De Rerum Natura: Book III

Translated by Christopher Kelk

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You, who amid such darkness raised a light

So clear and made the gifts of life so bright,

I follow, glory of the human race,

And on the marks that you have left, I place

My feet, not so much wishing to compete

But, out of love, hankering to repeat

Your thoughts: indeed how could a swallow vie

With swans? How could a young goat even try

With trembling limbs to run against a steed?

Our father, truth-discoverer, you feed 10

Us with your precepts, and from what you wrote,

As bees in every flowery glade will gloat

On honey, we take golden nourishment

Deserving of a life that’s permanent,

Illustrious man. For once your reasoning

Starts to proclaim the nature of everything,

The terrors of the mind all flee away,

The world’s walls open out and an array 20

Of actions in the void I then can see:

The gods appear in all their majesty

As do their peaceful homes unshaken by

The winds and rain-clouds sprinkling from on high,

Unmarred by frost and snow, and ever bright,

The air surrounds them, laughing with delight.

By Nature everything has been endowed

And at no time there’s nothing that will cloud

Their peace of mind. And yet, contrarily,

No Acherousian temples do they see; 30

And yet the earth’s no check to everything

That’s visible, whatever’s happening

Throughout the world beneath us; and when I

Then gaze upon these things, I’m captured by

A sort of holy joy, but also dread

Since Nature manifestly has been spread

By you in every part so openly.

And since I’ve shown the great variety

Of origins of every living thing,

The difference in their shape, how varying 40

They are and how they of their own accord

In everlasting motion fly abroad,

Creating everything, I must make clear

How mind and spirit work and oust the fear

Of Hell, which troubles man with thoughts of death

And darkness, leaving him with not a breath

Of clean and pure delight. When men proclaim

That bodily illness and a life of shame

Frightens men more than Hell and that the mind

Is blood or even air, if they’re inclined 50

That way, and that they have no need to hear

Our reasoning, my words will make it clear

That they are merely supercilious,

Not facing facts. They’re driven far from us,

Disgraced and suffering many miseries,

And yet they still perform their obsequies

To their ancestors, wherever they’ve fled,

And slay black cattle, offering to the dead

Their sacrifices, with more eagerness

Reverting to religion. It’s no less  60

Of use to scrutinize a man attacked

By peril and to comprehend in fact

The kind of man he might turn out to be;

For only then will he speak verity

Elicited from his very heart and soul:

The mask’s torn off, the truth remaining whole.

Greed and ambition, which drive men to spurn

The law and sometimes be prepared to burn

The midnight oil to reach the very height

Of power are instruments which feed their fright 70

Of death. Contempt and need are seen to be

Far from delight and the stability

Of life; before the gates of death they stray,

It seems, whence men desire to flee away:

Spurred by false hope, with civil blood they heap

Up riches after riches as they keep

On slaughtering, rejoicing cruelly

Upon a brother’s death, while enmity

And fear possesses them at the appeal

Of a kinsman who invites them to a meal. 80

They envy him his influence as well

Since everyone perceives him as a swell,

While they themselves complain that they are stuck

With wallowing in obscurity and muck.

Some sweat and toil just for an effigy

And a name. It happens, too, that frequently

That fear of death develops as a hate

Of life and in their grief they fabricate

Their own demise because they don’t recall

That this fear was the origin of all 90

Their miseries, because this fear can make

This man to lose his honour, that to break

His bond and all to topple piety.

For often one betrays his family

Or country while he’s trying to evade

The land below. As children are afraid

Of darkness, sometimes we’re afraid of light

More than those things that children in the night

Fear will appear. And therefore this dark fright

Must be dispersed but not by shafts of light  100

Nor the sun’s rays but by the stern decree

Of Nature. I must say primarily

Intelligence, more normally called the mind,

Where wisdom and control of life you’ll find,

Is no less part of the human frame than eyes

Or hands or feet or other things that comprise

One’s being. But there are some men who say

The feeling of the mind will never stay

In one fixed place but that it’s meant to be

The vital force the Greeks call ‘harmony’ - 110

It gives us sense, though perspicaciousness

Is nowhere to be found, as healthiness,

Though said to be within us, does not dwell

In any part of someone who is well.

But I imagine that in what they say

Of this they wander very far astray.

There’s an unhealthy man before our face,

Though he is happy in some hidden place;

The opposite’s often true, though, when we find

A man whose body’s fit, though not his mind, 120

As when a man whose foot aches feels no pain

Meanwhile within his head. And yet again,

In heavy sleep where there is no sensation

There’s something yet that’s feeling agitation

In joys and empty cares. Our spirit lies

Within our frame, which does not realize

Feeling through harmony -  when a great part

Of a body is removed, still at the heart

There’s life; but then again, when just a few

Particles of heat desert the frame and through   130

The mouth the air’s thrust out, immediately

That same life will desert each artery

And bone, and by this you may recognize

Each particle differently fortifies

One’s life, and wind and heat provide the seeds

To cater to it, seeing to its needs.

