De Rerum Natura: Book IV

Translated by Christopher Kelk

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I roam the haunts of the Pierides,

Not trod before, and feel much joy at these

Pure fountains, while I long to drink them down.

I pluck new flowers and seek a glorious crown

To deck my head, where the Muses never yet

Have on a mortal’s head a garland set;

I teach important things and try to free

Men’s minds from dread religiosity;

On themes so dark I make my verses bright

Throughout the work and all the Nine’s delight. 10

There’s cause, for when a doctor starts to treat

A child with nauseous wormwood, with the sweet

Nectar of honey he will smear the cup

Upon the brim: the duped child laps it up

And thus recovers. Since my doctrine might

Mainly seem bitter to a neophyte

And scary to the rabble, it’s my will

To use sweet words to coat this sour ill.

So in my verse I hope to keep your mind

Upon the things I teach until you find 20

The use of nature. I’ve already shown

The seeds of things and how they on their own

Flit round in everlasting forms, all churned

By endless motion, and from me you’ve learned

How they create all things, but now to you

I’ll speak of something most important too –

That ‘images’ exist which we might call

Membranes or shells of sorts which flutter all

About each thing. They scare us while we lie

Asleep or when we are awake and eye 30

The images of souls lost to the light

And weird shapes that have roused us in the night.

O may we never ever be in doubt

That souls do not leave Hell or fly about

Among the living or that anyone

Is left behind when his last day is done,

Body and mind destroyed, each to its seed

Returning. Images of things, indeed,

And flimsy shapes as well, are sent away

From their insides. And therefore need I say 40

That this is clear to all, however slow

Of wit they are? For firstly we all know

That many things oust matter in plain view,

Loosely diffused, as oak and fire will do

With smoke and heat; and some are more compact

And interwoven, as locusts will act

By casting their smooth tunics to the earth

In summertime and calves will, at their birth,

Drop membranes from their body and a snake

Will cast aside its garments in a brake 50

Of thorns (we often see them fluttering

On briars). If this is so, then from one thing

Or another slender film will fall away:

Why they should not is very hard to say

Since many tiny particles can be cast

From things and keep the shape that in the past

They had, their order too; being few, they’re less

Impeded, giving them more speediness,

Since they are on the surface. We can see

That many bodies are abundantly 60

Cast out by things not only, as I’ve stated,

From deep down but also disseminated

From their outside – their very colours too.

The awnings, saffron, red and dusky blue,

Are commonly in splendid theatres spread,

The poles and cross-beams fluttering overhead;

They shine upon the patrons down below

While forcing every countenance to glow;

The darker are the walls, so everything

Laughs glowingly, the daylight tapering. 70

The hanging curtains, sending out their dyes,

Shine out on everyone, and thus likewise

Must flimsy effigies, since both are thrown

From off the surface. So it is well known

That vestigies of forms will flit around,

Most subtly woven, nor can they be found

By human eyes when they are separated.

Moreover, what can be evaporated,

Such things as odour, heat and smoke, ascend

From deep within the body as they bend 80

Upon their journey and are wholly rent

Because the gateways marking their ascent

Are far from straight, but when the strips of hue

Are shed, there’s nothing anything can do

To rend them since they’re placed on the outside.

Lastly, those images which we have eyed

In mirrors, water or the sort of thing

That has a surface that is glittering,

Since with the self-same look they are supplied,

Have images of objects sent outside. 90

Their shapes and likenesses exist indeed,

But none can notice them as they proceed

Singly, but when they bounce back frantically

From off the mirror’s face, we all may see

Its images. There is no other way

To argue how the mirror can display

Perfection in each one. Come, learn how lean

An image’s nature has always been -

Seeds are beneath our senses, first of all,

Since for our eyes primordials are too small. 100

Briefly I’ll demonstrate their subtlety:

Some creatures are so small that, cut in three,

One can’t see them at all. Therefore surmise

How small their guts are, or their hearts, their eyes,

Their limbs, their joints! Consider, too, the seeds,

Besides, whereby their souls and minds must needs

Be fashioned. They are minuscule as well.

