De Rerum Natura: Book I

Translated by Christopher Kelk

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O mother of Aeneas’ children, who

Delight both men and gods, dear Venus, you

Who fill with fruitfulness the busy sea

And teeming lands beneath the canopy

Of gliding stars, all creatures are created

Through you, through you we are illuminated

By the sun: the winds and clouds all flee away

At your approach, for you a rich display

Throughout the beautiful and chequered earth

Of flowers is seen, the seas betray their mirth, 10

For you the radiant land spreads out its light.

As soon as springtime’s face has come in sight

And procreant gales storm from the West, set free,

Birds forecast your approach ecstatically.

Across the fecund fields the wild herds dance

And swim the rapid streams. With radiance

Possessed, they follow you with fervency

Wherever you lead them. Across each sea,

Each rapid river and each mountain spur,

Birds’ feathery homes and verdant plains, you stir 20

Them all with love that they might propagate

Their kind forever. Since you regulate

Alone the Cosmos and the shores of light

Are empty, and there’s nothing fair or bright

Without you, I am keen that for the verse

About the Cosmos which I now rehearse

And to my dear friend Memmius address

(A friend whom you have always wished, goddess,

To be supreme) you’ll be accessory. 30

So give my words lifelong urbanity.

Across the world bring peace to fierce warfare,

For you alone have mastery to share

Your peace with us, since Mars, who governs all

Affairs of savage war, will often fall

Into your lap, by constant love subdued,

And, gazing on your eyes, enjoys the food

It gives, his eyes and throat both backward cast,

And breathes upon your lips. Then hold him fast,

O holy one, sweet nothings uttering

To garner peace for Rome as there you cling, 40

Because in troubled times I cannot pen

My verse , nor can that most noble of men,

Famed Memmius, neglect the Roman cause.

As for the rest, this too should give us pause –

With ready ears and singleness of mind,

Withdrawn from every care, prepare to find

True judgment, lest these gifts that I’ve laid out

For you with ardent zealousness you flout

Before you understand them. I’ll debate

The heavenly statutes and expatiate 50

On Nature’s primal germs which were created

By Her and fortified and propagated.

I have devised to call them by the name

Of matter, atoms, seeds, for all things came

From them. When humankind by everyone

Was seen to be lamentably undone

By harsh religion, which up in the sky

Showed its fierce face to every mortal eye,

A Grecian first ventured to elevate

Men’s eyes so that they might then tolerate 60

That scourge: no godly fates nor lightning’s flash

Nor threatening thunder ever could abash

That man – they rather chafed his dauntless heart

To be the very first to tear apart

The gates of nature: thus his iron will

And brain prevailed; afar he wandered stlll

Beyond the flaming walls encompassing

The world, through the huge All meandering,

At last arriving hither to relate

To us the things that Nature can create 70

And those it can’t, what law’s prescribed for each,

The boundary-stone that into Time can reach

So far: he thus established mastery

Over religion, and his victory

Exalts in heaven. But maybe I fear

Unholy realms of thought are active here

And you are travelling on a sinful course

Because that same religion is a source

Of evil: witness Agamemnon’s daughter,

The victim, at Diana’s shrine, of slaughter, 80

The shrine the Grecian counsellors debased;

The chaplet, that had been placed on her chaste

Tresses, and fillets fluttering down the side

Of either cheek she felt, and then she spied

Her grieving father and the priests who kept

The knife concealed, as all the people wept

At sight of her. Struck dumb with terror, she

Dropped down upon the ground with sinking knee

(A king’s first-born, and yet it served her nought).

They raised her up and to the altar brought 90

The trembling girl, but not that she should be

A bride with singing and solemnity –

A sinless girl sinfully decimated,

By him who sired her assassinated,

A bloody sacrifice that winds might blow

Auspiciously and let his navy go

To Troy. Such crimes religion leads us to.

And then the time will come when even you,

Forced by bards’ terror-tales, would split away

From us. Even now how many dreams can they 100

Concoct to thwart your visions and distress

All of your fortunes with base fearfulness!

With reason! For if men could only see

A certain ending to their misery,

They would be able, by some reasoning,

To find a way to crush the menacing

Of prophets and religions. For now, though,

No reason or procedure do they know,

Afraid that they’ll bear endless penalties

In death. They do not know the qualities 110

Of souls, whether they’re born or come maybe

Inside us at our own nativity

And die with us or visit Orcus’ land

And his great caves or, by some god’s command,

Brute herds, as has been sung by Ennius,

Who brought from lovely Helicon to us

A wreath of bright perennial greenery,

Renowned forever throughout Italy;

Yet he, whose verse shall last forevermore,

Tells us that those Acheronian vaults don’t store120

Our souls or bodies, merely strangely grey

Simulacra; Ennius goes on to say

Immortal Homer’s ghost, tears tumbling

Out of his eyes, explained to him the spring

Whence Nature comes and said we must reflect

Upon the heavens and learn the laws’ effect

Upon the sun and moon and scrutinize

What force controls our life beneath the skies,

But in particular, with reasoning,

To scan the mind and soul and whence they spring 130

And what dread things approach our waking eyes

When we’re unhealthy and what terrifies

Us while we’re sleeping until we seem faced

With those who many years have been embraced

By earth’s strong arms, and hear them, too, close by.