And it’s the seeds of wind and heat that see

That life still lingers on. Accordingly

They quit the frame at death. Therefore we find

The nature and the spirit of the mind 140

Are part of man, so call them harmony,

Brought down from lofty Helicon to be

Used by musicians, or perhaps they drew

It from another source and gave it to

Something that lacked a name. So anyway,

It’s theirs! Now hear what else I have to say:

I say the mind and spirit are both bound

And interlocked together and compound

One nature, but the head is lord of all

And it is understood that we now call 150

It mind and wit, which in the breast is placed,

Where throbbing terror, fear and joy are based:

There, then, are mind and wit. Dispersed around

The frame, the rest of the spirit may be found,

Obeying both. It has the faculty

Of sense when nothing simultaneously

Affects the frame and soul. As when the head

Or eye is aching, torment is not spread

Elsewhere, sometimes the mind is injured too,

Though glad when the other parts of the spirit do 160

No harm. But when the wit is stirred by dread

We see the total spirit now will spread

Throughout the frame, which turns a pallid grey

And sweats, the voice falters and dies away,

The eyes grow dim, there is a buzzing sound

Inside the ears, the limbs fall to the ground,

And thus the mind and spirit we may see

Are unified, and when the energy

Of mind attacks the spirit, straightaway

It buffets it and sends it on its way 170

Towards the body. Therefore we may see

The nature of both things is bodily:

It drives our limbs, it rouses us from sleep,

It changes our expressions, thus to sweep

Us onward, which cannot occur without

Touching, and furthermore there is no doubt

That touch needs body – thus we must agree

The nature of them both is bodily.

The mind, then, can experience as well

The feelings that within our bodies dwell. 180

If bones and sinews are divided by

A grim sword but the victim does not die,

Languor occurs, and then a blissful swoon,

But then he feels a turmoil very soon

And sometimes an uncertain urge to rise.

Thus by these precepts you must realize

The mind’s corporeal, because it knows

What it must feel when buffeted by blows

And bodily weapons. Now I’ll say what kind

Of body is implanted in the mind  190

And how it’s formed. It is exceedingly

Delicate and made of remarkably

Minute atoms. So try to realize

That nothing that appears before our eyes

Moves faster than the mind. It has been found

Therefore that all its seeds must then be round

And tiny, so that a small energy

May move and touch it. All Liquidity

Is moved thus since it’s made of shapes that flow

And are but tiny. Honey’s nature, though, 200

Is more deep-rooted, flowing tardily

Because its stock cleaves more compressedly,

Its atoms not so smooth or fine or round.

Indeed the gentle breeze, we all have found,

Can blow high heaps of poppy-seed way.

And yet, contrariwise, we cannot say

That stones or wheat-ears can do this at all.

So, insofar as entities are small

And even, so is their mobility;

A thing more rough and heavy proves to be 210

More rigid. Since the nature of the mind

Is movable, it must be confined

To tiny, smooth, round seeds. You, best of friends,

Will find these things will pay you dividends

Elsewhere. It’s delicate and it can place

Itself into a very tiny space

If once compacted. When death’s tranquil peace

Gets hold of man and mind and soul both cease

To be, you’ll see no form or weight remains

Inside the total frame. Everyone gains 220

All things from death excepting warming breath

And vital sense, both carried off by death.

Twined in the vital organs thus the soul

Requires the tiniest seeds. For when the whole

Body is gone, the limbs’ contours must stay

Uninjured and no weight must slip away.

In the same way, when we have lost the scent

Of Bacchus’ gift or some emollient

Has shed its perfume or a savour’s gone

From someone’s body, yet it lingers on 230

Before our eyes, its heaviness intact –

This is no marvel, for the seeds in fact,

So many and minute, produce the smell

And redolence which in the body dwell.

Yet Nature’s not that simple, you must learn –

An aura, mixed with heat, will in its turn

Desert the dying, and the heat will drain

The air away, for heat cannot remain

When lacking air. The nature of heat is rare

And therefore through it many seeds of air 240

Must move. This triple nature of the mind

Cannot engender sense of any kind

Or thoughts or motions. Therefore there must be

An added fourth, which has been totally

Denied a name: nothing’s more animated

Or more impalpable or more created

So even and so rounded and so small:

It gave sense-bearing motions to us all.

Composed of little shapes, it stimulated

The first; the motions were appropriated 250

By heat and wind, then air, and finally

The blood is struck and every entity

Begins to feel and now there is sensation

Within the marrow – joy or irritation.

And pain will not for nothing penetrate

The frame but all will at a certain rate

Begin to be discomfited and flee

The frame hither and yon. But usually

It’s on the skin motions come to an end

And that’s the reason why we can extend 260

Our life. I’m keen to tell you how they’re blent

And with what combinations they are meant

To function, but I lack the words to tell

You this, but I will persevere as well

As I am able briefly. For there’s none

That can be sundered from another one:

They act as one, though many. We know well

All creatures have a savour and a smell

And warmth, but one great bulk is made intact

From these: for wind and warmth and air all act 270

As one to make one nature, and that great

And mobile energy will then create

Sense-bearing motions throughout the insides,

Because this essence in our body hides,

More deeply than all else, soul of the soul

Itself, throughout our members and our whole

Body: the energy of soul and mind

Is mixed and latent, for it is combined

Of bodies small and few and thus created,

By which the body has been dominated. 280

And by this reason wind and heat and air

Must act thus, each one taking on its share

Of rule, and thus one nature has been made

Lest by disseverment the sense should fade

Because of them. The mind will seethe with spleen

When struck by heat, and then the eyes are seen

To flash with fire; cold wind, that friend of dread,

Will through the shaken frame arouse and spread

A shudder, while a gentle air will grace

A breast with peace and make a tranquil face.  290

But those with restive hearts are hotter yet,

Possessing minds of passion quickly set

In rage, of which lions primarily

Are seen, often displaying thunderously

Their fierceness, quite unable to withhold

Their anger, while the mind of stags is cold

And windier – those icy currents make

Their innards cold while all their members quake.