Moreover, what sends out an acrid smell –

Absinthe, panacea, wormwood, centaury –

When you just pinch it lightly, you will see … 110

…But other images, as you should know,

In many manners flitter to and fro.

Invisible and bodiless. Unless

You think they wander through that wilderness

Alone, however, there are some which fly,

Of their accord created, in the sky

Fashioned in countless shapes. The clouds pack tight

While all those images become a blight

Upon the calm world, ruffling the air,

For Giants’ faces often are seen there, 120

Casting long shadows, while across the sun

Mountains and rocks are sometimes seen to run,

A monstrous beast then dragging clouds behind

Becoming shapes of every different kind.

Now learn how easily and swiftly they

Are spawned, flow off from things and pass away…

…For something always streams from the outside

Of things, which they discharge, then they may glide

Through other things, as they would go through glass,

But when through stone and wood it tries to pass. 130

It’s cracked and therefore it’s impossible for it

To send an image back. When a tight-knit

And polished glass, though, or some similar thing,

It meets, that crack would not be happening:

The smoothness rescues it, and it is thus

That all the likenesses flow back to us.

Place something near a mirror suddenly –

Its image will appear: thus you may see

The shapes and textures from a body flow:

Thus many images will swiftly grow 140

From bodies. It is such a speedy birth!

Just as the sun must send down to the earth

A massive host of lights summarily

So that its beams may be perpetually

At work upon the world, in the same way

There must be sent immediately an array

Of images most multifariously

To all parts of the world summarily.

However to a glass we turn a thing,

It shows both form and hue resembling 150

That object. Though a clear sky in a twink

Turns turbid with a face as black as ink

As though the darkness was unleashed from Hell

And filled the heavens’ mighty vaults pell-mell.

And dreadful clouds rise from the darkest night

While up above looms the black face of Fright,

How small the image is no-one can say

Or reason out. Come now, how swiftly they

Are borne up in the air as on they glide,

But one short hour wasted in their ride 160

To any region each one plans to reach.

In verses short and sweet I now will teach

You of them all, because a swan’s brief key

Is sweeter than a crane’s cacophony

Among the South Wind’s clouds. So, first of all,

We often note slight objects made of small

Bodies are swift, as are the heat and light

Of the sun, whose primal elements are slight.

They’re beaten, as it were, and hurried straight

Along the air and do not hesitate, 170

Driven by blows behind them. Light dogs light,

Successively making things yet more bright.

Thus through an unimaginable space

Must images have the ability to race

In seconds: a slight push far at their back

Hurries them forward, keeping them on track:

They’re borne along with such rapidity

As well, their texture of such rarity

That there’s no object which they can’t invade

While oozing, as it were, as they’re conveyed 180

Along the intervening air. Besides,

If bodies send, from deep in their insides,

Small particles just like the heat and light

Of sun, and they are seen in their swift flight

Through heaven in one instant, taking wing

Over the sea and land and showering

The sky, what then of those which stand outside,

Prepared, with nothing, once they have been shied

Away, to check them? Don’t you see how fast

And further they must go through such a vast 190

Expanse just when the sun begins to strew  

Its rays? What seems particularly true

In showing how fast images move about

Is, when the skies at night begin to spout

Their bright rain, all the stars immediately

Are reproduced in all their radiancy

In water down on earth. It’s now quite clear

How swiftly from the heavens down to here

On earth images fall. We realize

That there are particles that strike our eyes 200

And make us see, and odours constantly

Oozing from objects, as frigidity

From rivers, heat from sun and ocean’s spray

Of waves which gnaws the harbour walls away.

And various voices constantly resound

All through the air, and sometimes there’ll be found 

A salty taste when we stroll on the shore.

