De Rerum Natura: Book II

Translated by Christopher Kelk

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It’s sweet, when mighty waves stir up the sea,

To see a sailor toiling desperately;

Not that we joy in someone else’s plight

But being spared from ills brings us delight.

To view a skirmish on the battleground

Is sweet as well when one is safe and sound.

But there is nothing sweeter than to dwell

In lofty temples that are guarded well

By wise men, when you see folk wandering,

Scattering here and there and essaying 10

To find the road of life: they’re envious

In standing, rivals, too, in genius,

Labouring night and day industriously

To reach the top and capture mastery

Of all the world. What wretched minds, how blind

Your hearts! O the great perils of mankind,

The darkness in a life of brevity!

For nature barks out nothing – don’t you see? –

But a desire to keep away the pain,

Disjointed from our bodies, and maintain 20

A life empty of care and fear. Therefore

Our bodies have a need for little more

Than ousting pain. We can occasionally

Enjoy more pleasures, for no luxury

Does nature need – no statues, made of gold,

Of stripling lads who in their hands may hold

Bright torches requisite for banqueting,

A house with gold and silver glittering

Or harps that make the golden ceilings high

Above resound, because with friends to lie 30

Upon soft grass with no profuse outlay

Beneath a high tree’s branches as they sway

Above can energize one, specially

When all the elements are merrily

Laughing and seasonable flowers grow.

Your burning fevers won’t more quickly go

If you on woven sheets or red robes spread

Your limbs than if upon a pauper’s bed

You lie. So since wealth, high rank and great fame

Are of no use to anybody’s frame, 40

Assume that they do not avail the mind

As well, except when you see legions lined

In rows to mimic war, on either side

With horse and great auxiliaries supplied

And armed ships, gripped with one determination,

For then religion, filled with trepidation

At this, will fly away and leave us free

Of care. But if we think this drollery

And that mankind does not shrink from the din

Of clashing weapons, since they flourish in 50

The company of monarchs of esteem,

Not overawed with gold and robes that gleam

With purple, why, then, doubt that reasoning,

And nothing else, can help with everything

I mentioned, since life labours in the mirk?

As boys are scared of all things that may lurk

In darkness, we fear sometimes in the light

Those things that in no way should ever fright

Anyone more than what boys in darkness dread,

Imaging some monster lies ahead. 60

This terror, then, this dark imagined by

The mind is not by light shafts in the sky

Or morning gleam dispersed but reasoning

And nature’s law. I’ll start untangling

Right now how everything has been created,

Then broken down, and what necessitated

Their motions so that they can travel through

A giant void. Attend, I beg of you!

For matter won’t cohere because we see

That all things are diminished gradually 70

In time and leave our sight when old, although

The sun remains unharmed. When bodies go

From each thing they diminish what they leave,

But what they then arrive at will receive

Increase from them. The former waste away,

The latter bloom; the bodies do not stay,

However. Thus the sum’s renewed, and we

Mortals live on in reciprocity.

Some nations, wax, some wane. In a brief space

The eras alter and, as In a race, 80

The lamp of life’s passed on. But if your view

Is that prime germs can cease and, when they do,

They spawn new motions, from the truth you stray.

For since throughout the void they make their way,

By their, or something else’s, gravity

They must be carried. For when frequently

They clash, they leap apart, because they are

Heavy and firm with nothing there to bar

Their way behind them. So that you may see

These primal germs are darting randomly 90

About, remember that there is no base

In that entire sum – no resting-place –

Since space is boundless, spread on every side.

By motions mixed, when some of them collide,

Some bounce back with large gaps between, although

Some leave but little space, knocked by the blow.

Tangled with various shapes, they constitute

Great bulks of iron and many a rocky root

And others of their kind, while some few stray

Through the vast void: the rest leap far away, 100

Recoiling, leaving massive gaps: thus we

Receive the air and solar radiancy.

Through the huge void go many that are cast

From matter that had linked and clung on fast,

By unions spurned, unable to unite

Their motions with the rest. Within our sight

(As I record) an image will arise,

For when sunlight appears before your eyes

In gloomy halls many particles you’ll see,

Mixed with the light and battling endlessly 110

Meeting and parting, group by group; you may

Assume by this that prime seeds make their way

Through the great vacuum, tossed about, and so

We see, at least, that little things may show

Us copies of great things and give insight

So you should see them tumbling in the light,

For they show motions of prime matter, too,

That lies beneath them, lurking far from view.

You’ll then see many things, with many a blow

From hidden things, change course and backward go, 120

Spreading out far and wide. Thus I suppose

This movement from primeval atoms rose.

Prime seeds move of themselves primarily,

Then bodies closest to the energy

Of primal seeds, by tiny compounds tied,

Are beaten by a wealth of blows that hide

From them, and then they beat the next in size.

Thus from primevals on motions will rise

And reach our senses incrementally,

Until those objects move as well, which we 130

Can see in sunlight, although no-one knows

At all from which direction come the blows.