The oxen, though, live by the tranquil air,

Nor does the torch of wrath cause them to flare; 300

Not pierced by icy javelins of fear,

They don’t grow stiff – halfway between the deer

And lions thus they’re placed. Thus, too, the nation

Of men – though they’re refined by education,

Yet it has left those pristine marks behind

That represent the nature of each mind.

And evil can’t be, it must be supposed,

So purged from them that one is not disposed

To tempers, while another easily

Is touched by terror, while a third may be 310

More mild. The traits and natures of mankind

Must differ very much, but I can’t find

A name for the shape of each prime entity

Or whence has come this great variety

Nor treat the hidden causes, but I can

Say this; these marks which show the traits of man,

Which reason won’t take from us, are so small

That nothing can’t prevent a man at all

From living like the gods above. Therefore

This soul is kept within the body’s core 320

As guardian; with common roots they cleave

Together and cannot, unless they leave

This world, be torn apart. One can’t with ease

Tear off the fragrance from small quantities

Of frankincense unless the body dies –

The nature of the mind and soul likewise:

Their seeds have been from birth so intertwined

While with a partner they have been combined;

If it should lack its partner’s faculty,

The other would possess no energy 330

Or feel; our sense, though, is intensified

By mutual motions placed on either side.

Besides, alone the body’s not begotten

Nor grows nor after death is nought but rotten.

Though water sometimes gives off heat whereby

We gain advantage, yet it does not die,

Remaining safe; it is not in this way

Our limbs, deserted quite, can bear, I say,

That they have lost the soul, but they must die,

All mutilated, and then putrefy. 340

From early days, by joint communication,

The soul and body gain an education

In vital motions; even when they’re still

Within the womb, they’ll not, unless by ill

And pestilence, be harmed; so you may see

That, as the source of their security

Is linked, so must its nature be as well.

Moreover, if somebody dared to tell

You that the body does not have sensation,

Opining that the soul, in combination 350

With body, takes on motion which we call

‘Sense’, he is clearly battling with all

The proven facts, for it would be in vain.

For who is there who’s able to explain

The feelings of the body unless he

Has learned what we’ve been told of openly?

“But when the soul has gone, the frame’s bereft

Of sense.” Indeed! For when the soul has left,

It loses what it never owned at all,

And more besides, after soul’s downfall.  360

To say the eyes see nothing and yet through

The same the mind can see is hard to do.

For sense itself forces our eyes to be

Aware of consciousness, especially

When we can’t see things that are very bright

Because our eyes are hampered by the light.

With doors this is not true – with eyes we see,

So doors don’t undertake the drudgery.

If eyes should act as doors, I would declare

That, with our sight removed, our mind would fare 370

Yet better at seeing what they would survey

When even the door-posts had been cleared away.

Don’t take up what the sage Democritus

Has in this discipline laid down for us,

That prime germs of the body and the mind,

Each super-imposed on each, all weave and wind

Our members. For the elements of the soul

Are smaller far than those which form the whole

Outer and inner body. Also they

Are less in number as they sparsely stray 380

Throughout our frame. And so it may be seen

That all the soul’s prime germs maintain between

Themselves large intervals, though in contrast

There are the smallest bodies which are cast

Against us, rousing motions which have sense

That they apply within our bodies. Hence

We sometimes cringe to see the dust alight

On us, or chalk or vapours of the night

Or spiders’ webs which, while we’re travelling,

Drop down, their withered strands entangling 390

About our head or feathers that alight

On us or plant-seeds, which, being so slight,

Seem barely to descend: each crawling thing

We do not feel nor traces settling

Upon us made by midges and their kin.

Thus many prime germs must be stirred within

Ourselves once the soul’s seeds that through our frame

Are mixed begin to realize that those same

Prime germs have been attacked and then pulsate

Between the gaps and clash and integrate, 400

Then leap apart. The mind, though, we may say,

Is keeper of the gates and holds more sway

Over the soul. Sans intellect and mind,

No part of any soul can ever find

Rest in our frame, because it flies away

And thus the icy limbs must ever stay

In death’s cold grip. However, he whose mind

And intellect have both remained behind

Lives on. Although he may be mutilated

And from the limbs the soul’s been extricated, 410

He breathes the life-sustaining air, and when

Most of the soul has vanished, even then

He lingers on, as in an injured eye

The pupil is unharmed and does not die,

The sight still strong: but do not harm the ball

That forms the eye but make incisions all

Around the pupil, leaving it behind,

For vision will be ruined, you will find,

If more is done. But if that tiny piece,

The centre, is destroyed, the eye will cease 420

To function, though elsewhere the ball, you’ll find,

Is clear. And thus it is that soul and mind

Are linked forevermore. Now I shall tell

You that the minds and souls of all that dwell

On earth are born and die, and in my verse,

Written with lyric toil, I will rehearse

My rule of life for you, but I shall frame

The two of them in but one single name;

Thus when I speak of soul while telling you

That it is mortal, think that I speak, too, 430

Of mind, since they’re the same, concatenated

Together. Now I have communicated

To you that soul is subtle, a compound

Of tiny particles, and you have found

Its parts much smaller in capacity

Than water, fog or smoke, mobility

Being therefore more functional by far,

So they’re more prone to move, although they are

Struck by less cause: they’re moved apparently

By images of smoke and fog, as we, 440

When we’re asleep, see shrines exhaling steam

And smoke, for there’s no doubt that as you dream

These images come to you from afar.