When wormwood’s being blended, furthermore,

Its bitter stings us. Thus it’s plain to see

That particles are carried streamingly 210

Through every region with incessant speed,

For we have feelings always and indeed

May smell and hear. Besides, what we can feel

In darkness with our hands light will reveal

To be the same as what we felt. Thus we

May gather that the self-same agency

Produces touch and sight. Thus if we feel

A square in darkness, what does light reveal

Except its image? What, then, causes sight

Is images, without which nothing might 220

Be seen. They’re born and tossed around and spread

Into so many regions, as I’ve said,

But since we can distinguish everything

With eyes alone, wherever we may bring

Our vision, everything affects our sight

With shape and hue; the image brings to light

The gap between our eyes and it. Once cast,

It drives along the air that will have passed

Between them: through our eyes this air then flows

And gently rubs the pupils as it goes, 230

And then it comes about that we may see

How far away each object has to be.

The longer that the breeze against our eyes

Will last, the further from our gaze it lies.

All these events occur so rapidly

That distance and object are instantly

Perceived. It should not come as a surprise

That all the images that strike our eyes

Cannot be singly seen and yet we see

The very things themselves. For thus, when we 240

Are plagued by wind and cold or wintry weather,

We undergo their onsets all together,

Not one by one, and thus we get to know

How we become affected by a blow,

As though there were some outside agency

Attacking us. And, furthermore, if we

Should place a finger-tip upon a stone;

It is the stone’s periphery alone

We feel and not the hue. Come, then, see why

Beyond the glass an image we may spy 250

Deep down within, just like the things outside

In their true shape, as when a door may slide

Open, allowing us to see within,

For there’s a two-fold air, which has a twin,

That forms the sight. The air comes into sight

Inside the posts, then both, at left and right,

Are at the doors, and then a light is there,

Brushing our eyes, and then the other air,

Then outside in their true shape, objects peered

Upon. When the glass’s image has appeared 260

Before our eyes and thrusts along the air

Between it and our eyes, which we see there

Before we’ve seen the glass, but once we’ve seen

That glass, the image that from us has been

Carried reaches the glass and then is cast

Back to our eyes and drives on, rolling fast,

Another air ahead, and this we see

Before itself, and thus it seems to be

Far from the glass… …Each thing, then, comes to pass

By means of those two airs. Now, in the glass 270

The right side of the limbs is seen to be

Upon the left, returning shakily,

Forced backwards in a line that’s not awry,

As one whose plaster mask is not yet dry,

Who hits it on a beam or column where

It keeps its shape as it stays clinging there,

Reversed, and thus the eye upon the right

Seems left, the left seems right. An image might

From glass to glass some few times be passed round,

Because whatever objects can be found 280

Hiding back in the house, though far removed

In twists and turns, yet they can still be proved

Able to be brought forth and seen to be,

Via each glass, in the vicinity.

The image gleams across from glass to glass

Where left is right, though then the left will pass

Back to its proper place. And you should know

The glass’s tiny sides, streamlined to show

Our sides, send back the images with right

Now on the right, either because their sight

Is passed from glass to glass, twice struck away,

Back to ourselves or, at the mirror, they 290

Wheel round since by its curvature they’re taught

To turn to us. It well may be your thought

That lockstep with us in close harmony

They move and imitate the way that we

Deport ourselves, chiefly since, once you stray

From one part of the mirror, straightaway

No image is returned, for Nature’s force

Makes everything leap back upon its course

At equal angles, and the sun likewise

Is able to affect our gazing eyes 300

And blind us, for its rays are very strong,

Able to drive the images along

Down through the flawless air, thus injuring

Our eyes. We find a harsh sheen blemishing

Our eyes because the sun holds many a seed

Of fire, which causes injury indeed.

Also, whatever jaundiced people view,

Whose frames are yellow, has a yellow hue

Since from us many yellow seeds exude

To meet the images, with many glued 310

Within the eye, and by contagion dye

It with a yellowness. Again, we spy

From dark recesses objects which appear

In light because when this dark air comes near

And holds our open eyes, the shining air

Follows, disseminating everywhere.

