye, seest thou not
That this most subtle energy of soul
Supports our body, though so heavy a weight,-
Because, indeed, 'tis with it so conjoined
In linked unison? What power, in sum,
Can raise with agile leap our body aloft,
Save energy of mind which steers the limbs?
Now seest thou not how powerful may be
A subtle nature, when conjoined it is
With heavy body, as air is with the earth
Conjoined, and energy of mind with us?
Now let's us sing what makes the stars to move.
In first place, if the mighty sphere of heaven
Revolveth round, then needs we must aver
That on the upper and the under pole
Presses a certain air, and from without
Confines them and encloseth at each end;
And that, moreover, another air above
Streams on athwart the top of the sphere and tends
In same direction as are rolled along
The glittering stars of the eternal world;
Or that another still streams on below
To whirl the sphere from under up and on
In opposite direction- as we see
The rivers turn the wheels and water-scoops.
It may be also that the heavens do all
Remain at rest, whilst yet are borne along
The lucid constellations; either because
Swift tides of ether are by sky enclosed,
And whirl around, seeking a passage out,
And everywhere make roll the starry fires
Through the Summanian regions of the sky;
Or else because some air, streaming along
From an eternal quarter off beyond,
Whileth the driven fires, or, then, because
The fires themselves have power to creep along,
Going wherever their food invites and calls,
And feeding their flaming bodies everywhere
Throughout the sky. Yet which of these is cause
In this our world 'tis hard to say for sure;
But what can be throughout the universe,
In divers worlds on divers plan create,
This only do I show, and follow on
To assign unto the motions of the stars
Even several causes which 'tis possible
Exist throughout the universal All;
Of which yet one must be the cause even here
Which maketh motion for our constellations.
Yet to decide which one of them it be
Is not the least the business of a man
Advancing step by cautious step, as I.

Nor can the sun's wheel larger be by much
Nor its own blaze much less than either seems
Unto our senses. For from whatso spaces
Fires have the power on us to cast their beams
And blow their scorching exhalations forth
Against our members, those same distances
Take nothing by those intervals away
From bulk of flames; and to the sight the fire
Is nothing shrunken. Therefore, since the heat
And the outpoured light of skiey sun
Arrive our senses and caress our limbs,
Form too and bigness of the sun must look
Even here from earth just as they really be,
So that thou canst scarce nothing take or add.
And whether the journeying moon illuminate
The regions round with bastard beams, or throw
From off her proper body her own light,-
Whichever it be, she journeys with a form
Naught larger than the form doth seem to be
Which we with eyes of ours perceive. For all
The far removed objects of our gaze
Seem through much air confused in their look
Ere minished in their bigness. Wherefore, moon,
Since she presents bright look and clear-cut form,
May there on high by us on earth be seen
Just as she is with extreme bounds defined,
And just of the size. And lastly, whatso fires
Of ether thou from earth beholdest, these
Thou mayst consider as possibly of size
The least bit less, or larger by a hair
Than they appear- since whatso fires we view
Here in the lands of earth are seen to change
From time to time their size to less or more
Only the least, when more or less away,
So long as still they bicker clear, and still
Their glow's perceived.
Nor need there be for men
Astonishment that yonder sun so small
Can yet send forth so great a light as fills
Oceans and all the lands and sky aflood,
And with its fiery exhalations steeps
The world at large. For it may be, indeed,
That one vast-flowing well-spring of the whole
Wide world from here hath opened and out-gushed,
And shot its light abroad; because thuswise
The elements of fiery exhalations
From all the world around together come,
And thuswise flow into a bulk so big
That from one single fountain-head may stream
This heat and light. And seest thou not, indeed,
How widely one small water-spring may wet
The meadow-lands at times and flood the fields?
'Tis even possible, besides, that heat
From forth the sun's own fire, albeit that fire
Be not a great, may permeate the air
With the fierce hot- if but, perchance, the air
Be of condition and so tempered then
As to be kindled, even when beat upon
Only by little particles of heat-
Just as we sometimes see the standing grain
Or stubble straw in conflagration all
From one lone spark. And possibly the sun,
Agleam on high with rosy lampion,
Possesses about him with invisible heats
A plenteous fire, by no effulgence marked,
So that he maketh, he, the Fraught-with-fire,
Increase to such degree the force of rays.