Now, Memmius, you soon will learn the speed

Of atoms: when Aurora stirs each breed

Of birds by sprinkling light upon the ground

And causes them to flutter all around

The trackless groves and fill with melody

The mellow air. We see how suddenly

The sun arises, spreading out her rays,

And how she clothes the world with her displays 140

Of pomp. The vapour and the light that she

Sends out does not go through a vacancy;

They’re forced to slow down, then, when they divide

The air’s waves, as it were; now, as they glide,

Atoms of heat don’t travel singularly,

Entangled as they are, and each will be

Restrained without by each till they’re compelled

To slow down. Those firm atoms, though, not held

 By anything outside them as through space

They go, their parts one unit, to the place 150

They started out for, carried forcefully,

Must travel with a greater velocity

Than sunlight, rushing through a space more vast

Just as around the sky the sun has cast

Its splendour… And the gods do not pursue

Each primal element that they might view

How each thing happens. This some men oppose

And, ignorant of matter, they suppose

Without the force of some divinity

Nature could not, in ways that equally 160

Mirror the needs of mankind, turn about

The seasons of the year and cause to sprout

The grains and everything divine delight,

Life’s guide, persuades us to so that we might

Through love create each age lest all mankind

Should die. But while they hold this in their mind,

They seem to lapse from truth a goodly way.

For even if I could not truly say

What prime germs are, yet I would still declare,

Through studying the matter in the air, 170

And many other things, no god created

The nature of the world – it has been weighted

With countless flaws. Later I’ll make this clear,

Memmius. Now what remains for you to hear

Om motions I’ll explain, for this fact, too,

I think I should now clarify for you:

No bodily thing by its own agency

Can go or be borne upward – do not be

Deceived by flames, for they were formed to go

Upward, and through this increase upward grow 180

Bright grain and trees, and all the weight that lies

Within them bears them down. When fire flies

Up to the rooftops where it laps away

At beam and timber, we suppose that they

Act of heir own accord, no force below

Urging them up. Blood operates just so,

Discharged from bodies, spurting out its gore

And spattering. Have you not seen before

With what great forcefulness will water spew

Out beams and timbers? For the more that you 190

Press deeper down with all your might and main,

The more it heaves and flings them back again

That, more than half their length, they may arise

On rebound. Yet we don’t doubt, I surmise,

Their weight bears downward through the void. Just so

Flames under pressure should rise up, although

Their weight strives hard to draw them down. Tell me,

Have you seen meteors sweep majestically,

Drawing long trails of fire in the air

Wherever Nature grants a thoroughfare 200

And constellations drop down? Even the sun

From heaven sheds its light for everyone,

Sowing the fields, and onto lands, therefore,

As well. Athwart the rainstorms, furthermore,

There’s lightning, where you see the fires clash

Out of the clouds as here and there they dash

And fall to earth. Also, I’d have you know

That atoms, as by their own weight they go

Down through the empty space, quite randomly

And in quite random places, minimally 210

Change course. If they did not, they’d surely drop

Down through the yawning void and cause a stop

To impacts and to blows, developing

From primal elements. Thus not a thing

Would have been made by Nature. If maybe

Someone thinks heavier bodies, rapidly

Carried straight down the void, could strike a blow

Upon the lighter ones that are below

And make them move, he’s wandered far from all

True reasoning. For all those things that fall 220

Through air and water must accelerate

As they descend depending on the weight

Of each, since air and water can’t impede

Things equally, and therefore they must cede

To heavier things; but in no way, no place

Can anything be blocked by empty space,

Which, true to Nature’s law, yields logically.

Thus all things moving, though their weights may be

Unequal, must rush down with equal speed

Through the still void. So heavier things indeed 230

Can’t from above strike lighter ones and thus

Cause them to move in manners various

By Nature’s purpose; atoms, though, must swerve

A little, yet, that we don’t think they curve

(Which every fact refutes), but minimally.

For we see this is plain immediately.

Whatever their weight, they cannot, as they go

Downward, obliquely move – that this is so

We must believe, but who could see at all

That bodies sheer off in their downward fall? 240

If motions all are linked eternally

And new replaces old immutably,

And atoms by their swerving don’t begin

New motion, thereby interfering in

The rules of fate, that everlastingly

Cause does not follow cause, how can there be

Free will in every creature everywhere,

Wrested from fate, through which, wherever we care

To go, we do our will, while similarly

We change our movements, but not fixedly 250

In time or place but rather as our mind

Impels us? For it is not hard to find

That men’s will gives the start, and then, conveyed

Throughout the limbs, mobility is made.

When the gates are open, don’t you see a horse

Can’t move at once, though eager, down the course?

All bodily matter must be stimulated

So that the mind’s desire is activated.

And thus you’ll understand that movements’ start

Is fabricated from a willing heart 260

And then through the entire frame they go.

It’s not the same when we’re struck by a blow,

Delivered by another, for we see

That we are forced to move unwillingly

Until the will controls it. Thus, although

Often some outer force drives many to go

Onward headlong, within our breasts there lies

The strength to fight them. There are great supplies

OF germs, therefore, that sometimes turn aside,

Push forward and then, curbed, again subside. 270

As well as blows and weights, you must agree,

Are other causes of mobility

In seeds whence comes our power, since we must state

That nothing comes from nothing, because weight

Stops blows from causing everything to be

Created. That there’s no necessity,

However, in one’s mind and there’s nothing

To make one suffer, like some conquered thing,

The elements have a tiny inclination

At no fixed time and in no fixed location. 280

Never was stuff so crammed or, by contrast,

Extending over intervals so vast.

Nothing increases, nothing is taken away,

On which account, just as they move today

They moved of old and will henceforth so move,

And what was formed in previous times will prove

To be so formed again and grow in power,

As Nature has decreed for them, and flower.