The other air sinceit in nimbleness

And qualities of strength and tininess

Excels the other. Filling our eyes with light,

Which once were blocked by air as black as night, 320

It opens them: then films of things ensue,

Provoking vision – which we cannot do

With objects in the dark, out of the light,

Since dark air follows, blocking out our sight,

Filling each gap so that no film can be

Cast in the eyes to hurt them. When we see

The squared towers of a city far away

They often present a roundness because they

Seem obtuse in each angle or maybe

Aren’t seen at all, because we do not see 330

Their blow, because through countless strokes the air

Makes blunt the angle’s point, which had seemed square.

Each angle thus has shunned the sense, and so

The stones appear spheroidal, just as though

Upon a potter’s wheel, not like things near

And truly round, though: yet they still appear

Vaguely so. Now our shadow, when the day

Is sunny, seems to imitate the way

We move and follows us, if you allow

That air bereft of radiance can somehow 340

Copy our gait. That which we once believed

A shadow is just air which is bereaved

 Of light. Indeed the earth occasionally

Is reft of light when, in our wanderings, we

Obscure its path. If there’s a place on earth

That we abandon, we replace its dearth

With light: what was a shadow still will stay

And dog us in the same unswerving way.

Now rays are always flooding in, while rays

Of old disperse, as to a fire’s blaze 350

Wool’s drawn. The earth is spoiled accordingly

Of light with ease and just as easily

Washes away the shadows. We, however,

Don’t say the eyes are cheated, for it’s ever

Their task to note where shadows and where light

Are placed, whether the gleams are just as bright

Always and whether this shadow is the same

As that one and whether the facts we claim

Are really true. The mind must referee

These facts by reasoning. For how can we 360

Determine Nature’s truth with just our eyes?

So, for the fault of minds do not chastise

Our vision. When we sail upon the sea,

Our ship, though borne along, seems stationary.

But when it stands in harbour, we assume

It’s moving. Hills and meadows seem to zoom

As under billowing sails we pass them by.

Within the heavens’ caverns way up high

The stars seem stock-still, though they go about

In constant motion as they’re rising out    370

And dropping though the sky. Similarly

The sun and moon to us seem stationary,

Though clearly they’re In motion, as we’ve seen

Through reasoning. A tract of sea between

Two mountains far away provides egress

For ships, but they appear to coalesce

Into one island. When boys cease their play

Of spinning, halls and columns seem to sway,

Making them think the roofs will tumble down.

When Nature starts to raise the sun’s bright crown 380

And tremulous fires, to top, apparently,

The mountains (for the sun then seems to be

Tingeing them with its fire), in fact they are

Scarcely two thousand arrow-shots afar,

Or scarce five hundred shots of a dart, although

Between the mountains and the sea below

The massive tracts of ether lies the sea

Where dwell profusions of humanity

And savage beasts. Between the stones there lies

A shallow pool that shows to human eyes 390

A view of earth below that’s just as far

As is the view that reaches every star

In heaven; in this way you seem to spy

Both clouds and constellations, lying high

Above, below the earth. As we may course

Across a stream, we find our galloping horse

Sticks fast as down we gaze, but then we find

Some form or other thrusts it from behind,

And so, wherever we may cast our eyes

Across the stream, each object onward flies, 400

It seems, the way we do. A porch will stand,

Well-propped all over, parallel and grand,

On equal columns, and then, when we see

Its whole extent from one extremity,

It joins the ceiling with the floor, the right

Side with left, it reaches an obscure height,

Contracting gradually. To sailors’ eyes

The sun out of the waves appears to rise

And into them be buried, since they view

 Nothing but sea and sky. But to those who 410

Don’t know the sea the vessels, when they stay

In port, appear to lean upon the spray

Of water, powerless about the stern.

The portion of the oars that’s raised, we learn,

Above the waves is straight, the rudders too.