Nor is there one sure cause revealed to men
How the sun journeys from his summer haunts
On to the mid-most winter turning-points
In Capricorn, the thence reverting veers
Back to solstitial goals of Cancer; nor
How 'tis the moon is seen each month to cross
That very distance which in traversing
The sun consumes the measure of a year.
I say, no one clear reason hath been given
For these affairs. Yet chief in likelihood
Seemeth the doctrine which the holy thought
Of great Democritus lays down: that ever
The nearer the constellations be to earth
The less can they by whirling of the sky
Be borne along, because those skiey powers
Of speed aloft do vanish and decrease
In under-regions, and the sun is thus
Left by degrees behind amongst those signs
That follow after, since the sun he lies
Far down below the starry signs that blaze;
And the moon lags even tardier than the sun:
In just so far as is her course removed
From upper heaven and nigh unto the lands,
In just so far she fails to keep the pace
With starry signs above; for just so far
As feebler is the whirl that bears her on,
(Being, indeed, still lower than the sun),
In just so far do all the starry signs,
Circling around, o'ertake her and o'erpass.
Therefore it happens that the moon appears
More swiftly to return to any sign
Along the Zodiac, than doth the sun,
Because those signs do visit her again
More swiftly than they visit the great sun.
It can be also that two streams of air
Alternately at fixed periods
Blow out from transverse regions of the world,
Of which the one may thrust the sun away
From summer-signs to mid-most winter goals
And rigors of the cold, and the other then
May cast him back from icy shades of chill
Even to the heat-fraught regions and the signs
That blaze along the Zodiac. So, too,
We must suppose the moon and all the stars,
Which through the mighty and sidereal years
Roll round in mighty orbits, may be sped
By streams of air from regions alternate.
Seest thou not also how the clouds be sped
By contrary winds to regions contrary,
The lower clouds diversely from the upper?
Then, why may yonder stars in ether there
Along their mighty orbits not be borne
By currents opposite the one to other?

But night o'erwhelms the lands with vasty murk
Either when sun, after his diurnal course,
Hath walked the ultimate regions of the sky
And wearily hath panted forth his fires,
Shivered by their long journeying and wasted
By traversing the multitudinous air,
Or else because the self-same force that drave
His orb along above the lands compels
Him then to turn his course beneath the lands.
Matuta also at a fixed hour
Spreadeth the roseate morning out along
The coasts of heaven and deploys the light,
Either because the self-same sun, returning
Under the lands, aspires to seize the sky,
Striving to set it blazing with his rays
Ere he himself appear, or else because
Fires then will congregate and many seeds
Of heat are wont, even at a fixed time,
To stream together- gendering evermore
New suns and light. Just so the story goes
That from the Idaean mountain-tops are seen
Dispersed fires upon the break of day
Which thence combine, as 'twere, into one ball
And form an orb. Nor yet in these affairs
Is aught for wonder that these seeds of fire
Can thus together stream at time so fixed
And shape anew the splendour of the sun.
For many facts we see which come to pass
At fixed time in all things: burgeon shrubs
At fixed time, and at a fixed time
They cast their flowers; and Eld commands the teeth,
At time as surely fixed, to drop away,
And Youth commands the growing boy to bloom
With the soft down and let from both his cheeks
The soft beard fall. And lastly, thunder-bolts,
Snow, rains, clouds, winds, at seasons of the year
Nowise unfixed, all do come to pass.
For where, even from their old primordial start
Causes have ever worked in such a way,
And where, even from the world's first origin,
Thuswise have things befallen, so even now
After a fixed order they come round
In sequence also.
Likewise, days may wax
Whilst the nights wane, and daylight minished be
Whilst nights do take their augmentations,
Either because the self-same sun, coursing
Under the lands and over in two arcs,
A longer and a briefer, doth dispart
The coasts of ether and divides in twain
His orbit all unequally, and adds,
As round he's borne, unto the one half there
As much as from the other half he's ta'en,
Until he then arrives that sign of heaven
Where the year's node renders the shades of night
Equal unto the periods of light.
For when the sun is midway on his course
Between the blasts of north wind and of south,
Heaven keeps his two goals parted equally,
By virtue of the fixed position old
Of the whole starry Zodiac, through which
That sun, in winding onward, takes a year,
Illumining the sky and all the lands
With oblique light- as men declare to us
Who by their diagrams have charted well
Those regions of the sky which be adorned
With the arranged signs of Zodiac.
Or else, because in certain parts the air
Under the lands is denser, the tremulous
Bright beams of fire do waver tardily,
Nor easily can penetrate that air
Nor yet emerge unto their rising-place:
For this it is that nights in winter time
Do linger long, ere comes the many-rayed
Round Badge of the day. Or else because, as said,
In alternating seasons of the year
Fires, now more quick, and now more slow, are wont
To stream together- the fires which make the sun
To rise in some one spot- therefore it is
That those men seem to speak the truth who hold
A new sun is with each new daybreak born.