Their sum can never change; there is no place

To which any kind of material can race 290

Or whence a fresh supply of it can sprout

And change the form of things and turn about

Their motions. Do not be surprised to know

That, though all seeds are always on the go,

The sum seems motionless, excepting when

A thing moves as a whole: beneath the ken

Of our five senses lies the entity

Of these prime germs whereby, though you can’t see,

They must conceal their movements. For indeed

It often happens that things which we heed 300

From afar yet do the same. For happy sheep,

While cropping a hillside’s grass, will often creep

About, freshly bedewed, their lambs replete

And frolicking about as they compete

In locking horns: far off they seem to us

A patch of gleaming white, but nebulous,

Upon green hills. Moreover, we can see

Great troops performing an epitome

Of war upon the plain as on they race

And lustre rises up to meet the face 310

Of heaven and over earth the bronze greaves flash

As warriors’ feet make thunder as they dash

Onward and all the mountains thereabouts

Echo up to the stars their warlike shouts,

When straight across the plain the cavalry

At once comes flying, beating vigorously

The ground beneath them. Nonetheless they seem

From high up on the hills a splendid gleam.

The origins of all things you must know,

Their shapes and all the differences they show. 320

Few have like shapes and not all seem to be

Like to each other: not surprisingly,

Since they embody such a huge supply

Of things that they are limitless, as I

Have shown: they’re not identical, it’s clear,

Not totally alike, yet they appear

To have a similar shape and size. Indeed

The race of men, fish, sheep, cattle that feed

On pastures, wild beasts, birds of every sort,

Which round the banks and springs and lakes cavort 330

And haunt secluded groves and fly around –

Pick any breed of them and they’ll be found

Quite different in shape, each to the other,

And thus the chick will recognize its mother,

And she it, just like all humanity.

Often before a temple you may see

A slaughtered calf on an altar decorated

With incense, warm blood having emanated.

Its mother roams the green fields, dispossessed

Of her young child, and sees its hoofprints pressed 340

Into the ground and with her searching eyes

Checks everywhere and fills the grove with sighs

And visits and revisits constantly

Their stall in longing for her progeny.

Soft willow shoots nor grasses fresh with dew

Nor overflowing streams can nothing do

To bring her comfort or to give her ease

In this fresh pain. When other calves she sees

In joyful fields, she can’t allay her care,

Determinedly searching everywhere 350

For something of her own that she knows well.

The quavering, tender kids can easily tell

Their mothers, and the lambs that frisk and leap

Can recognize the flocks of bleating sheep.

By Nature’s rules, then, each lamb normally

Runs down to drink its mother’s quantity

Of milk. But grains of corn will never show

That they’re so much alike but that we know

They have some difference in their shape. We see

Shells, too, like that, their multiplicity 360

Painting the earth, where on the thirsty sand

The soft sea-waves beat on the curving strand.

I must say yet again that in this way

The prime beginnings of all things, since they

Exist by Nature and are not created

By hand or from one atom formulated,

Must each of them be fashioned differently

As here and there they fly. We easily

Can explicate by human reasoning

Why fire that we see in lightning 370

Produces a more penetrating flow

Than does the fire on torches here below.

The former is more slender and is made

Of smaller shapes and therefore can invade

Openings through which our fires can’t proceed

Because they’re made of wood and are indeed

Mere torches and, besides, light passes through

A horn, but rain does not. How is this true?

Bodies of light have less capacity

Than those that make up water. We may see 380

Wine swiftly straining through a sieve, although,

In contrast, olive oil is very slow

Because its seeds are larger or, maybe,

They are more hooked and meshed more narrowly:

Therefore the atoms cannot separate

So suddenly and singly emanate

Through their own openings. The quality

Of milk and honey’s liquid certainly

Is pleasing to the taste, but hardly good

Is harsh centaury and loathsome wormwood - 390

They twist the mouth; so you can easily

Know that those bodies that give joy to me

Are smooth and round, but quite the opposite

Are harsh and bitter ones that never sit

With pleasure in the mouth, for they are more

Connected by their atoms, and therefore

They tear into our senses, shattering

The texture of the body. Everything

We find it disagreeable to touch

Or not are in conflict, since they have such 400

Dissimilar shapes: no atoms are as slick

In harsh saws as in music one may pick

With nimble fingers, thus awakening

One’s harp, producing shapes with every string;

Prime things of similar shape do not infest

Men’s nostrils when foul corpses, laid to rest,

Are roasting, while the stage is freshly sprayed

With Cilician saffron and the shrine is laid

With Arabian scents; fine hues which greet one’s eye

Do not consist of seeds which make one cry 410

Or tingle, nor those vile and hideous.

For there is not one thing that comforts us

Not first created with some entity

That’s smooth. Nevertheless, contrarily

Vile things have yet been noted to possess

Some roughness. Others which we may assess

As neither smooth nor hooked with points that bend

Have small projecting angles that can send

Us pleasant feelings, not injurious;

Such things of this kind that are used by us 420

Are flavours that are found in elecampane

And burnt tartar that’s found in wine. Again,

Hot fire and cold frost, toothed differently,

Both perforate our bodies. Certainly

Touch is a sense, whether something from outside

Is pierced in us or we are hurt inside

Or through the act of love comes ecstasy

Or else the seeds engender anarchy

And daze the senses, as if you, although

With your own hand, would now inflict a blow 430

On some part of your frame. We must agree,

Then, that they have a multiplicity

Of shapes, since they produce such various

Sensations. And whatever seems to us

Hard and close-set has, of necessity,

Organs more closely hooked and thoroughly

Combined in branch-like shapes. Among the first

Are diamond stones, which many times have cursed

Blows rained upon them, iron and hard rocks

And bronze which shrieks as it resists its locks. 440

The elements of liquid are more round

And smooth because, as you have surely found,

A poppy seed’s scooped up as easily

As water, since those round grains cannot be

A hindrance to each other, and that seed,

When knocked down, runs downhill with equal speed.