Therefore when you discern, when pitchers are

Demolished, all the water flows away:

The fog and smoke will also in this way

Depart – therefore believe the soul also

Is shed abroad and will more quickly go,

Then be destroyed, dissolving once again

Back into its own fundamentals, when 450

It leaves the body; if that body’s split,

Just like the jar I’ve spoken of, and it,

By loss of blood, has now been rarefied

And can no longer hold the soul inside.

How could you think that stuff that is more rare

Than bodies can be held by any air?

Besides, along with body mind we hold

Is born and with it grows up and grows old.

When little children totter all around

With weakling frames, a weaking wisdom’s found 460

Within them: with the years their powers grow

With understanding as they come to know

More things, but then, as they grow old, they find

That with a shattered body they’re defined

By feebleness, the mind itself gives way,

Thought hobbles and the tongue begins to stray;

At the same time one fails and loses all.

It makes sense likewise that the soul will fall

Apart, dissolving high into the air;

And we have seen the body come to fare 470

In the same way. The body, it is plain,

Has dread diseases and appalling pain –

So mind feels grief and fear and bitter care,

Wherefore the mind, as we must be aware,

Will taste of death, for it will frequently

Wander around a body’s malady,

Beside itself, crazily babbling,

And often sinking, eyelids languishing,

Head nodding, till in endless sleep it lies,

Where it’s unable now to recognize 480

Those who stand round about it, cheeks bedight

With tears, and vainly calling it to the light

Once more. That mind dissolves, therefore, we need

To say, since grief and illness both may lead

To death, as we well know. A strong wine’s force

Enters a man and scattered fires course

Around his veins, then comes a lethargy

Within his limbs as he precariously

Staggers about, his mind awash, his speech

Sluggish, and one can hear him brawl and screech, 490

Eyes all aswim and all else that ensues.

Why is this? Well, it happens when strong booze

Perturbs the soul. If a thing more vigorous

Got in, therefore, it would be poisonous

And kill the soul. It happens frequently

That someone has a seizure suddenly,

As from a lightning-bolt, before our eyes –

He falls down, foaming, and, as there he lies,

Groans, shakes, talks nonsense as he twists about,

His gasps in fits and starts, and he wears out  500

His limbs. These ills disturb the soul as well,

As winds disturb the salt sea’s billowing swell.

A groan’s forced out because his misery

Has gripped his limbs: however, generally

The voice’s seeds are driven outwards through

The mouth as they are always wont to do.

He’s made inane, because, as I have shown,

The energy of mind and soul are thrown

Apart by the same pestilence, although

When the cause of the disease turns back to go 510

Into its shadowy lairs, the man will rise,

Though reeling, and will come to recognize

His senses slowly, and his soul he’ll find,

Because within his body soul and mind

Are shaken by diseases and distraught

By labour. Wherefore, then, should it be thought

That in the open air they both can spend

A bodiless life which promises no end,

In battle with the winds? Ans since we see 520

That for the sick mind there is remedy,

As for the body, this must clearly show

Mortality is in the mind also.

For he who aims to modulate the mind

Or change a single thing of any kind 

Should add new parts or redress the array

Or from the total take something away;

But what’s immortal does not wish to be

Increased or rearranged, no entity

Removed from it, since change of anything

Beyond its boundaries ends in the sting   530

Of death: therefore, whether the mind is ill

Or else restored by medicine, it still

Gives notice of its own mortality,

As I have taught. Such is veracity,

Opposed to other theories, sheltering

From refuge all those adversaries who bring

Two-edged rebuttals. Someone we may see

Who loses vital senses gradually –

First toes, then nails, then feet, then legs turn blue

And fail, then all his other members, too, 540

Show signs of frigid death, and, since the soul

Is split and can’t at any time be whole

Alone, it must then have mortality.

But if perhaps your rationality

Claims that it can bring all the parts inside

The frame so that sensation can abide

Throughout, where much of the soul exists, it ought

To have more more feeling but, as I have taught,

A place like this does not exist, and thus

The soul is torn apart – that’s obvious. 550

Dispersed outside, it dies. Do not suppose

The soul survives inside the frames of those

Who slowly die – the soul, one has to say,

Is mortal, should it fly, dispersed, away

Or shrink as it becomes stationary –

The more a man lacks sensitivity

The less is life within him. For the mind

Of man is just one part which you may find

In one fixed place, just like the ears and eyes

And other senses, which all supervise 560

Man’s life; as eyes and hands, when cut apart

From us, can’t feel at all or even start

To be but quickly rot, similarly

The mind without the man can never be,

Because the man and body both contain

The mind (or you, perhaps, to make it plain

May use another metaphor), the mind

And body being so closely entwined.