The moon she possibly doth shine because
Strook by the rays of sun, and day by day
May turn unto our gaze her light, the more
She doth recede from orb of sun, until,
Facing him opposite across the world,
She hath with full effulgence gleamed abroad,
And, at her rising as she soars above,
Hath there observed his setting; thence likewise
She needs must hide, as 'twere, her light behind
By slow degrees, the nearer now she glides,
Along the circle of the Zodiac,
From her far place toward fires of yonder sun-
As those men hold who feign the moon to be
Just like a ball and to pursue a course
Betwixt the sun and earth. There is, again,
Some reason to suppose that moon may roll
With light her very own, and thus display
The varied shapes of her resplendence there.
For near her is, percase, another body,
Invisible, because devoid of light,
Borne on and gliding all along with her,
Which in three modes may block and blot her disk.
Again, she may revolve upon herself,
Like to a ball's sphere- if perchance that be-
One half of her dyed o'er with glowing light,
And by the revolution of that sphere
She may beget for us her varying shapes,
Until she turns that fiery part of her
Full to the sight and open eyes of men;
Thence by slow stages round and back she whirls,
Withdrawing thus the luminiferous part
Of her sphered mass and ball, as, verily,
The Babylonian doctrine of Chaldees,
Refuting the art of Greek astrologers,
Labours, in opposition, to prove sure-
As if, forsooth, the thing for which each fights,
Might not alike be true- or aught there were
Wherefore thou mightest risk embracing one
More than the other notion. Then, again,
Why a new moon might not forevermore
Created be with fixed successions there
Of shapes and with configurations fixed,
And why each day that bright created moon
Might not miscarry and another be,
In its stead and place, engendered anew,
'Tis hard to show by reason, or by words
To prove absurd- since, lo, so many things
Can be create with fixed successions:
Spring-time and Venus come, and Venus' boy,
The winged harbinger, steps on before,
And hard on Zephyr's foot-prints Mother Flora,
Sprinkling the ways before them, filleth all
With colours and with odours excellent;
Whereafter follows arid Heat, and he
Companioned is by Ceres, dusty one,
And by the Etesian Breezes of the north
At rising of the dog-star of the year;
Then cometh Autumn on, and with him steps
Lord Bacchus, and then other Seasons too
And other Winds do follow- the high roar
Of great Volturnus, and the Southwind strong
With thunder-bolts. At last earth's Shortest-Day
Bears on to men the snows and brings again
The numbing cold. And Winter follows her,
His teeth with chills a-chatter. Therefore, 'tis
The less a marvel, if at fixed time
A moon is thus begotten and again
At fixed time destroyed, since things so many
Can come to being thus at fixed time.