All things that we see suddenly upward go,

Like smoke and clouds and flame, aren’t forced, although

Not made of smooth and round grains totally,

To be entangled inextricably 450

By elements so that they may then sting

The body, piercing rocks but not clinging

Together; what pricks our bodies must possess

Sharp but unclustered grains: you must profess

That there exists a similarity

Between bitter and fluid, as we see

In the sea’s brine, for elements smooth and round

Exist in water: rough things have been found

That cause pain, mingled with them. Nonetheless

They still need not be hooked: you’d rightly guess 460

They’re round because they’re rough that they may go

Forward, inflicting pain. That you may know

More clearly that Neptune’s acerbic sea

Is made by rough and smooth cooperatively,

There is a way to part them, when we find

How the sweet water, once it’s been refined

Often through earth, into a pit then flows

Separately, when all its saltiness goes

Away, because it leaves above the ground

The foul brine’s grains, while the rough ones are bound 470

To stick into the earth more easily.

I’ll try to add another verity

That’s proved by this – prime things do not possess

A multitude of shapes that’s limitless.

For otherwise some seeds would have to be

Of infinite size. For one small entity

Can’t have two different shapes: well then, surmise

Prime germs have three small parts (or aggrandize

That sum to just a few more): side to side

Place them, and top to bottom, having tried 480

All possible patterns and if, after all,

You wish to change the shapes, you must install

More parts; thence it must follow logistically

That others must be added similarly

If you should wish to change the shapes again:

New shapes imply increase in volume, then.

So it’s impossible to think a seed

Has infinite differing shapes, unless some need

To be of boundless size, since recently

I proved to you that this just cannot be. 490

Barbaric clothes and robes dyed from the hue

Of shells from Thessaly, I’m telling you,

And golden peacocks steeped in laughing grace,

Outdone by some fresh hue, would lose their place

Of wonder. Honey’s taste and myrrh would be

Despised; the swan’s and Phoebus’ melody,

The wondrous art of strings, would be oppressed

And silenced. Things more splendid than the rest

Would constantly arise, and possibly

All things might change back for the worse, as we 500

Have said some might improve. For one thing may

Prove more abhorrent, in a backwards way,

Than others to the eyes, ears, mouth and nose.

Buts since this is not so, we must suppose

That since a certain limit was consigned

To things, forcing the sum to be confined

On either side, there has to be a bound

Fixed to the sum of shapes. It has been found

The path from heat to frost is limited

As well, for every step’s distributed 510

Backwards in the same way: it is seen

Heat, cold and middle warmth all lie between

These two extremes, thus filling up the score

Successively. Created things, therefore,

Are different by limited degrees

Since they are marked at both extremities

By two points placed at either end, beset

This side by flame and that by frost. Now let

Me link it to another verity

Which draws its proof from it: all primary 520

Objects of similar shape are limitless.

Since different shapes are finite, one would guess

That similar ones aren’t, or alternatively

We would be forced to say the quantity

Of matter is finite, which is not so,

As I have proved, and in my verse I show

The sum of all things from infinity

Is held in place uninterruptedly,

Though struck by many blows on every side,

By tiny grains of matter. Though you’ve spied 530

Rare creatures that are less prolific than

Other creatures, yet if you began to scan

Some other climates far away, you’d find

That they are filled with many of that kind –

For instance elephants, especially,

Which form a palisade of ivory

In India in thousands to exclude

Strangers: they are such a multitude,

Though here in Italy we see but few.

Nevertheless, that I may grant this, too, 540

Imagine that one thing that’s suffered birth

Stands out unique, like nothing else on earth.

But one may say, unless the matter’s sum

Is infinite, enabling it to come

To life, it won’t be made that it might grow

And be sustained. If I may further go,

Suggesting that the bodies that came out

Of this one thing were finite, tossed about

The world, where, whence, how, with what energy

Will they meet and combine in such a sea 550

Of matter and in such an alien crowd?

I do not think that they could be allowed

To mix; when ships are wrecked, the sea will cast

Asunder many things – rib, transom, mast,

Prow, yard, oar, all floating around,

And the stern ornaments will seem to sound

A warning to avoid the treacherous sea,

Its lures, its violence and its trickery –

So doubt its shifty smile as there it lies

Serene – in this way, if you should surmise 560

That primal things are finite, they will be

Forced to be scattered through eternity

And sundered by their stuff and never flow

By force into each other and not grow

Together. Notwithstanding, both things do

These very things. Therefore it’s obvious, too,

That in prime things there’s an infinity

Of all things that are furnished openly.

Nor can death-dealing movements dominate

Forever or for all time extirpate 570

Life. Having given birth and caused a gain

In growth in things, they yet cannot sustain

Them always Their war, from infinity

Pursued, is waged somewhat debatably.