I’m quite aware how hard it is to try

To chronicle in Latin poetry

The Greeks’ cryptic disclosures, specially

Because there are new words we must dig out

For many things since we are still without 140

So many terms, the subject being new.

And yet the sweet friendship I find in you,

Your worth, the hoped-for joy, induces me

To bear, night after night, this drudgery,

To find the words, the music that I might

At last disclose to you the glorious light

Wherewith you can behold its very heart.

No flaming spoke of light, no glittering dart

Of dawn can rout the mind’s obscurity,

This scourge, yet Nature’s aspect and decree 150

Instructs us that there’s nothing that’s been bred

From nothing. Every mortal’s ruled by dread

Because he sees above and on the land

Many things whose causes he can’t understand

But thinks the gods control. But once we know

That nothing’s bred of nothing, that will show

More clearly what we seek – those things alone

That caused all things to fill the global zone

Without the aid of gods. If everything

Came out of nothing, every kind would spring 160

From everything, yet lacking any seed.

Men from the sea and from the land a breed

Of scaly things and from the heavens birds

May rise, and hornèd beasts and other herds,

All kinds would roam both tilth and wilderness

With their offspring. The trees would not possess

The same fruits, which would change, and any tree

Would carry any fruit quite randomly.

Where would the procreant atoms be? Indeed

How could a constant mother yield their seed? 170

But since all have fixed seeds, they all are sent

To the shores of light, born from each element

And primal body of its own. Therefore

All cannot come from all, because a store

Of secret strength exists in each. Likewise,

Why does the rose in springtime meet our eyes,

Corn in the summer, vines at autumn’s lure

If not because established seeds are sure

To merge in their own season and we see

Creations newly born accordingly 180

When times are due and when the vigorous earth

With safety brings her tender young to birth

Upon the shores of light? If all things, though,

Came from a void, they suddenly would grow

In alien months and unexpectedly

With no primordial germs and thus would be

From procreation kept in an adverse hour.

There’d be no space for living seeds to flower;

From being tiny babies suddenly

Youths would appear and from the earth a tree 190

Would spring (impossible!): all things indeed

Grow gradually, commensurate with each seed,

Retaining their own kind; thus we may know

That from their own material all things grow.

Without each season’s showers of rain the earth

Cannot to tasty nourishment give birth

And whatsoever lives, if it is barred

From food, cannot prolong its kind and guard

Its life; more easily we may bear in mind

That there are many bodies of like kind 200

In many things (as letters commonly

Occurring in a lot of words we see)

Than anything can have no fountain-head.

And why are there no bulky men who tread

The seas on foot by Nature’s will or rend

Great mountains with their hands or reach no end

Of their life-span unless the reasoning

Is ‘Nothing comes from nothing’, since each thing

Needs seeds wherefrom to grow, we must declare,

And reach out to the gentle fields of air. 210

Since tilled lands top the untilled lands and yield

A more abundant harvest in the field,

There must be pristine things beneath the soil

That we must with our ploughshares and our toil

Raise up; if there were none, then we would see

That they would flourish more spontaneously

Without our work, while Nature liquefies

Each body in itself, and nothing dies.

If anything were mortal, it would die

And perish in the blinking of an eye. 220

There’d be no need of force to bring about

Its dissolution and thus snuff it out.

Since all have ageless seeds, we may not know

The death of anything till, with one blow,

That force cleaves it in two or penetrates

Its inward spaces and annihilates

It all. Moreover, if Time takes away

All things as it consumes them, in what way

May Venus resurrect them, breed by breed?

How may the chequered earth foster and feed 230

Them then? How can the ocean be supplied

By native springs and rivers far and wide?

Whence can the ether feed the stars in the sky?

For endless time and all the days gone by

Would have killed all mortals things. Considering,

However, if this sum of everything

Has been renewed forever, certainly

They’re all immortal. Thus eternally

Nothing returns to nothing. That some might

Could end all things if they were not held tight 240

By timeless matter more or less; a touch

Could have set off destruction: nothing much

More than the slightest force would liquefy

The weft of things where there is no supply

Of timeless stock, but now, because between

Each other all primordial parts have been

Made different and all will yet abide

Unhurt unless some force should get inside

And crush the warp and woof of each. Nothing

Returns to nothing, but, when crumbling, 250

They revert to primal forms. When Jupiter hurls

Rainstorms upon the earth, they die, but pearls

Of shining grain arise and boughs are green

And growing trees, laden with fruit, are seen,

Whence men and beasts are fed, while cities thrive

In joy with boys and girls, the woods alive

With fledglings everywhere; along the leas

The fat and weary cattle take their ease,

White ooze from their full udders trickling,

From which the new-born calves go scampering 260

On awkward legs along the meadowland,

With new milk freshened; what we understand,

Therefore, as mortal isn’t so – each thing

Nature takes from another, suffering

Nothing else to be produced unless it’s due

To something else’s death. Since I taught you

That nought’s derived from nought nor, equally,

Can be recalled, do not discredit me,

Since we cannot see primal forms and so

The bodies that we speak of you must know 270

Cannot be seen. The winds, like lashing whips,

Attack one’s face, deluging massive ships,

Rending the clouds above us, and bestrew

The fields with trees in a frantic hullabaloo

And blast the mountain-tops with gusts that pound

The forests, rushing with a fearful sound

And threatening and stirring up the sea.