Likewise, the sun's eclipses and the moon's
Far occultations rightly thou mayst deem
As due to several causes. For, indeed,
Why should the moon be able to shut out
Earth from the light of sun, and on the side
To earthward thrust her high head under sun,
Opposing dark orb to his glowing beams-
And yet, at same time, one suppose the effect
Could not result from some one other body
Which glides devoid of light forevermore?
Again, why could not sun, in weakened state,
At fixed time for-lose his fires, and then,
When he has passed on along the air
Beyond the regions, hostile to his flames,
That quench and kill his fires, why could not he
Renew his light? And why should earth in turn
Have power to rob the moon of light, and there,
Herself on high, keep the sun hid beneath,
Whilst the moon glideth in her monthly course
Athrough the rigid shadows of the cone?-
And yet, at same time, some one other body
Not have the power to under-pass the moon,
Or glide along above the orb of sun,
Breaking his rays and outspread light asunder?
And still, if moon herself refulgent be
With her own sheen, why could she not at times
In some one quarter of the mighty world
Grow weak and weary, whilst she passeth through
Regions unfriendly to the beams her own?

Origins of Vegetable and Animal Life

And now to what remains!- Since I've resolved
By what arrangements all things come to pass
Through the blue regions of the mighty world,-
How we can know what energy and cause
Started the various courses of the sun
And the moon's goings, and by what far means
They can succumb, the while with thwarted light,
And veil with shade the unsuspecting lands,
When, as it were, they blink, and then again
With open eye survey all regions wide,
Resplendent with white radiance- I do now
Return unto the world's primeval age
And tell what first the soft young fields of earth
With earliest parturition had decreed
To raise in air unto the shores of light
And to entrust unto the wayward winds.

In the beginning, earth gave forth, around
The hills and over all the length of plains,
The race of grasses and the shining green;
The flowery meadows sparkled all aglow
With greening colour, and thereafter, lo,
Unto the divers kinds of trees was given
An emulous impulse mightily to shoot,
With a free rein, aloft into the air.
As feathers and hairs and bristles are begot
The first on members of the four-foot breeds
And on the bodies of the strong-y-winged,
Thus then the new Earth first of all put forth
Grasses and shrubs, and afterward begat
The mortal generations, there upsprung-
Innumerable in modes innumerable-
After diverging fashions. For from sky
These breathing-creatures never can have dropped,
Nor the land-dwellers ever have come up
Out of sea-pools of salt. How true remains,
How merited is that adopted name
Of earth- "The Mother!"- since from out the earth
Are all begotten. And even now arise
From out the loams how many living things-
Concreted by the rains and heat of the sun.
Wherefore 'tis less a marvel, if they sprang
In Long Ago more many, and more big,
Matured of those days in the fresh young years
Of earth and ether. First of all, the race
Of the winged ones and parti-coloured birds,
Hatched out in spring-time, left their eggs behind;
As now-a-days in summer tree-crickets
Do leave their shiny husks of own accord,
Seeking their food and living. Then it was
This earth of thine first gave unto the day
The mortal generations; for prevailed
Among the fields abounding hot and wet.
And hence, where any fitting spot was given,
There 'gan to grow womb-cavities, by roots
Affixed to earth. And when in ripened time
The age of the young within (that sought the air
And fled earth's damps) had burst these wombs, O then
Would Nature thither turn the pores of earth
And make her spurt from open veins a juice
Like unto milk; even as a woman now
Is filled, at child-bearing, with the sweet milk,
Because all that swift stream of aliment
Is thither turned unto the mother-breasts.
There earth would furnish to the children food;
Warmth was their swaddling cloth, the grass their bed
Abounding in soft down. Earth's newness then
Would rouse no dour spells of the bitter cold,
Nor extreme heats nor winds of mighty powers-
For all things grow and gather strength through time
In like proportions; and then earth was young.