The vital elements will get the best

Of others here and there yet are suppressed

In the same way. The funeral threnody

And the wail that babies raise when first they see

The light of day are mingled. For no night

That follows day nor any morning light 580

Has never heard those new-born, sickly cries

Attending the laments that symbolize

Black funerals. Lock this in your memory, too:

That of those objects which are in plain view

There’s nothing that possesses just one kind

Of element or does not have, combined

Within it, various seeds: the more one sees

A thing has many powers and faculties,

The plainer it becomes that it confines

Most kinds of atoms and diverse designs. 590

The earth contains first bodies of all things,

Whence, rolling coolness tirelessly, the springs

Renew the boundless sea, because within

Herself the earth contains the origin

Of fire. In many lands below the ground

The earth’s ablaze, and from the depths are found

Etna’s white-hot eruptions. Furthermore

The earth contains within her very core

The means whereby there rise up fruitful trees

And grain to feed all nationalities, 600

Rivers and trees and fruitful fields to feed

The mountain-ranging beasts. And that indeed

Is why all mortals call her Cybele,

The Splendid Mother of each deity

And beasts and mortals. Grecian bards of old

Have often sung about her and have told

That in her chariot she drives a pair

Of lions, teaching that the spacious air

Holds the great universe, and earth can’t lie

On earth. Perhaps you ask the reason why 610

The beasts are yoked? Their young, however wild,

Ought to be calmed and tempered by the mild

Acts of their parents. They have placed around

Her head a mural crown since, hemmed in sound

Positions, she supports our cities: she

Now wears it as she‘s borne horrifically

Across the earth and there is many a nation

That renders ancient ritual adoration

To the Idaean mother as she’s led

By Phrygian troops because, as it is said, 620

It’s from those regions corn was first created

And round the world was then disseminated.

They gave her eunuchs. Why? Because those who

Refused to pay her majesty its due

And to their parents showed no gratitude

Were thought unworthy to create a brood

Of children. The taut tom-toms thundering

Beneath the palms and cymbals echoing,

The raucous horns ring out, awakening fright,

And hollow Phrygian pipes cause much delight; 630

They carry martial arms to signify

Their violent fury and to terrify

The bad and thankless through the majesty

Of the goddess as she goes silently

Along and blesses mortals: then they spray

Copper and silver as she makes her way,

Enriching thus the path on which she rides,

And cast a shower of rose-flowers which hide

Her and her escort. And now in her way

Is an armed squadron with the soubriquet 640

Of Curetes, because they love to sport

Among the Phrygian bands and to cavort

In rhythmic leaps, in bloodshed revelling,

Nodding their heads, their dread crests shivering,

Like the Curetes on Dicte in Crete

Who, it’s reported, managed to secrete

The wailing Jupiter. They dance around

One of their number rapidly, all bound

In armour, bronze upon bronze clamouring,

Lest Saturn eat him, thus delivering 650

An everlasting wound to Cybele.

That’s why she’s guarded by this company,

Or maybe it’s because they signify

That they’re always prepared to fortify

And arm their native land and to defend

With pride their parents. All this is well-penned

Yet far from reason. For divinity

By nature must have immortality

And deepest peace and evermore remain

Apart from us, in safety, free of pain, 660

Not needing us, strong, not propitiated

With services and never aggravated.

The earth always lacks sense: to the sun’s rays

Many things are brought in many different ways

Only because many prime entities

Are given it. If you should call the seas

Neptune and corn Ceres and do the same

By giving to your wine the different name

Of Bacchus, then we all ought to agree

To think of the whole world as Cybele 670

As long as in reality your mind

Is free of base religion. You will find

Sheep, steeds and hornèd cattle pasturing

Together and from one stream swallowing

Its water, though each breed is not the same

And each retains the nature whence it came

And each its shape. A great diversity

Can be perceived in each variety

Of feed and river. Every beast contains

Bones, blood, warmth, sinews, fluid, flesh and veins; 680

They’re all dissimilar, too, for they are blent

With primal germs whose shapes are different.

Whatever has been kindled, furthermore,

And burned, if nothing else, contains a store

Of bodies that enable them to throw

Out fire and shoot up light and make things glow

In embers which they scatter all around.

Pore through the rest likewise and there’ll be found

In them the seeds of many things concealed

With various shapes. Many things will be revealed 690

That have within them colour, smell and flavour,

Chiefly the offerings that beg the favour

Of gods. They must have various shapes – rank smell

Can pierce one’s frame where colour cannot dwell.

In different ways colour and flavour steal

Into our senses and thereby reveal

The prime germs’ different shapes. Unlike shapes meet

In one great lump, and all things are replete

With mingled seeds. Throughout my poetry

Many elements enjoy a harmony 700

With many words, although you must concede

That words and verse are different and indeed

Have different elements. I’d mislead you

If I said common letters were but few

In all my verse or that, if I compare

Two words, there are no elements they share,

But all are not like all. The same we see

Elsewhere, for there’s a similarity

In many primal germs, and yet the sum

Of them will seem quite different when they come 710

Together; thus it can be rightly stated

That man and corn and trees originated

From different germs. Yet it must not be thought

That all things have in every way been brought

Together, since you then would commonly

See every kind of freak monstrosity,

Half-man, half-beast, high branches blossoming

From living beings and the coupling

Of limbs possessed by creatures of the sea

And those of land, Chimaeras noisomely 720

Breathing flame from their throats through lands that grow

All things. But it’s not clear that this is so,

Since all things a specific mother breeds,

Originating from specific seeds,

Conserve their kind while growing. Certainly

This argues a specific strategy,

Because the body of each thing is spread

Throughout its frame by that on which it’s fed,

Which activates the movements fittingly.

But on the other hand we also see 730

Some alien elements which Nature throws

Back on the earth, and many, struck by blows,

Escape with bodies that we cannot see –

They can’t connect with any entity:

The vital motions they do not perceive

Nor imitate. In case you should believe

That only beasts are held by these decrees,

The same precept keeps, by its boundaries,

All things apart. Since all things are created

As different, they must be formulated 740

With different shapes. I don’t say very few

Have the same shape but I am telling you

All’s not like all. And further, since the seeds

Are different from each other they must needs

Differ in gaps, vents, meetings, motions, weights,

Connections, blows, each of which separates

Not only beasts but keeps apart the sea

And earth and keeps the earth from heaven. Now be

Heedful to what I’ve happily toiled to bring

To you, and do not think that each white thing 750

You see comes from white atoms, or likewise

What’s black or any hue before your eyes.