Winds, then, are hidden forms undoubtedly,

Whirling the sea, the land, the clouds as well

And sweeping them along as on they swell 280

In aimless ruin, as a river’s mild

And supple bulk may suddenly turn wild

With downpours from the mountains, fracturing

Branches and even trees and toppling

The sturdy bridges, which can’t tolerate

Its sudden force, and at a fearful rate

Beats round the piers and in a trice destroys

Massive stone buildings with a dreadful noise.

Therefore all other blasts of wind as well

Must act the same, as, like a mighty swell 290

Of floods, spread out and, strengthening their force,

Drive everything before them in their course

And sometimes seize their victims and then hurl

Them onward in a meteoric whirl.

Winds are just unseen bodies which we see

Match mighty rivers in their rivalry,

Though these are visible. We are aware

Of smells, but when we breathe them in the air

We never see them: heat we never see,

Nor cold, nor voices, and yet they must be 300

Corporeal, deep down, essentially

Since they attack our responsivity;

The power of touch the body has, alone.

Indeed a piece of clothing that has grown

Moist when it’s hanging on a surf-beat shore

Will, once it that it has been spread out before

The sun, be dried. But no-one’s ever seen

How moisture seeps in nor how heat has been

Dispersed. Therefore in tiny quantities

It happens, and the process no-one sees. 310

A ring upon the finger in that way

Throughout ensuing years will wear away;

The eaves’ damp scoops the stone; insidiously

The ploughshare’s iron hook wastes in the lea;

The rock-paved highways, used by many feet,

Get worn; as passersby will touch and greet

Bronze statues, so these statues’ right hands grow

Leaner. While the effect of this we know,

Nature precludes the vision from our eyes

Of just which particles will vaporize. 320

Lastly, what time and nature gradually

Allow, compelling growth proportionately,

We may not see. Nor may we ever know,

When things with foul deterioration grow

Senile or when the bustling crags up high

Above the ocean are eroded by

The salt, what’s lost in time. And yet creation

Is not ingested with an installation

Of body – there’s a void in things. To know

This fact will serve you anywhere you go, 330

Erasing doubts and keeping you from prying

Into all things and thinking that I’m lying.

Therefore there is an untouched emptiness:

Were this not so, nothing could then progress;

A body’s property is to impede

While ever-present – nothing could impede

Without it, since nothing could yield a place

To start. But now across the open space

And heaven, seas and lands all things we see

Are moving in a great diversity 340

Of ways with many causes: if they were

Deprived of void, they’d have no means to stir

About or even to be born at all,

Since matter everywhere would simply stall.

Moreover, since all things are thought to be

Concrete, we nevertheless are bound to see

They’re actually mixed with void. The moisture seeps

In rocks and caves: in beady drops it weeps.

Food finds a way through every living thing,

And trees increase and in due season bring 350

Their crop to life and from the deepest roots

Through all the trunks and boughs pour out their fruits.

Through walls and doors roam voices in their flight

And through our bones the jaws of iciness bite.

Without a void through which a body may

Travel, we could not see in any way

This taking place. Again, why do we see

Things heavier than others though they be

No larger? Should a ball of wool possess

Within itself the selfsame bulkiness 360

As does a lump of lead, then they would be

The same weight. For a body’s property

Is pushing everything down, though emptiness,

In contrast, manifests its weightlessness.

What’s large but lighter shows infallibly

That it possesses more vacuity;

The heavier shows more bulk and has less space

Inside. That which we wisely try to trace

Exists, mixed in with things, and this we call

The void. Right here I feel I must forestall 370

What some folk think, for this is what they say:

That scaly creatures, as they swim, give way

To waters, and fish leave behind them space

To which the yielding billows swiftly race;

And other things can yet be moved and move,

Though everything is packed. This I disprove,

For it is wholly false. For how, indeed,

Can creatures move unless the waters cede

Their place? How can the fish advance unless

The waters yield if fish are powerless 380

To move? Then either bodies are divested

Of motion or all things have been invested

With void mixed in, whereby each gets its start

To move. When two broad bodies spring apart

After colliding, then the air must press

Into the void between them. Nonetheless,

Though streaming round those bodies rapidly,

The air can’t fill the gap immediately,

For first it must fill one place and then go

Through all the other ones. If someone, though, 390

Thinks that this comes about because the air,

When bodies spring apart, condenses, they’re

Quite wrong, for then a void has been created

Where there had not been one, another sated

Which had been void, while air in such a way

Can’t be condensed. But if it could, I say

Without a void the air could not compress

Itself into one part. Though nonetheless

You dally and refute, you must affirm

That void exists. I also can confirm 400

My words with many an argument that I

Can glean, but these footprints will satisfy

A rational mind. As dogs will sniff around

The forests of a mountain till they’ve found

A wild beast’s lair covered in brush, since they

Have scented certain footsteps on their way,

Thus you yourself can hunt in themes like these

From thought to thought and seek out sanctuaries

And ferret out the truth. But if you’re slow

And deviate from what you seek, although 410

But barely, I can promise, Memmius,

That from my singing tongue such copious

Draughts shall be poured that I’ll feel dread that we

Shall be invaded by senility,

The gates of life within us loosed, before

These verses that I write can cast my store

Of proofs into your ears. Now I shall start

To weave my tale again: in Nature’s heart

Are void and body which move variously.