Wherefore, again, again, how merited
Is that adopted name of Earth- The Mother!-
Since she herself begat the human race,
And at one well-nigh fixed time brought forth
Each breast that ranges raving round about
Upon the mighty mountains and all birds
Aerial with many a varied shape.
But, lo, because her bearing years must end,
She ceased, like to a woman worn by eld.
For lapsing aeons change the nature of
The whole wide world, and all things needs must take
One status after other, nor aught persists
Forever like itself. All things depart;
Nature she changeth all, compelleth all
To transformation. Lo, this moulders down,
A-slack with weary eld, and that, again,
Prospers in glory, issuing from contempt.
In suchwise, then, the lapsing aeons change
The nature of the whole wide world, and earth
Taketh one status after other. And what
She bore of old, she now can bear no longer,
And what she never bore, she can to-day.

In those days also the telluric world
Strove to beget the monsters that upsprung
With their astounding visages and limbs-
The Man-woman- a thing betwixt the twain,
Yet neither, and from either sex remote-
Some gruesome Boggles orphaned of the feet,
Some widowed of the hands, dumb Horrors too
Without a mouth, or blind Ones of no eye,
Or Bulks all shackled by their legs and arms
Cleaving unto the body fore and aft,
Thuswise, that never could they do or go,
Nor shun disaster, nor take the good they would.
And other prodigies and monsters earth
Was then begetting of this sort- in vain,
Since Nature banned with horror their increase,
And powerless were they to reach unto
The coveted flower of fair maturity,
Or to find aliment, or to intertwine
In works of Venus. For we see there must
Concur in life conditions manifold,
If life is ever by begetting life
To forge the generations one by one:
First, foods must be; and, next, a path whereby
The seeds of impregnation in the frame
May ooze, released from the members all;
Last, the possession of those instruments
Whereby the male with female can unite,
The one with other in mutual ravishments.

And in the ages after monsters died,
Perforce there perished many a stock, unable
By propagation to forge a progeny.
For whatsoever creatures thou beholdest
Breathing the breath of life, the same have been
Even from their earliest age preserved alive
By cunning, or by valour, or at least
By speed of foot or wing. And many a stock
Remaineth yet, because of use to man,
And so committed to man's guardianship.
Valour hath saved alive fierce lion-breeds
And many another terrorizing race,
Cunning the foxes, flight the antlered stags.
Light-sleeping dogs with faithful heart in breast,
However, and every kind begot from seed
Of beasts of draft, as, too, the woolly flocks
And horned cattle, all, my Memmius,
Have been committed to guardianship of men.
For anxiously they fled the savage beasts,
And peace they sought and their abundant foods,
Obtained with never labours of their own,
Which we secure to them as fit rewards
For their good service. But those beasts to whom
Nature has granted naught of these same things-
Beasts quite unfit by own free will to thrive
And vain for any service unto us
In thanks for which we should permit their kind
To feed and be in our protection safe-
Those, of a truth, were wont to be exposed,
Enshackled in the gruesome bonds of doom,
As prey and booty for the rest, until
Nature reduced that stock to utter death.