But other parts, the parts that sank right through

The water-line seem both broken and bent,

Apparently inclined in an ascent

And turned the other way, seeming to float

Upon the waves. And when the winds we note 420

Scatter the clouds at night, they seem to sail

Among the stars and blaze a different trail

From their intent. But if beneath one eye

We press a hand, the objects which we spy

Seem double, as bright flowers do as well

And as the furniture round which we dwell,

Men’s faces, bodies, and, when in repose

Our slumbering limbs are bound, yet we suppose

We move and are awake: in darkest night

We think we see the sun and bright daylight; 430

Although we’re shut within a room, our eyes

See changes in the rivers, oceans, skies

And hills; we cross the plains on foot and hear

New sounds, although around us night’s austere

Silence abounds and speaks to us though we

Hear nothing. Yet more wonders do we see,

Which try to violate belief – in vain,

Since most of them deceive us, for we feign

To see what’s hidden. Nought’s more arduous

Than separating what is dubious 440

And what’s plain fact. Again, should one suppose

That there is nothing that is known, he knows

Not whether this is known at all, since he

Confesses ignorance. Accordingly,

I won’t contend with him, who’s set his head

Where both his feet should be. I’ll ask, instead,

“What is it to know and not to know in turn?

Are you aware of that? And did you learn

What spawned the truth and what has proved to be

True in differentiating credibility 450

From what is false?” He has not known indeed

Of truth before. You’ll find out that truth’s seed

Is in the senses, which can’t be belied.

For we would have to find a worthier guide

Than them, which through our own authority

Would distance falsehood from veracity.

But there is none. Shall reason, then, hold sway

From some false sense or other and gainsay

Those senses? Reason was spawned, after all,

Out of these senses, and if these should fall 460

From truth, all reason’s false. Should the ears blame

The eyes, touch blame the ears? Should, by the same

Reasoning, flavor blame the mouth, the eyes

And nose doing the same? Do not surmise

That this is so! To everything a role

Has been assigned, dividing from the whole

Each part, and thus we must perceive the cold,

The hot, the soft apart, and we must hold

As separate all colours. Taste as well

Has its own power and every sound and smell. 470

No sense, therefore, can have dominion

Over another, and there is not one

That blames itself, since it must always be

Deemed sure of equal credibility.

So what at any time these senses show

Is always true. And if we cannot know

Why objects close at hand seemed to be square,

Though rounded when afar, we should, though bare

Of reasoning, pretend for every shape

A cause rather than let the obvious things escape 480

And harm our primal faith in senses, lest

We wreck all those foundations on which rest

Our life and safety. Reason then would sink –

Even our very life would in a twink

Collapse unless our credibility

We kept in all our senses, keen to flee

All headlong heights and every dangerous place,

Anxious instead to seek with quickened pace

Their opposites. All words are hollow when

They’re spoken contradicting sense. Again, 3490

If a builder mistakes with his first plumb-line

And if the square he uses won’t align

With all the lines that dovetail perfectly,

Ans should the level sway but minimally,

The whole shebang becomes incongruous,

All back to front and inharmonious,

Some pieces wonky: in fact the whole thing,

Betrayed because of faulty reckoning,

Will soon fall down: our daily living, too,

Will find its calculations gone askew 500

When all our sense is false. Now easily

I’ll show how senses each their assets see.

All sounds are heard, once to the ears conveyed,

And strike the sense with their own body’s aid.

For even sounds and voice, we must confess,

Are earthly since they’re able to impress

Themselves upon the sense. And furthermore,

The voice may scream and make the voice-box sore

With scraping and will loudly exit through

The narrow gap and prime germs will ensue. 510

The opening of the mouth is scraped as well

With air blown outward as the cheeks then swell.

From earthly elements, therefore, it’s plain

The sounds originate, with power to pain.