Body exists – our own capacity 420

Of thinking says it’s so. Unless we’re firm

In our deep faith, we never could confirm

Our thoughts on hidden things. Without what we

Call void, there’s nowhere that a body may be

Arranged or move about, as I just now

Have said, and you cannot say anyhow

That from a body there is anything

That’s been disjointed, thus exhibiting

Nature’s third part. What is an entity

Must be a something, and the same must be 430

Able, if tangible, to add to the sum

Of body, whether the change is minimum

Or large, while it exists; but if you may

Not touch it and it cannot block the way

Of objects passing through it, it must be

What we have called a void. Additionally,

What of itself exists it is a fact

Is forced to be performed upon or act

Or else hold moving things. Body alone

Acts or is acted on. Nothing is known 440

To render room but body, and therefore

Besides body and void there is no more –

No third thing Nature has. No entities

But those enter the thoughts of men or seize

Their senses. For whatever you care to name

Is linked to those two entities or came

From them. No property in any way,

Unless it brings about lethal decay,

Can be split from a thing, as we can see

Weight in a rock, water’s fluidity, 450

Fire’s hotness, every corporal body’s touch

And void’s intangibility. But such

As slavery, riches, insolvency,

Autonomy, warfare and harmony

And all things which, while Nature stays the same,

Arrive and then depart we rightly name

Accidents. Even time does not exist

Of its own self, but we may make a list

In our own minds of what in history

Occurred, the present and what’s yet to be; 460

No man can feel time, it must be confessed,

Loosed as it is from motion and from rest.

When folk say Helen’s rape and Troy’s defeat

Is happening, take care not to repeat

That this is so, for that is history

And all events have been irrevocably

Snatched up by time. All deeds, we may declare,

Are accidents: and therefore if nowhere

Could space and room exist whereby things could

Take place, then Helen’s beauty never would 470

Have glowed in Paris’ breast and set alight

That savage war nor in the dead of night

Would Greeks have poured out from the horse of wood

And put Troy to the flames, and thus you should

Declare these things do not approximate

Body or void, but rather you should state

That they are accidents of body and

The place where things occur. Thus understand

That bodies are things’ rudiments partially,

Though partially as well a unity 480

Of all of them. But nothing can repress

These rudiments, since by their solidness

They conquer, though it’s difficult to see

That anything contains solidity.

For lightning from heaven passes through

The walls of houses – clamouring voices, too,

Iron’s white-hot in the fire, rocks burst asunder

When burned with fierce steam, gold which suffers under

Great heat will totter, icy bronze will turn

To water under flames and silver burn 490

Yet pierce with cold, since we feel each sensation

In both hands when we wait for a libation.

We know, then, nothing has a solid shape.

However, since we never can escape

Nature or reasoning, let me extricate

In some few verses things that you yet wait

To hear – that there are some things that we know,

Firm and eternal, from which other things grow,

Creating all of nature. I have shown

That there’s a dual nature that is known 500

To have two things, body and void, both far

Unlike each other, in which all things are

And act, each of itself and unalloyed,

As it must be. For where there is a void,

There is no body, while similarly

Where there’s no body, void just cannot be.

Primordial bodies lack a void therefore

And have a solid form, and furthermore,

Since in created things a void is found,

There must be solid matter all around 510

The void; and nothing ever can reside,

If we can trust our rationale, inside

A void, unless you grant that what holds it

Is solid. Only matter that is knit

With other matter holds a void. Therefore

All solid matter lasts forevermore

While all else is dissolved. If what we call

A void did not exist, the world would all

Be solid. Everything would be a void

If certain bodies had not been employed 520

To fill the spaces. Both infallibly

Can be distinguished, though alternately,

Since Nature is not wholly full of space

Nor matter. There are bodies, in that case,

That vary both: they can’t be liquefied

By outward blows or severed from inside

By penetration or be overthrown

In any way: these things to you I’ve shown

But recently. And thus, it seems, without

A void nothing is able to be snuffed out, 530

Feel dampness, cold, fire, by which everything

Is crushed. The more a void’s inhabiting

A thing, the more it quakes from an attack.

So if, as I have taught, first bodies lack

A void, being solid, of necessity

They’re timeless, for if in reality

They weren’t, all things would have returned to nought

And all we see from nothing had been wrought.

But since but recently you have been taught

That nothing can be fashioned out of nought 540

And what’s been born cannot be brought again

To nothing, it must stand to reason, then,

That primal germs have immortality

Within their form; bodies must finally

Dissolve so that the world can be renewed.