But Centaurs ne'er have been, nor can there be
Creatures of twofold stock and double frame,
Compact of members alien in kind,
Yet formed with equal function, equal force
In every bodily part- a fact thou mayst,
However dull thy wits, well learn from this:
The horse, when his three years have rolled away,
Flowers in his prime of vigour; but the boy
Not so, for oft even then he gropes in sleep
After the milky nipples of the breasts,
An infant still. And later, when at last
The lusty powers of horses and stout limbs,
Now weak through lapsing life, do fail with age,
Lo, only then doth youth with flowering years
Begin for boys, and clothe their ruddy cheeks
With the soft down. So never deem, percase,
That from a man and from the seed of horse,
The beast of draft, can Centaurs be composed
Or e'er exist alive, nor Scyllas be-
The half-fish bodies girdled with mad dogs-
Nor others of this sort, in whom we mark
Members discordant each with each; for ne'er
At one same time they reach their flower of age
Or gain and lose full vigour of their frame,
And never burn with one same lust of love,
And never in their habits they agree,
Nor find the same foods equally delightsome-
Sooth, as one oft may see the bearded goats
Batten upon the hemlock which to man
Is violent poison. Once again, since flame
Is wont to scorch and burn the tawny bulks
Of the great lions as much as other kinds
Of flesh and blood existing in the lands,
How could it be that she, Chimaera lone,
With triple body- fore, a lion she;
And aft, a dragon; and betwixt, a goat-
Might at the mouth from out the body belch
Infuriate flame? Wherefore, the man who feigns
Such beings could have been engendered
When earth was new and the young sky was fresh
(Basing his empty argument on new)
May babble with like reason many whims
Into our ears: he'll say, perhaps, that then
Rivers of gold through every landscape flowed,
That trees were wont with precious stones to flower,
Or that in those far aeons man was born
With such gigantic length and lift of limbs
As to be able, based upon his feet,
Deep oceans to bestride; or with his hands
To whirl the firmament around his head.
For though in earth were many seeds of things
In the old time when this telluric world
First poured the breeds of animals abroad,
Still that is nothing of a sign that then
Such hybrid creatures could have been begot
And limbs of all beasts heterogeneous
Have been together knit; because, indeed,
The divers kinds of grasses and the grains
And the delightsome trees- which even now
Spring up abounding from within the earth-
Can still ne'er be begotten with their stems
Begrafted into one; but each sole thing
Proceeds according to its proper wont
And all conserve their own distinctions based
In Nature's fixed decree.

Origins and Savage Period of Mankind

But mortal man
Was then far hardier in the old champaign,
As well he should be, since a hardier earth
Had him begotten; builded too was he
Of bigger and more solid bones within,
And knit with stalwart sinews through the flesh,
Nor easily seized by either heat or cold,
Or alien food or any ail or irk.
And whilst so many lustrums of the sun
Rolled on across the sky, men led a life
After the roving habit of wild beasts.
Not then were sturdy guiders of curved ploughs,
And none knew then to work the fields with iron,
Or plant young shoots in holes of delved loam,
Or lop with hooked knives from off high trees
The boughs of yester-year. What sun and rains
To them had given, what earth of own accord
Created then, was boon enough to glad
Their simple hearts. Mid acorn-laden oaks
Would they refresh their bodies for the nonce;
And the wild berries of the arbute-tree,
Which now thou seest to ripen purple-red
In winter time, the old telluric soil
Would bear then more abundant and more big.
And many coarse foods, too, in long ago
The blooming freshness of the rank young world
Produced, enough for those poor wretches there.
And rivers and springs would summon them of old
To slake the thirst, as now from the great hills
The water's down-rush calls aloud and far
The thirsty generations of the wild.
So, too, they sought the grottos of the Nymphs-
The woodland haunts discovered as they ranged-
From forth of which they knew that gliding rills
With gush and splash abounding laved the rocks,
The dripping rocks, and trickled from above
Over the verdant moss; and here and there
Welled up and burst across the open flats.
As yet they knew not to enkindle fire
Against the cold, nor hairy pelts to use
And clothe their bodies with the spoils of beasts;
But huddled in groves, and mountain-caves, and woods,
And 'mongst the thickets hid their squalid backs,
When driven to flee the lashings of the winds
And the big rains. Nor could they then regard
The general good, nor did they know to use
In common any customs, any laws:
Whatever of booty fortune unto each
Had proffered, each alone would bear away,
By instinct trained for self to thrive and live.
And Venus in the forests then would link
The lovers' bodies; for the woman yielded
Either from mutual flame, or from the man's
Impetuous fury and insatiate lust,
Or from a bribe- as acorn-nuts, choice pears,
Or the wild berries of the arbute-tree.
And trusting wondrous strength of hands and legs,
They'd chase the forest-wanderers, the beasts;
And many they'd conquer, but some few they fled,
A-skulk into their hiding-places...