Together they thrive. The mind alone, without

The frame, cannot send vital motions out, 570

Nor can the body, wanting soul, endure

And use the senses. And you may be sure

The eye, uprooted from the face, can’t see

A blessed thing, and so, similarly

The soul and mind, it seems, when they’re alone,

Possess no actual power of their own,

Mixed in with veins, guts, bones and ligaments,

Possessing, too, primordial elements

Which through great spaces cannot leap apart,

One from another, thus able to start 580

Life-motions which, after a body’s dead,

They could not do because they then have sped

Outside the body, thus no longer bound.

For air will be a body, breathing, sound,

If the soul can hold itself within the air,

Enclosing all the motions living there,

Which in the frame itself it used to do.

Once more, therefore, we must say that it’s true

That once the body’s opened and its breath

Spills out, the senses of the mind meet death,  590

The soul as well, since they are spliced together.

And once again, since body cannot weather

The split between them both without decay

And loathsome stench, then we would have to say

That from deep down the soul has been dispersed

Like smoke, the body totally immersed

In dissolution: every deep foundation

Within it has been moved, leaving its station,

The soul through every body’s winding way

And orifice out-filtering away. 600

By many means, then, you are free to know

The nature of the soul – that it must go

In fragments from the body and is rent

In tatters even before it then is sent

To float away into the windy tide.

Often, when life yet lingers on inside

The frame, the souls seems anxious to be free

And quit the body’s confines totally,

By something agitated, and, as though

The soul is close at hand, its features go 610

Inert, the bloodless limbs hang down (the kind

Of case when one says, “He’s out of his mind”

Or “He’s quite gone”, while others stand and quake

With trepidation, anxious now to make

The best of all the days that yet remain

To them before life cuts away her chain).

For then the mind and soul are shaken so

As with the frame itself they, tottering, go,

Near death. Thus, with its wrappings stripped away,

Why would you doubt the soul could ever stay 620

The course, so weakened, for eternity,

More likely to dissolve immediately?

Nobody feels his soul leave, as he dies,

All in one piece, nor does he feel it rise

Up to his throat and jaws, but rather he

Can sense it fail in one locality

That’s fixed, as he is very well aware

That all his other senses founder where

They yet remain. If our souls truly were

Immortal, then they would not so demur, 630

At death, to be dispersed but they would take

Their leaving as release and, like a snake,

Throw off their garb. Again, why is it so

That our intelligence and minds don’t grow

From head or feet or hands but that they cling

To one fixed place, unless for everything

One place has been assigned that it may stay

Unharmed, all limbs set in the same array?

One thing’s born of another – flames, therefore,

Are not created out of streams, nor more 640

Likely comes cold from fire. Plus, if we

Affirm a soul has immortality

And, even when disjointed from our frame,

Able to feel, I fancy we may claim

They have five senses, for there is no way

But this that we may picture that they stray

In Hell. Painters and bards of days gone by

Have seen them thus. No nose or hand or eye

Includes a soul while bodiless: it’s clear

That this is so for any tongue or ear 650

As well. Alone, then, they can’t feel or be.

And since it is a vital sense we see

In the whole body, if a sudden blow

Should strike it with a mighty force and go

Clean through it, then the soul without a doubt

Would be divided , too, and flung far out

Along with body. But whatever’s cleft

In many parts admits that it’s bereft

Of an eternal nature. For they say

Scythe-bearing chariots so swiftly slay 660

The foe that as their limbs lie on the ground,

Dissevered from the trunk, they have been found

To quiver, while their owner feels no pain

Due to the blow’s speed, but he roams the plain

To carry on the slaughter, unaware

His shield and left arm are no longer there,

Snatched by the scythes the steeds have dragged away.

Another struggles to renew the fray,

Blind to his lost right arm. Another tries,

One of his legs now lost, again to rise, 670

While on the dying foot the toes are spread,

Twitching. When lopped away, even the head

Retains a look of life, eyes open wide,

Until the remnants of the soul have died.

If, when a snake lashes its tail and darts

Its tongue, you sever it in many parts,

You’ll see each part begin to writhe around

With its new wound and spatter up the ground

With gore, its fore-part turning back to strain

Its jaws that it might bite away the pain. 680

Does each part hold a soul? But if that’s so,

That self-same reasoning would surely show

Each beast has many souls. There’s one alone,

However, which has now been overthrown

Along with body. So mortality

Belongs to both and each of them can be

Cut into many parts. If one can say

The soul’s immortal as it winds its way

Into a child that’s newly born, then why

Can’t we remember things from days gone by  690

Before our birth? But if the faculty

Of mind has changed so much that memory

Has failed, that’s just like death, I think. Therefore

That death has come to what once lived before

And what is living now has been created

Anew. If, once the frame’s been generated,

The powers of the mind are introduced

Just at the moment when we are produced,

It should not with the limbs and body grow,

Or even in the body’s bloodstream. No,   700

It ought to live alone within a cell

(Yet all the body throngs with sense as well).

Souls must have origins, we must agree,

Nor ever be immune from Death’s decree.