And you cannot be unaware that they

Are capable of taking much away

From bodies and that much of human strength

Diminishes through talking at great length

From early dawn to dusk, especially

When all the words spill out ear-splittingly. 520

The man who talks a lot loses something

From his own body, so the voice must spring

From earthly elements. And, furthermore,

The roughness of the germs must answer for

The roughness of the voice, just as indeed

A sound that’s smooth’s created from some seed

That’s also smooth. The same form is not found

In trumpets rumbling with a roaring sound

Or a lute’s raucous boom or many a swan

Upon the icy shores of Helicon, 530

Wailing its liquid dirge. Thus when we force

Our voices from our diaphragm, the source

Of sound, our nimble tongue articulates

The sounds, while with the lips it formulates

The words, and when the space is short between

The starting-point from where the sound has been

And where we hear it, we must hear it plain,

Marked clearly, for the voice will then maintain

Its form and keep its shape. But if the space

Is longer than is fitting, in that case 540

The words across a deal of air must spout

And be disordered as they stream about

Across the winds, and so you may discern

A sound, yet what the words mean you can’t learn.

The voice, then, which we hear in some degree

Is hampered, troubled by adversity

And, furthermore, when once a single word

Departs the crier’s mouth, it will be heard

By all, and thus we hear it scattering

Through many voices, thus partitioning 550

Itself for separate ears that they might hear

The form they’ve planted and a tone that’s clear.

But any part that does not strike the ears

Themselves is borne beyond and disappears,

Lost in the winds. A part returns a sound,

From solid porticoes forced to rebound,

And mocks the ear with just a parody

Of words from time to time. Consequently,

When friends have wandered from their chosen track,

You may explain to all how rocks gives back 560

Like words out of the mountains’ wilderness

As we call out to them. I’ve heard no less

Than six or seven voices that were thrown

From certain places when one voice alone

Had been sent out. The mountains would vibrate

Against each other; dwellers nearby state

That nymphs and goat-foot satyrs there abound,

And fauns which with their nightly antic sound

Will often break the silence, while lute-strings

And, from the Pan-pipe, winning murmurings 570

Pour out and all the farmers far and wide

Hear Pan, who shakes his head from side to side

And runs his lips across the reeds, in case

The flute should cease to bless this woodland place

With music. Other prodigies as well

They tell of lest folks fancy that they dwell

In lonely spots, by the divinities

Themselves forsaken. That’s why they tell these

Tall stories. Or some other cause maybe

Encourages them in their avidity        580

To pour into folks’ ears, as do all men,

All kinds of fabrications. Then again,

You need not wonder how it comes about

That through those places where we can’t make out

Clear objects sounds may reach the ears. For we

Have often seen people in colloquy,

Although the doors are closed: through a bent slot

A voice can pass unharmed, but germs cannot

Because they’re ruptured, although they can pass

Through apertures that are straight, like those in glass, 590

Across which images fly. And, furthermore,

A voice is split in avenues galore

Because new voices can be generated,

One from another, once one has created

A second one, just as a spark will spread

And cause a multitude of fires. That said,

Places there are where voices can’t be found,

Hidden behind them, scattered all around.

Alive with noise. And yet likenesses all,

Once sent, move straight, and thus inside a wall 600

One can see nothing, yet can comprehend

The utterances other folk might send

From its far side. The voice itself will sound

Muffled, however, as you wander round

A shut-up house, and strike the ears confused

And, rather than the words that we are used

To hear, we hear just sound. The tongue, whereby

We savour, and the palate will supply

Us with more thoughtful work. At first we feel

A flavour when we’re chewing on our meal, 610

As one would squeeze a sponge: the food then flows

Across the winding pathways as it goes

Along the palate. When the food is sweet

The taste’s delightful, as its elements treat

Each spot as round the tongue they’re trickling.

However, they can cause us pain and sting

Our senses when they’re rough. But next, the pleasure

Stops at the palate, for it has no measure

Once down the throat the food has plunged to scatter

Around the body. And it doesn’t matter 620

What food is fed when you digest it well

And keep the stomach healthy. Now I’ll tell

How some find in some foods a bitter flavour

While others will luxuriate in the savour.