In elements of matter there’s no hue,

Be they alike or unlike. And if you

Believe the mind’s unable to propel

Itself into each these bodies’ natures, well,

You miss the mark. A man who’s lacking sight,

Who never from his birth beheld the light

Of day, can know a body by the way

He touches it, so we can surely say 760

That bodies lacking hue of any kind

Can yet become a concept of the mind.

When we touch something in some pitch-black place,

We feel no colours painted on its face.

I’ve proved this, so I now will spell it out –

Every primordial body is without

A colour. Colours change while changing, too,

Themselves, a thing prime germs must never do;

Something unchangeable must survive, in case

All things go retrograde and have to face 770

Their doom: those things which change their form and go

Beyond their boundaries must die. And so

Don’t colour seeds lest everything go back

To nothing. Furthermore, should prime germs lack

The quality of colour, though endowed

With various shapes which give to them a crowd

Of colours, for it matters much how they

Are linked and what activities they may

Give and receive, at once you’d easily

Explain how something that but recently 780

Was black is now pure white: and it’s just so

With seas, when massive winds begin to blow

And stir them up, thus giving them the sheen

Of hoary waves; for you’d say that what’s been

Black, when its matter’s mixed and the array

Of prime germs changed, with some things moved away

And others added, now seem white. However,

If the sea were formed of blue seeds, it could never

Become white; if you jumble up what’s blue

In any way, it cannot change its hue 790

To white If the different seeds that give the sea

Its perfect brightness had a variety

Of colours, as a square thing is created

To make one shape, yet out of variegated

Figures and shapes, it’s fitting that, as there

Are shapes that are unlike within a square,

We see upon the surface of the sea

Or any bright thing a variety

Of different colours: and there’s not one thing

That keeps these unlike shapes from fashioning 800

It square on the outside. Nevertheless,

That mixture bars a single lustrousness

Within it, and the reason we’ve assigned

Colours to first beginnings you will find

Falters, since white from white can’t be created,

Nor black from black – they come from variegated

Colours. White things can rise with more success,

In fact, from something that is colourless

Than black or any colour, for they fight

Against it. Since colours must not lack light 810

And prime beginnings, on the contrary,

Do not merge from dark, assuredly

By colour they are never overspread.

For how can it be genuinely said

That colour lives in darkness? By the light

Itself it’s changed, according to how bright

Its impact is. A dove’s plumage is seen

Likewise whenever the sun highlights its sheen

About its neck: sometimes it seems to be

As red as bronze but sometimes, when you see 820

It at a different angle, you will view

It as a mix of emerald green and blue.

The peacock’s tail, suffused with plenteous light,

Shows, as it turns about, a different sight;

Since light creates these colours, don’t divine

That they can be produced without the shine

Of light. The eye receives one kind of blow

When it sees white but quite another, though,

When it sees black or any other hue;

As well, the colour of the thing that you 830

Have touched doesn’t matter rather than the way

It’s built: thus first beginnings, we may say,

Do not need hues but give out various

Species of touch with multifarious

Shapes. Since no fixed colour, furthermore,

Is parcelled to each fixed shape, and the store

Of prime germs’ fabric we can ascertain

In any hue, why are things that contain

Those shapes not likewise painted with a dye

Of various colours? Crows should, as they fly, 840

Frequently from white plumes show a white hue,

And swans should be made black from black seeds, too,

Or any other hue, whether it be

Single or mottled. And, additionally,

The more minute the particles when they

Are split up, the more readily we may

See colours slowly fade, as, when you pull

And tear into small parts some purple wool,

Purple and scarlet, brightest of all hues,

Are totally destroyed; thus you may use 850

This fact to learn that particles breathe away

The colours that they have before they stray

Into things’ seeds. And lastly, you can tell

That not all bodies have a sound or smell.

We can’t perceive all things, and thus it’s clear

That some things have no hue, nor can one hear

Them make a sound. The wise perceive both these

And those devoid of other qualities.

But do not think first bodies lack just hue –

They’re devoid of warmth, cold and strong heat, too, 860

Wholly deprived of sound and dry of juice:

 And from within themselves they can’t produce

An odour. As when you start to prepare

Sweet marjoram and nard, which through the air

Sends nectar’s breath, and myrrh, first ferret out

A jar of olive oil which is without

Scent that it hardly with its pungency

Destroys the scents in the miscellany

Of foods – it’s by the self-same reasoning

Prime germs must not add smell to anything - 870

Cold, heat, warmth, and all other things: since these

By nature have ephemeral qualities –

Friable, pliant, spongy, rarefied –

They must from primal germs be set aside

To make things permanent lest we should see

All things returning to obscurity.

Now of necessity we must confess

Things that we see have feeling nonetheless

Have senseless primal germs. Facts obvious

To everyone, facts plainly known to us, 880

Don’t contradict this: rather by the hand

They take us, forcing us to understand

That out of first beginning which possess

No feeling beasts are born. Why, from a mess

Of stinking dung, live worms arise, a flood

Fouling the earth and turning it to mud;

All things change likewise: rivers, it is seen,

And foliage and pastures lush and green

Change into beasts and beasts sequentially

Change into us; and from us frequently 890

Strong beasts and birds all grow and multiply.