We must not think something’s so closely tied

Up with our frames if it has slipped inside:

The facts we know, though, prove the opposite,

For soul throughout the veins is such a fit,

As well as through the sinews and the skin

And all the bones, that even the teeth share in 710

Sensation as in toothaches we may see

And ice and when one bites down suddenly

On a stone in bread. Since souls are so combined

With all those bodily parts, they cannot find

A means to save themselves and steal away

From nerves and bones and joints. But should you say

A soul enters a body from outside,

It is more prone to die since it’s allied

So closely with the flesh; what usually

Enters dissolves and dies accordingly. 720

It permeates the frame, as nourishment,

Which, once throughout the limbs and frame it’s sent,

Dissolves but yields up something new. And so

The spirit and the mind, although they go

Into a new whole body, even as they

Seep into it, yet are dissolved away.

The particles that make the mind, those same

That exercise dominion in the frame,

Rose up out of the mind that permeated

The flesh and at its time deteriorated 730

And died. Therefore it seems that we may say

That there’s a natal and a funeral day

For the spirit. Are its seeds, then, left behind

Or not? If they are not, we’ll have to find

Them mortal for they are diminished by

The parts they’ve lost: however, if they fly

Away with all their parts completely sound,

Why is that the rotting flesh is found

Disgorging worms, and wherefore do we see

A boneless, bloodless multiplicity  740

Of living things that teem and crawl about

The bloated corpse? But if perhaps you doubt

All this and think that souls can seep inside

Each worm and don’t reflect how such a tide

Of living things assembled in one spot

Whence only one crept out, should you then not

Consider whether souls actually chase

Small worms’ seeds and therefrom erect a place

To make a home or if they rather find

A ready-made home? But why this toil and grind? 750

It’s hard to say. They’re bodiless, and thus

They flutter round, in no way tremulous

Nor pained by hunger, cold or any blight;

But rather it’s the body that must fight

Against these flaws of life, as must the mind

Since with the body It has been combined.

Though it is useful for those souls to make

A bodily home, it’s still a big mistake –

They can’t and therefore don’t. There is no way,

Moreover, that these souls can make their stay  760

In ready-made bodies, for if that were so

They could not forge the subtle to and fro

Of feeling. Why has violence been bred

In brooding lions? Why do deer feel dread,

Subject to flight? And why are foxes sly?

And speaking of all other creatures, why

Are they at birth endowed with qualities

If not since mind, with all its faculties,

Proliferates with its own seed and kind

Along with the whole frame? But were the mind 770

Immortal, able, too, to change around

Its bodies, earthly creatures would be found

Confused in nature – savage hounds would fly

From deer, a hawk would tremble, frightened by

A dove’s approach, wisdom would fail mankind,

Fierce creatures would be wise. If you’d a mind

To think soul, blessed by immortality,

Mutates along with body, you would be

Quite wrong, for what is changed will melt away       

And die, since parts are moved and their array  780

Is altered; they must melt away as well

And die with body. There are those who tell

That always will the souls of mankind fly

To human frames to make their homes, but I

Will ask: How can a stupid soul arise

And be created from a soul that’s wise?

Why does a child’s soul have no commonsense?

And why can foals not leap a lofty fence

As sturdy steeds can do?  They’ll try to claim

That mind becomes a weakling in a frame 790

That’s weak. That being so, though, nonetheless

It’s necessary, too, that they confess

The soul is mortal, since it thoroughly

Changes and dies, the sense it previously

Possessed now gone. Or how can mind grow strong

And gain the flower of life it craves along

With body unless it had always been

Its consort from the start? What would it mean

To leave on ancient limbs? Did it fear to stay

Inside a putrid corpse or feel dismay 800

His house, exhausted with longevity,

Would tumble down? There is no jeopardy

For what’s immortal. And, as wild beasts mate,

It’s daft to think immortal souls would wait

To see what bodies they might occupy,

A countless number of them, piled up high,

Contending to be first – unless maybe

There is among the souls a strict decree

Allowing just the first to reach its home.

No trees live in the air, and in the foam 810

Of ocean are no clouds, nor in the ground

Can fishes live, while blood cannot be found

In wood, nor sap in stones: each entity

Will grow in its own fixed locality.

Without the body, then, the nature of mind

Can rise alone, nor will we ever find

It far from blood and sinews. If it could,

However, rise alone, you rather should

Find it in heads or shoulders or the base

Of the feet, or born in any other place, 820

Although within the self-same human frame

It yet abides, residing in the same

Vessel. But since within that frame we find

A fixed and separate place wherein the mind

And soul may grow, so all the more we should

Say that outside the frame they never could

Be born and then survive. When the frame dies,

It’s necessary that the soul likewise

Will perish since within it it’s embedded.

For if you claim the mortal has been wedded 830

To the immortal, thinking they agree

Together, that’s a gross absurdity.

For what’s more stupid and incongruous

Than thinking that they are harmonious

As they together weather every squall?

For everything eternal must block all

And every stroke, since they are strong and stout

And must be able also to keep out

Whatever powers that might lacerate

Their well-fixed parts (as I have said of late, 840

Seeds are like that); or through eternity

They’re able to survive since they are free

Of blows, just like the void, which remains sound,

Or else because there is no room around

Them all that they may fly off and disperse,

Just like that sum of sums, the universe:

There is no place beyond whither things might

Asunder fly and nothing that can smite

Them with great blows. But if you should decide

The soul’s immortal, mainly since it’s tied 850

Securely by dynamic forces, never

Assailed by any danger, or, if ever

They were, those dreadful threats would fly away,

Repelled ere we could feel the harm that they

Might do, [it has been found this is not true].