With the flung stones and with the ponderous heft
Of gnarled branch. And by the time of night
O'ertaken, they would throw, like bristly boars,
Their wildman's limbs naked upon the earth,
Rolling themselves in leaves and fronded boughs.
Nor would they call with lamentations loud
Around the fields for daylight and the sun,
Quaking and wand'ring in shadows of the night;
But, silent and buried in a sleep, they'd wait
Until the sun with rosy flambeau brought
The glory to the sky. From childhood wont
Ever to see the dark and day begot
In times alternate, never might they be
Wildered by wild misgiving, lest a night
Eternal should posses the lands, with light
Of sun withdrawn forever. But their care
Was rather that the clans of savage beasts
Would often make their sleep-time horrible
For those poor wretches; and, from home y-driven,
They'd flee their rocky shelters at approach
Of boar, the spumy-lipped, or lion strong,
And in the midnight yield with terror up
To those fierce guests their beds of out-spread leaves.

And yet in those days not much more than now
Would generations of mortality
Leave the sweet light of fading life behind.
Indeed, in those days here and there a man,
More oftener snatched upon, and gulped by fangs,
Afforded the beasts a food that roared alive,
Echoing through groves and hills and forest trees,
Even as he viewed his living flesh entombed
Within a living grave; whilst those whom flight
Had saved, with bone and body bitten, shrieked,
Pressing their quivering palms to loathsome sores,
With horrible voices for eternal death-
Until, forlorn of help, and witless what
Might medicine their wounds, the writhing pangs
Took them from life. But not in those far times
Would one lone day give over unto doom
A soldiery in thousands marching on
Beneath the battle-banners, nor would then
The ramping breakers of the main seas dash
Whole argosies and crews upon the rocks.
But ocean uprisen would often rave in vain,
Without all end or outcome, and give up
Its empty menacings as lightly too;
Nor soft seductions of a serene sea
Could lure by laughing billows any man
Out to disaster: for the science bold
Of ship-sailing lay dark in those far times.
Again, 'twas then that lack of food gave o'er
Men's fainting limbs to dissolution: now
'Tis plenty overwhelms. Unwary, they
Oft for themselves themselves would then outpour
The poison; now, with nicer art, themselves
They give the drafts to others.

Beginnings of Civilization

When huts they had procured and pelts and fire,
And when the woman, joined unto the man,
Withdrew with him into one dwelling place,

Were known; and when they saw an offspring born
From out themselves, then first the human race
Began to soften. For 'twas now that fire
Rendered their shivering frames less staunch to bear,
Under the canopy of the sky, the cold;
And Love reduced their shaggy hardiness;
And children, with the prattle and the kiss,
Soon broke the parents' haughty temper down.
Then, too, did neighbours 'gin to league as friends,
Eager to wrong no more or suffer wrong,
And urged for children and the womankind
Mercy, of fathers, whilst with cries and gestures
They stammered hints how meet it was that all
Should have compassion on the weak. And still,
Though concord not in every wise could then
Begotten be, a good, a goodly part
Kept faith inviolate- or else mankind
Long since had been unutterably cut off,
And propagation never could have brought
The species down the ages.
Lest, perchance,
Concerning these affairs thou ponderest
In silent meditation, let me say
'Twas lightning brought primevally to earth
The fire for mortals, and from thence hath spread
O'er all the lands the flames of heat. For thus
Even now we see so many objects, touched
By the celestial flames, to flash aglow,
When thunderbolt has dowered them with heat.
Yet also when a many-branched tree,
Beaten by winds, writhes swaying to and fro,
Pressing 'gainst branches of a neighbour tree,
There by the power of mighty rub and rub
Is fire engendered; and at times out-flares
The scorching heat of flame, when boughs do chafe
Against the trunks. And of these causes, either
May well have given to mortal men the fire.
Next, food to cook and soften in the flame
The sun instructed, since so oft they saw
How objects mellowed, when subdued by warmth
And by the