All foods become live bodies, and thereby

Through nature creatures’ feelings are created

In the same way as sticks are animated,

Producing flames. And therefore don’t you see

The import placed upon the symmetry

Of prime germs and with what they’re coalesced

Thus to engender motions and be blessed

By motions, too? What is it, furthermore,

That strikes the mind, forcing it to explore 900

Feelings, thus stopping you from crediting

The sensible being born from anything

Insensible? It’s surely that the earth

And sticks and stones are mixed and can’t give birth

To vital sense. I am not saying, though,

That all things in our universe can grow

From what makes sensible things. But still, the size

Of what does make them you must realize

Is crucial, and the shape, and, finally,

Each order, angle and activity. 910

In clods and sticks we don’t see them, although

When they are putrefied by air, they grow

Small worms because the bodies are combined

In a position of a different kind

Than formerly so that they may create

Live creatures. Furthermore, those folk who state

That things which feel come from those things which gain

Their sense from other elements maintain

The seeds, being soft, must have mortality.

For all sensation’s a miscellany 920

Of sinews, flesh and veins, and every one

Is soft and thus formed in a union

Of mortal substance. Grant then, anyway,

That they’re eternal: definitely they

Must feel they are a body’s part or be

Believed to have the similarity

Of complete animals. But we must say

They can’t feel separately in any way.

For every body part has a relation

To something else: none can retain sensation 930

Alone. Thus it remains that they should be

Like complete animals, and just as we

Feel things,so should they, too: and thus they can

Feel all sensations that preserve a man.

So how will it be possible to call

Them prime germs and immortal when they all

Are living things, which are one and the same

As mortals? Even supposing that we claim

They could be, yet by link and combination

They merely would produce a congregation 940

Of living things, for men, and creatures too,

Could not by coupling make something new.

But were they to remove their own sensation

And take another one, what implication

In crediting the one they took away

Is there? And furthermore, so that we may

Go back a while – some birds’ eggs we have found

Become live chicks and worms seethe from the ground

After excessive rains have putrefied

The earth, be sure feeling can be supplied 950

By what can’t feel. But if someone should say

That’s true through change or by another way,

Like birth, I’ll prove to him there cannot be

A birth unless a link has formerly

Been made and nought except by combination

Can change. Firstly, there can be no sensation

Before birth since the matter is dispelled

Through rivers, air and earth, where it’s then held;

Still separate, the matter of each thing

Can’t trigger vital moves, thus triggering 960

Those all-perceiving feelings, which then shield

Each living thing, though suddenly these may yield

To some swift blow that Nature cannot bear,

Confusing mind and body everywhere.

Prime germs’ arrangements are disintegrated

And vital motions utterly frustrated

 Till matter through the body is dispelled

And vital knots of soul are then expelled

Through all the pores. What else, then, can such blows

Do but break up all things, do you suppose? 970

The vital motions left will frequently

Prevail when they’ve been struck less violently

And calm the blow and call back everything

And shake off death, which then is swaggering,

Rekindling those sensations nearly lost.

How else can those live things that almost crossed

Death’s threshold come back with their minds now whole

Once more rather than continue to that goal

They almost reached and die? And furthermore,

When matter is severely crushed, it’s sore 980

And trembles, but it fells soothing delight

When it moves back to its original site;

Yet you should know that first germs feel no pain

Nor happiness because they don’t contain

Elements, untroubled by the novelty

Of motions, free, too of felicity.

Again, if feeling has to be assigned

To atoms so live things of every kind

May feel as well, what of humanity?

They shake with laughter, laugh outrageously, 990

Of course, and weep so that their tears bedew

Their cheeks and speak of composition, too,

Profoundly, going further to survey

In depth their first beginnings; and since they

Are like whole mortals, they must then be gained

From other elements which were attained

From other elements – thus you’d not dare

To make a stand securely anywhere.

I will go further – everything you attest

Can laugh and hold a conversation, blessed 1000

With wisdom, comes from things which actually

Do all those things. But if we should agree

That all of this is pure delirium

And laughers from non-laughing things can come

And those who have reason and eloquence

Are born of seeds that do not have a sense

Of either thing, why shouldn’t the things that we

Perceive are capable of feeling be

Composed of seeds that aren’t? All of us came

From heavenly seed – our fathers are the same, 1010

Whose water is produced to foster us

On Mother Earth who spawns luxurious

Trees, shining harvests, a miscellany

Of savage beasts and all humanity,

Providing food to give sweet life to us

As we beget our offspring: and it’s thus

That she is called our mother. What evolves

Out of the earth back to earth resolves

And what fell from the regions of the sky

Is brought back to their temples by and by. 1020

Death does not kill things to annihilate

The bodies’ matter but to dissipate

Their links abroad, and once more it combines

Others with others – thus they change their lines

And colours, gaining feeling which they then

At one particular time give back again;

Learn, then, by what and in what kind of array

These germs are linked up and what motions they

Give and receive. Therefore do not profess

That prime germs don’t eternally possess 1030

Things floating on the face of anything,

Sometimes being born and sharply perishing.

Moreover, in what and in what array

Each element’s located I must say

Here in my poem: sky, rivers, earth, sun, sea,

All crops, all animals and every tree

Have the same letters in the words; although

They are not all alike, yet they are so

For the most part; the difference, though, is based

Upon the way each element is placed. 1040

In real things, too, in matter’s combinations,

Their motions, order, structure and locations,

The thing also must change. Now turn your mind

To reason: something of a different kind

Is keen to reach your ears – a very new

Side of creation wants to speak to you.