So they possess a plain simplicitude

Or they could not throughout eternity

Have saved the world. If a capacity

For always being broken had been given

BY Nature, all that matter would be riven 550

Already and at a specific time

Could not endure forever in its prime,

For things can be resolved more rapidly

Than made anew: what the infinity

Of time has ever crushed and liquefied

Cannot in later times be rectified,

But now a time’s been fixed to bring an end

To this destruction and therefore to mend

Each thing, as we may see, that it may grow

According to its kind. I’ll say also 560

That, though all forms are solid, nonetheless

They fashion things that have a flimsiness,

Air, water vapour, earth: we have recourse

To say how this occurs and with what force

They function, for all primal things possess

A void, but if they have a flimsiness

In them, we cannot use our powers of thought

To show how flint and iron can be brought

To life by them, for Nature wouldn’t concede

That there could be within them even a seed 570

For making them. In their simplicity

These germs are strong and are imperviously

Condensed in combinations. Furthermore,

If there were an established limit for

Breaking the elements, from times long past

They still would have survived, able to last

Immune from danger. But since naturally

They’re fragile, that through all infinity

Of time with countless blows they’ve been beset

Would seem far-fetched. Since limits have been set 580

For the growth and conservation of each kind

Within its lifetime, Nature has outlined

Their limitations, and since everything stays

The same so that each different bird displays

Its natural marks, then everything must be

Endowed with an immutability.

For if primordial germs in any way

Could change or be snuffed out, how could we say

What can or can’t be born? What could be known

About its scope and each fixed boundary-stone? 590

Each generation could not frequently

Bring back each time each parent’s property.

First bodies have a limit that we’re banned

From seeing, and it has no sections and

Is minimal indeed and wasn’t ever

A thing apart and in the future never

Shall be, since it’s a part, essentially,

Of something else, and it is clear to see

That other segments lie in rows and fill

The nature of the primal germs, and still, 600

Because they are not self-existent, they

Must cleave to that from which they in no way

Can be divided. So these germs possess

A solid singleness and coalesce,

A close-packed mass of smallest things, combined

Not by a sum of segments but confined

In one strong singleness, for Nature needs

To keep them all that they might serve as seeds

And thus they may not wither or succumb.

Moreover, were there not a minimum, 610

Even the smallest bodies would possess

Infinite parts, thus making one half less –

Half of a half – and nothing would have been

Predestined. What’s the difference between

The most and least? There is none, for although

The sum’s incalculable, even so

Even the smallest things coequally

Have infinite parts. But rationality

Rejects this claim, asserting that we may

Not think it’s true, and so you’re forced to say 620

That there are things which have no parts indeed,

The minimums of Nature, and concede

That they are firm and timeless. Finally,

If Nature could compel all things to be

Resolved into the smallest entities,

She could not remake anything from these

Since things which have no parts do not possess

The power to generate – connectiveness,

Weights, blows, encounters, motions, anything

That leads to any action happening. 630

Of those who think the germ of things is fire,

And only fire, their reasoning is dire.

Their chief was Heraclitus in their battle,

A man who would to silly people prattle,

Famed as he was for mystifying speech,

For he would never undertake to reach

The grave, truth-seeking Greeks; for fools are fond

Of what’s beneath distorted words beyond

All reason, thinking true what tunefully

Rings in their eardrums, worded pleasantly. 640

“How could things be so various if they

Are formed of fire, and fire alone?” I say.

Condensing fire would aid us not a whit

If the same nature synthesized in it

Were held by each of its parts. The heat would be

Keener with parts compressed, though, conversely,

Milder when severed or when strewn about;

And nothing more than this, there is no doubt,

Comes from such causes, nothing, too, much less

Could from a rare and compact fire egress. 650

If you admit a void’s incorporated

 In entities, fire can be concentrated

Or else left rarefied, but since they see

That other people think contrarily,

They hate to think an unmixed void’s inside

Those things and therefore fear a bumpy ride

And lose the way of truth, failing to see

That, if one takes away the vacancy,

Thus everything must then be concentrated

And, out of all, one body is created, 660

Which cannot swiftly shoot out anything

The way a fire gives warmth, delivering

Its heat to everyone, that we may see

Its parts are not compact. Alternatively,

If they believe that, should the fire unite

With things in other different ways, it might

Be quenched and change its substance, then they must

Recant, for fire would then turn all to dust,

And out of nought the world would be created,

For when a thing has from its bounds mutated 670

It means swift death from what it was before.

It’s necessary for a thing, therefore,

To last unharmed lest everything should go

Back into nought and then, reborn, should grow

Anew. Since there are things without a doubt

That keep their nature and, when things move out

Or in or change their natural symmetry,

They change their nature and each entity

Transforms: you then may see that they’re not made

From fire. It would not help if some should fade, 680

Leave or be added new and others be

Transformed if they would keep their quality

Of heat, since whatsoever they produced

Would still be fire. This, then, I have adduced:

That there are entities whose combinations,

Movements, positions, shapes and organizations

Make fire and, since they have modified

Their form, they change the nature that’s inside

Themselves, thereafter not resembling

Fire or anything able to bring 690

Particles to our senses, impacting

Upon our sense of touch. To say each thing

Is fire and nothing else exists, as he,

That Heraclitus, thinks, is idiocy.