For when the body’s sick, the soul is too,

Often distressed by what’s not happened yet,

Beset by dread and wearying with fret,

And even by transgressions formerly

Committed it is gnawed at bitterly. 860

Add madness, also, and forgetfulness

That drowns in murky waves of sluggishness.

Death’s nothing to us since forevermore

It will be mortal: as in times before

Our birth we felt no ill, when all around

The Carthaginians with their battle-sound

Assailed us, and the whole world trembled so

With war which under heaven’s vaults brought woe

And in the balance stood the victory,

As mankind held its breath on land and sea, 970

When we’re no more and there arrives a breach

Of soul and body, by the work of each

Of which into one state we are combined,

We’ll have no more experiences, blind

To everything, not even if the sea

Mingled with earth and there were unity

In sea and heaven. But if we could say

That, after they had both been stripped away

From body, mind and soul still had sensation,

What would it be for us, a combination 980

Of flesh and soul? Even if after death

We were remade, rewarded with the breath

And light of life, it would mean nought at all

After the interruption of recall.

We’d not be as we were in former days

And feel no more distress. For when you gaze

On all the years gone by and think about

How many motions matter can send out,

You’d well believe the seeds from which we grow

Have the same order just as long ago, 990

Though this we can’t remember, since we’ve found

A break in life’s been made, and all around

Have motions wandered from our faculties.

For if one is expecting maladies,

At the same time he must be present too.

Death won’t allow these ills that may seem due

To fall on him. Thus not in any way

Should we fear death, nor should there be dismay

For him who’s dead, because, once he’s no more,

Why should he care if he was born before? 1000

When you observe a man who is distressed

Because his corpse will rot once laid to rest

Or he will die in flames or in the jaws

Of wild beasts, know that this should give you pause –

The note sounds false, for in his heart there lies

An unseen sting, however he denies

That there’s no feeling after he is dead,

Because he contradicts what he has said:

He won’t uproot himself and cast away

His erstwhile self but thinks something must stay 1010

Within him. Picturing himself deceased,

His body torn by vultures or some beast,

A man weeps for his state, his fantasy

Still substituting for reality.

He grieves that he is mortal, for he spies

No second self that’s placed in his demise

To grieve his own self’s passing now he’s fated

To lie there, burned by flame or lacerated.

But if it’s evil to be mangled by

The jaws of brutal beasts, I don’t see why 1020

It pains you less if flames incinerate

Your body or if you should suffocate

On honey or lie on an icy rock,

Stone-cold, or be the victim of the shock

Of earth piled on you. “Now no loving spouse,”

They say, “shall greet you in your happy house,

No little ones will run to you to snatch

A kiss, a silent happiness to catch

Your heart. No longer will you oversee

Your business or protect your family. 1030

So many joys of life in one vile day

Are taken from you.” But they do not say

As well, “Your yearning for them, too, has fled.”

Had they considered this and further said

Some words on this, you would be free of fear

And anguish. “Even as you’re lying here,

Asleep in death, you also shall be free

Of all your future griefs and misery.

But we have wept insatiably beside

Your ashes: never will our grief subside.”   1040

But we must ask the cause of bitterness

When what is mourned reclines in quietness.

Why grieve forever? Guests will raise a glass,

Their temples wreathed, and say, “How soon they pass –

Those golden days we never can redeem!”

The feelings of those people, it would seem,

Are that in death the greatest ill would be

A ravenous thirst that leads to misery

Or else another craving. For in fact,

When mind and body are at rest, intact,    1050

No-one rues death; indeed this sleep could last

Forever, since we don’t yearn for the past,

For those primordial germs don’t go astray

And from sense-giving motions move away

Too far, since when a man is suddenly

Jolted from sleep, he makes a recovery.

Thus death means much less to us, if that less

Stands for that which we see as nothingness.

For germs diffuse more widely at one’s death,

For none will rise again or take one breath 1060

At life’s chill pause. If Nature suddenly

Upbraided us:  “Why this anxiety,

Mortals, these weak complaints? Why do you weep

At death? For if your goods you did not heap

In piles so that they leaked, as in a sieve,

And if before your death you got to live

A pleasant life, why do you not then play

The guest who after dining, goes away

Content, you fool? Go, seek eternal rest!

But if you waste that with which you were blessed 1070

And life offends you, why would you then try

To add more ills than in the days gone by?

No, rather end your life of drudgery!

For nought can I devise of gaiety

For you. For everything is just the same

Forever. Even with your wrinkled frame

And weak limbs nothing changes. Should you go

On to the end of time – yes, even though

You live forever –“ what do we reply?

That Nature keeps the law and does not lie. 1080

But should a man riper in years bewail

His death more than is fit, should she not rail

At him: “Cease weeping, fool, cease whining, too:

You’re wrinkled, but your life has favoured you;

You crave what’s absent, scorning what is present,

So your unfulfilled life’s not been too pleasant.

Now ere you guessed it death stands at your side

Before you can depart quite satisfied.