We may believe some things at first, but then

Others there are which by degrees all men

Begin to doubt. Consider first of all

The clear blue sky and what it holds withal, 1050

The constellations, moon, the dazzling sun –

If they were now revealed to everyone

On earth out of the blue, then they would say

That it is even greater than what they

Had once thought nonpareil. Assuredly,

They would, for such a splendid sight to see

It must then be. But now it is a bore

And everyone is happy to ignore

Those shining temples. Forbear, then, to be

Electrified by simple novelty: 1060

Use your keen judgment, and if things seem fact,

Give up, if false, prepare yourself to act

The soldier. For since space is limitless

Beyond the world that now imprisons us,

The mind desires to understand what lies

Beyond our ken as its projection flies

Free of itself. For firstly, all around,

Above, below, on each side, there’s no bound

Within the universe. As I have taught,

Truth of itself cries out and light is brought 1070

By the nature of the deep. Since every place

In all directions holds a boundless space

And countless seeds fly round eternally,

We cannot say that in reality

More things weren’t made beside the sky and earth,

And Nature’s passive: for Nature gave birth

To the world, and seeds by chance regardlessly

In many ways collide erratically

Till things now linked could be in every case

The start of many mighty things – the race 1080

Of creatures, earth, sea, sky. So I profess

Interminably that you must confess

That other groups of matter live elsewhere,

Like this that’s clasped voraciously by air.

And when abundant matter is in place,

Moreover, and before it all there’s space,

Then things must be achieved assuredly

If nothing hinders them, and, should there be

As many seeds as all of time can tell

Existed and the same nature as well 1090

Abided with its old ability

To throw all seeds together similarly

As they have now been thrown, then you are bound

To say that other worlds may yet be found

With men and creatures of a different kind.

So in that sum there’s nothing you can find

Which is unique. Take creatures – it is so

With them as with the breed of men: also

With fish and birds, and therefore with the sea,

Sky, earth, sun, moon – in actuality 1100

All that exists, and they are not unique

But numberless; their life will reach a peak,

And they’re as mortal as each entity

On earth which holds a multiplicity

Of similar things. Convinced thus, you will find

Nature is free at once, quite unconfined,

Rid of proud masters, of her own accord

Acting alone without one heavenly lord

Assisting her, for to the gods I pray,

Who live in tranquil peace each perfect day. 1110

Who rule the sum of all that has no bound

And at one time turn all the heavens around

And through the fruitful world give warmth to us

With endless fire, ever ubiquitous,

To make the sky obscure with clouds and shake

Their thunder in the heavens and often make

Their shrines with lightning fall and move away

Into the wilds to cast a bolt to slay

The innocent and undeserving, though

They turn a blind eye to the guilty? So, 1120

Ever since the world was first begun,

When first one saw the earth and sea and sun,

Many bodies have been added from without

And many seeds assembled round about,

And all of these were tossed together by

The mighty All that sea and land and sky

Might grow. All bodies are sent out by blows

From everywhere, each to its own, and goes

Back to its kind. Thus liquid must give birth

To liquid, earth engenders yet more earth, 1130

Fires forge out fires, air air, till finally

Nature brings all things with dexterity

To a conclusion: thus the arteries

Of life do not receive more entities

Than flow out and come back. Then life must be

At a standstill, and with her mastery

Nature curbs growth. For those things we behold

Merrily growing as they take a hold

Of the ladder that will take them gradually

Up to the summit of maturity 1140

Take on more bodies than they liberate

As long as they’re able to accommodate

Food through the veins and things that aren’t so spread

As to disperse too much on which they’re fed.

Many elements flow away, we must believe,

And leave, and yet the bodies must receive

More till they’ve reached the pinnacle of growth.

Then by minute degrees age fractures both

Vigour and strength and it is liquefied

Into decay. The more immense and wide 1150

A thing’s become when it has ceased to grow,

The more atoms it scatters and lets go

From every side and food can’t easily

Enter the veins. Since so abundantly

It streams things out, fewer things are supplied,

And that makes sense, for they are rarefied

From all the flowing out once they were dead,

Knocked down, since through old age they’re barely fed.

There’s nought that bodies buffet from without

That they do not as well break up and clout 1160

With fatal blows. The world will crumble, too,

For nourishment must patch up and renew,

Supporting and sustaining – but in vain

Because the bodies’ veins do not contain

Enough – what’s needed Nature won’t allow.

The power of life is broken even now:

The earth, worn out and drained, can scarce beget

Much more than tiny animals, and yet

Large beasts once lived. There was no mortal race,

As I believe, sent down here from the face   1170

Of heaven on some gold chain that they might dwell

Upon the fields. They’re from no sea, no swell

Of crashing waves against the rocks – they came

From earth, where they’re still bred, the very same

That bred them then. Besides, it was for us

She first made grain and vines luxurious

And splendid pasturage, which we can’t see

Will be augmented with our industry.

Our farmers are exhausted, as indeed

Our oxen are, our pastures barely feed 1180

Our families and our ploughshares all are worn.

To stretch our toil, the fields hold back their corn.

And now the ancient farmer frequently

Will shake his head that all his industry

Has come to nothing: seeking to contrast

His present situation with the past,

His father’s fortunes he consistently

Extols; the present age continually

The sower of the shrivelled vine will groan

About and the old world with many a moan 1190

He’ll grumble was so full of piety

And in a small domain would easily

Support his life, although his share of land

Was smaller then; and he can’t understand

That everything in steps breaks and decays,

Surmounted by the ancient lapse of days.

The end of De Rerum Natura: Book II