He fights his senses while he overthrows

That which we all believe and thus he knows,

As he alleges, fire; certainly

The senses can perceive the fire, says he,

But nothing else, although all else is clear

As well. These sentiments of his appear 700

Inept and mad. Where can we make appeal

For proof? Well, when we’re searching for what’s real

And what is false, our faculties must be

The most reliable. And why should we

Remove all other things, acknowledging

Heat only rather than prohibiting

Fire and allowing everything else to be?

For either way it seems insanity.

So those who have decided all things’ birth

Results from fire or air or water or earth 710

Have erred, it seems, from truth considerably.

Others believe that it’s a harmony

Of earth and water, fire and air. As well,

Others believe that things can grow and swell

From fire, earth, breath and rain. Empedocles

Of Acragas was the earliest of these -

From that three-cornered isle of Sicily

Was he, round which flows the Ionian Sea,

Which with its grey-green billows twists and turns

As with its salty foam it shoots and churns. 720

Within its narrow straits the rapid sea

Divides the island’s shores from Sicily.

Here stands the vast Charybdis, threatening

All sailors, here is Etna’s rumbling,

Her fiery force collected to spew high

Her fury from her jaws up to the sky.

Though she’s a wonder to all men, supplied

With such a glorious bounty, fortified

With famous heroes, she was never known

To breed a man whom she could call her own 730

More sanctified or marvellous or dear.

Songs from his godlike breast, so sweet to hear,

Extol hsi famed inventions, so that he

Barely appears part of humanity.

But he and those who are of lesser weight

In many ways, as I have said of late,

Though with prophetic zeal they formulated

Many good things, as if they emanated

From the shrine of their own hearts, more rationally

And holily than any prophecy 740

Out of the tripod and the Delphic bay

In Pythia, all the same have caused decay

In primal matters. Such a great decline

For great men! For to all things they assign

Motion, though driving out vacuity;

But rare and soft things they allow to be,

As air, sun, fire, lands, animals and grain,

But mixing in no void. They don’t ordain

An end to splitting them or hesitate

To break them down, because they clearly state 750

There is no minimum, although we see

The boundary point of any entity

Must be the smallest thing. We must surmise,

Therefore, that things that never meet our eyes

Have boundary points as well and must possess

Minimums. Then these fellows all profess

That primal germs are soft, and thus we see

When they are being born, entirely

Mortal, they must return to nought and then

Develop out of nothing once again 760

And flourish; you know this is very far

From truth. In many ways all these things are,

Each to the other, sour and virulent

Since when they come together they are rent

Apart and die as we in tempests spy

Rains, winds and lightnings all asunder fly.

If everything from four things is created

And into these four things are liquidated,

How are those four things rated primary

Instead of being quite the contrary – 770

The prime material of everything?

They’re made from one another, altering

Their hue and nature immemorially.

Lightning and winds and torrents we can see,

But if you think these four things can convene

And still not change their natures, it is seen

That nothing’s born of them, insentient,

Like trees, or animate. They all present

Their nature, air mixed in with earth, and heat

With dew. But primal germs need to secrete 780

Some trait as they’re creating things in case

Some element should baffle and debase

Their spawn. They start with fires in the sky

And claim fire turns into the winds on high,

Thus making rain, then earth from rain, and then

All things are brought back from the earth again,

First dew, then air, then heat: they don’t refrain

From interchanging, visiting terrain

From heaven, then back again, which in no way

The germs can do, for something has to stay 790

That’s changeless lest to nothing everything

Is taken back, for change in anything

Means death to what it was before. Therefore,

Since those things that I mentioned heretofore

Are changed, they must derive from things that stay

Immutable forever in case they

Cause all to be returned entirely

To nought. Why not suppose that there can be

Things of such nature that, should they create

Fire, they’d have the power to generate 800

The breezes of the air by factoring

Some things into the mix and extracting

Others, both form and nature changed, and so

All things are interchanged? You may say, though,

‘The facts are clear that all things have their birth,

Rising up to the breezes, from the earth.

If rainstorms were not sent propitiously,

Causing a quivering in every tree,

And heat provided by the rays of the sun,

No crop, no tree, no breathing thing – not one – 810

Would grow.’ That’s true – and if we weren’t supplied

With food and moisture, we would soon have died;

For all of us with different things are fed,

Since many germs in different ways are bred

In many things and feed them naturally.

It often matters much how they may be

Conjoined with others and how they are bound

Together and what motions have been found

That they produce and get; for they comprise

The seas, the lands, the streams, the sun, the skies, 820

In different ways, though: in my verse you see

That all the words sound very differently

Depending on the text. By altering

The order alone, they can by just the ring

Of sound do much; but germs can yet apply

A wealth of combinations still, whereby

So many things may grow. Now let’s explore

The homoiomeria, the Greek name for

The work of Anaxagoras which we

Can’t name in Latin but can easily 830

Explain. First he affirms that every bone

From the most microscopic bones is grown,

As happens with all flesh, and blood must flow

From many drops of blood and gold must grow

From grains of gold, imagining the same

Occurs with earth, liquidity and flame,

Although dismissing void, allowing no

Limit to cutting matter up. And so,

On both of these accounts he seems to me

To err no less than those named recently. 840

The germs he feigns are too frail furthermore,

If they’re primordial at their very core

And like the things themselves, and toil and die

Along with them, while nothing will deny

Them death. For what, when pressured, can survive

And, in the jaws of death, yet stay alive?