But what’s unseemly for your greying hair

Cast off! Make room for others? That is fair!”? 1090

That she should reprimand you is her due –

The old concedes when pushed out by the new,

Since one thing heals another, and no-one

Is sent to Tartarus’ dominion:

The future generation needs to grow

With new material; these, too, will go,

Their life completed, even as before

Went others, for eternal is the score

Of generations. One may merely rent

One’s life, not own it. All those lives that went 1100

Before our birth mean nothing to us. Thus

A mirror is by Nature shown to us

Of what lies In the future when we’re dead.

Does any of it fill our hearts with dread?

Is it not more agreeable than sleep?

Indeed, whatever happens in the deep

Of Acheron happens here. No Tantalus

From people’s tales, benumbed and timorous,

Fears the gigantic stone while in the air

He hangs, but here on earth a terror, bare 1110

Of reason, of the gods torments us all,

While we fear anything that could befall

Mankind. No flapping vultures rip apart

Prone Tityus, and when they reach the heart

They find no food to feed them endlessly

Despite his outspread limbs’ immensity

Of not nine acres only – no indeed,

It covers all the world. He’d never feed

Those birds, nor suffer pain, eternally.

But here on earth that Tityus is he 1120

Who’s tortured by Love’s biting or outworn

By anxious agony or ripped and torn

By one thirst or another. Sisyphus

On earth is also something else to us –

He thirsts for fame but in the end is glum,

Retiring to his grave quite overcome,

For seeking after power’s a useless game,

Not given to everyone, an empty name,

A world of toil. That’s what it is to push

A boulder up a hill, which, with a rush, 1130

Rolls back down to the plain, where it will lie

And feed ingrates but never satisfy,

Just as the seasons when they come around

To make the earth with new-grown fruits abound

And other pleasant things. Mortals, however,

Are able to enjoy life’s blessings never,

Just as, I think, those virgins, so they say,

Poured water which would always drain away

Since the urn they poured it in possessed a crack.

Now Cerberus, the Furies and the lack 1140

Of light and Tartarus, belching out a swell

Of heat, do not exist, as they might well

Not do! But in this life we mortals quail

At punishment for evil deeds – the jail,

The Rock, the torturers, the whip, the rack,

Pitch, red-hot plates, the torch; although we lack

Such things, they’re active in the mind: thus dread

Lives in our conscience and it goes ahead

And plies the goads and lashes us nor sees

What is the end of all these miseries, 1150

And we fear that in death they will expand.

Indeed, a fool’s life on this earthly land

Is Acheron! Therefore from time to time

Repeat these words: “Even Ancus the sublime

Has looked his last, who was more virtuous

Than you, you rogue, and there’ve been numerous

Monarchs and potentates who once held sway

Over great nations but have had their day.

The man who built a path across the sea.

Providing passage for his infantry, 1160

Discrediting with his steeds the ocean’s roar,

Poured out his soul and then was seen no more,

His light extinguished. Also Scipio,

War’s thunderbolt, he who brought Carthage low,

Ended beneath the earth where he was then

No better than a slave. Add, too, those men

Who were the pioneers of everything

In arts and science, those accompanying

The Muses, too – Homer was one of those,

The finest bard of all, now in repose 1170

With all the others. When senility

Informed Democritus his memory

Was fading, he committed suicide.

Epicurus would no longer here abide,

His course now run, who bettered everyone,

Just as the stars are smothered by the sun.

Will you carp at your death, who, while you live,

Seem as one dead? To slumbering you give

A great part of your life. You even snore

While you are still awake, and, furthermore, 1180

You never cease to dream. Anxiety,

Though baseless, dogs your mind, and constantly

You spurn the cause, beset by cares, and reel

About in endless doubt. If people feel

That heavy load and then can also find

The reason why such burdens fill their mind

They will not live that way. For we can see

They don’t know what they want, incessantly

Seeking a new home, thinking that they could

Be happier in a different neighbourhood. 1190

A man will leave his splendid mansion, bored,

But comes straight back since elsewhere can’t afford

Him comfort. With his ponies he will speed

Down to his villa, as though in a need

To douse a burning house: as soon as he

Has touched his villa’s threshold, in ennui

He yawns, or else he seeks oblivion

In slumber, or perhaps he hurries on

To town. Each person seeks his self this way

And yet he cannot ever get away: 1200

He cleaves to it in hate against his will,

Not knowing still the reason for his ill

Should he but see that, he would then ignore

Everything else, beginning to explore

The nature of things because he must debate

All time, not just one hour, for Man’s estate

Remains forever in eternity.

What can this evil lust for living be,

Imperilling us like this? We all must die,

We can’t shun Death – we’ll meet him by and by. 1210

We’re busy with the same things day and night

And nothing’s forged to bring some new delight;

We don’t have what we’re longing for and yet

It seems the most important thing to get.

We grab a thing but then want something more:

That equal thirst for life eats at our core.

The future is in doubt, Death’s threatening,

Nor do we have a chance for lengthening

Our life and all the years of imminent death

We cannot shorten. So, though while there’s breath,  1220

Outlive as many people as you may,

Death waits. The man who died but yesterday

Shall have no briefer time in Death’s grim score

Than him who dies so many years before.

The end of De Rerum Natura: Book III