Fire? Moisture? Or the breezes in the skies?

Which one? Blood? Bones? Well, nothing, I surmise,

For all’s as mortal as what we can see

Destroyed by this or that calamity. 850

For by the proofs above I may assert

That nothing can exist and then revert

To nought or grow from nought. And since we grow

Through nourishment, then you should surely know

That veins and blood and bones are all designed

By particles that are not the same kind

As them. But if they say all foods possess

Materialities which coalesce

And hold within themselves some tiny grains

Of nerves and bones and blood, as well as veins, 860

It follows that all foods, whether they be

Solid or moist, are a miscellany

Of foreign particles, a farrago

Of those corporeal parts. If bodies grow

From earth, the earth must be a mingling

Of foreign substances, which bloom and spring

From her. You’ll find these words are still the same

If you transfer this argument: if flame

And smoke and ashes in some wood should hide,

It must have foreign substances inside 870

Which spring from it. An opportunity,

Though slight, remains to shun veracity,

Which Anaxagoras appropriates –

He says that everything incorporates

All things commingled, but the only thing

That comes to view is that embodying

The most, which can be seen closer to hand,

But from our reasoning this has been banned;

For we’d expect, when harvest grains are ground

By heavy stones, some blood might well be found 880

Or something that our bodies yield. Likewise,

When grass is rubbed, you’d think before your eyes

Gore would appear, and water would produce

Droplets similar to a sheep’s sweet juice,

And from a clod of crumbled earth we’d find,

Perhaps, grains, leaves and grass of many a kind

Dispersed minutely, and in wood, maybe,

Smoke and ash and sparks of fire we’d see;

But since this is not true, then you must know

That there are no such things that mingle so, 890

But common seeds, in many ways combined,

Must be concealed there. ‘But we often find,’

You say, ‘that on the mountains tree-tops lean

And rub against each other when they’ve been

Attacked by fierce south winds till they’re aflame

With blazing fire.’ Maybe – but, all the same,

Fire’s not inside the wood, but heat indeed

Contains within its essence many a seed,

Which rub and flow together and begin

A forest fire. If flame, though, lies within 900

The forests, it could not be out of sight

For long but soon would set the woods alight

And cause destruction. As I said of late,

You may observe, what carries quite a weight

Is how and with what things these germs are bound

Together and what motions can be found

Both given and received and, altering

Themselves a little, how they then can bring

Us wood and fire. So words in the same way

Use slight adjustments, although we portray 910

Those things with different names. Now, finally,

If you think that what you see openly

Can’t be, unless you picture things are made

Of a like mature, then these things must fade

While cackling out loud and quivering

With mirth, their salty teardrops covering

Their cheeks and chins. Learn what is left and hear

Attentively! For things are far from clear,

I know; but I’ve great hopes that I’ll be blessed

With fame, and love of the Muses strikes my breast; 920

I wander through the fields with vigorous mind,

Through which no other member of mankind

Has passed. To touch pure fountains gives me pleasure,

To pluck fresh flowers thrills me beyond all measure:

A splendid crown I’ll seek to deck my head,

From where no human has been garlanded

By the Muses, since about great things I teach

And aim to free men’s minds beyond the reach

Of dread religion, since my poetry

Brings clarity from such obscurity 930

And brings the Muses’ charm to everything

(Indeed a reasonable offering,

It seems); but as physicians smear around

The cup some honey-juice when they have found

A young lad needs foul wormwood, whereby he

May drink it down, fooled by this strategy,

And thus recover, I, because the theme

That I’m expounding here will often seem

Bitter to neophytes and backed away

From by the mob, desire in that same way 940

To speak my doctrine in sweet poetry,

Sweet as the produce of the honey-bee,

Muse-sent, if I can hold you with my verse

Till you can comprehend the universe

And how things interweave. But since you know

That bodies, wholly dense, fly to and fro,

Unconquered through all time, let us now see

If there’s a limit to their quantity

Or not, and likewise learn what has been found

As void or room or space, where things abound, 950

And see if it’s finite or stretches out,

A vast continuum. There is no doubt

That there is nothing with a boundary,

For if there were one there would have to be

Something beyond, and there is nothing there,

Unless there were yet something else somewhere

To set that limit so that one could see

Where our own innate senses cannot be

And since beside the sum we now confess

That there is nought, because it’s limitless. 960

It is of no account whatever place

You’re in, since each direction that you face

Displays infinity. Now let’s suppose

That space is finite: well, if someone throws

A spear out past the extreme shores, should we

Believe that it flows on extensively

To whence it came or does something suppress

Its movement, for you will have to profess

One or the other, but whatever way

You choose, you can’t escape, for you must say 970

That all is infinite. For whether there

Is anything that stops it going where

It has been sent, or else relentlessly

It flies straight on, it had no boundary

Where it set out. Wherever you elect

To place the furthest coasts, I’ll interject,

“What happens to the spear?” There will not be

A limit but a multiplicity

Of chances to go further. If the space

Of the totality were fixed in place 980

By certain coasts, then by a solid weight

All matter of the world would gravitate

Down to the bottom, and nothing could be

Beneath the sky, and in reality

There’d be no sky at all and no sunlight,

Since all, heaped up to a considerable height

From immemorial time, would lie. Repose,

However, is not given out to those

Elements since there is no place below,

No fundament to which they’re able to flow 990

For rest. But everything is endlessly

In motion, and it’s by infinity

Swift matter is supplied. Before our eyes

One thing’s made from another – the supplies

Are endless. Air divides the hills; the earth

Creates the sea, and the sea gives birth

To it, and so it goes. The traits of space

Are such that even thunderbolts can’t race

Across the endless tracts of time, nor may

They rest awhile while they go on their way; 1000

There’s such a huge abundance spread around

In all directions: lest a thing is bound

By limits, every body must enclose

Each void, each void each body, and this shows

That both of them possess no boundaries:

Unless it hemmed the other, one of these

Would be extended, stretched immeasurably,

And thus the earth, the bright-blue sky, the sea,

Mankind and the immortals could not stay

An hour in place, for all things, swept away, 1010

Would through the massive void be borne, indeed

Would never have combined to be the seed

Of anything. For prime germs certainly

Did not with any perspicacity

Fashion themselves in order or decide

What movements for each one they should provide,

But, since they’re multitudinous and change

In many ways among the All, they range

Abroad, pushed out and beaten, venturing

All kinds of movement and of coupling 1020

Until they settle down eventually

With those designs through which totality

Is made: for countless years they’ve been protected

Now they acceptably have been projected

Into their proper motions – thus the sea

By all the streams is freshened constantly,

The earth, lapped by the vapours of the sun,

Brings forth new brood, all creatures, every one,

Flourish and all the gliding fires which flow

Above us yet live on. They could not, though, 1030

Have managed this at all had no supply

Of matter risen from the void, whereby

They could repair lost things. With scarcity

Of food beasts waste away, while similarly

All things must fade when matter, blown aside

Somehow, is then unable to provide

Succour, nor from outside can blows maintain

The world’s united sum. For blows can rain

Often and check a part while others come

Along, enabled to fill up the sum; 1040

But meanwhile they are often forced to spring,

Thus to the primal germs contributing

A space and time for flight that they may be

Borne from this union to liberty.

So many things, we’re brought to understand,

Must rise, and yet the blows must be at hand

Always in order that there’ll always be

A force of matter universally.

Don’t listen to those people who profess

That all things inward to the centre press, 1050

Dear Memmius, and that the entire world

Stands firmly while no outward blows are hurled

Against it, since neither their depth nor height

Can be unbound and all things are pressed tight

Into the centre. Therefore, do not think

That heavy weights beneath the earth can shrink

Upon it, having striven from below

To settle upside down, as images show

Upon the ocean. They also propound

That every breathing thing wanders around 1060

And can’t fall up to the sky any more than we

Can reach the heavens by flying; when they see

The sun, the constellations of the night

Are what we view - we thus detach our sight

From theirs, our night coequal to their day.

These dreams have made these people fools since they

Embrace them faultily, for there can’t be

A centre when there is infinity.

And if there is a centre, there’s no thing

Could take its rest there by that reasoning 1070

Any more than it could be thrust far away

By other reasoning. Now, what we say

Is void must yield to weights coequally

Through centre and non-centre, wherever they be

In motion. There’s no place where bodies come

In which they may stand in a vacuum,

Lacking the force of weight; and no void may

Give aid to any, but it must give way,

True to its nature; by this theory,

Therefore, things can’t be held in unity, 1080

Their thirst for centre brought to nothingness.

Besides, since they claim not all bodies press

To centre, rather only those we know

Are of the earth and sea and swells that flow

From mountains, and all things that are contained

In earthen matter, but they have maintained

That the thin air and blazing fire are spread

Out of the centre – thus the sun is fed,

Around it all the ether quivering

With stars, because the hotness, taking wing, 1090

Is gathered there, and tree-tops could not sprout

Their leaves unless their food was given out

From earth, for nature would have, by degrees,

Fed them through all the branches of the trees.

Their reasons are all incorrect, and they

Clash with each other also. I can say

That all is boundless, lest the walls of the world

Would act like winged flames and thus be hurled

Throughout the massive vacuum suddenly

And other things would follow similarly, 1100

And all the innermost regions of the sky

Should fall and under us the earth would fly

Away at once through void till suddenly

There’d be nought left except infinity

And unseen stuff. Wherever you decide

Prime germs are lacking, on that very side

Will be the door of death, and through that door

Out and abroad a throng of matter will pour.

With little trouble you’ll find all things clear

Gradually – the road won’t disappear. 1110

You’ll see all nature, learning them anew

And torches will light other things for you.

The end of De Rerum Natura: Book I