Why is there such a difference between

These people? Well, one kind of food is seen

As poison, as a certain snake will waste

Away when it’s been touched by just a taste

Of human spit and by autophagy

Expires. Poison to humanity, 630

But not to goats and quails, is hellebore –

It fattens them! What we have said before

You should recall, that seeds are coalesced

In many ways. All creatures that ingest

Their food are outwardly unlike and show

A multitude of shapes. Since this is so,

The intervals and meshes (which we call

Their apertures) must be diverse in all

Their members, even where the palate lies.

Each of them has to be a different size, 640

Some small, some large, some square and some with three

Corners, though some with more; many must be

Rounded. Depending on the association

Between the shapes of things and their migration,

Each aperture’s own shape must deviate

From others and, as textures will dictate,

The paths must vary. What tastes sugary

To one tastes nonetheless unsavoury

To someone else. Smooth bodies must be sent

Into the former as emollient; 650

Contrariwise, with other folk who find

It bitter rough, hooked elements must wind

Into the gullet. Therefore easily

We may interpret individually

Each case. When fever with a great excess

Of bile should through a person’s frame progress

Or he by some other infirmity

Is struck, the body suffers anarchy,

The germs all turned around; it happens then

That bodies, fir before to cause in men 660

Sensation, can’t do so, for they create

A bitter taste: both tastes coagulate

In honey’s savour – you’ve heard me maintain

This often. Now to you I will explain

How smell impacts the nose. There are indeed

Many things from which torrents of smells proceed,

And we must think they scatter and are sped

In all directions, but all smells are wed

To different creatures, since they deviate

In form. And therefore bees will divagate, 670

Drawn by the scent of honey, through the air,

While vultures will fly off to anywhere,

Drawn by the scent of carrion. A pack

Of hounds will set you on the beaten track

 Of savage beasts. The Roman citadel

Was rescued when the white geese caught the smell

Of man. Each creature’s given a different scent,

Therefore, that leads it to its nourishment

And makes it shun foul poison: in this way

Its breed is then preserved for many a day. 680

They differ in how far they are conveyed,

Although there is no smell that can be made

To go as far as sound (I need not write

Of what assails the eyes, affecting sight).

It wanders slowly, gradually to die

Too soon, then is dispersed into the sky –

With difficulty it is sent from well

Within, and, since everything seems to smell

Stronger when broken or when it is ground

Or vanishes in fire, odour is bound 690

To flow out of its depths and be set free;

And smell has larger elements, we see,

Than voice since it’s unable to pass through

Stone walls, as voice and sound commonly do.

And for this reason we can’t easily know

Whare scent is situated, for the blow

Grows cold as through the air its leisurely cruise

It takes and, when it brings to us its news,

Is far from hot. Therefore hounds often err

And cast for scent. This also can occur 700

In aspect whose hues do not always fit

All senses so that people’s eyes aren’t hit

With too much sting. Even lions dare not meet

The cockerel whose custom is to greet

The dawn with flapping wings and voice so clear:

They always think of flight because they fear

Those seeds which stab their eyes and terribly

Inflict great pain despite their bravery;

But either since they do not pierce our eyes

At all or, if they do, they can devise 710

Free exit, they don’t hurt us. Briefly I

Will tell what stirs the mind and teach whereby

It’s stirred. First, many images move around

In many ways, for everywhere they’re found:

They meld with ease in air because they’re thin,

Resembling the web that spiders spin

Or leaves of gold. In truth they are much more

Thin in their textures than those which explore

The eyes and reach the vision since they make

Their entrance through the body and awake 720

The mind’s thin substance and assail thereby

The sense. And thus it is that we espy

The Centaurs, Scyllas, dogs like Cerberus

And images of those from previous

Epochs, whose last remains rest in the ground,

For images of every kind are found

All over – some that rise spontaneously

Into the air while some are randomly

Thrown off from things, while others are combined

With their configurations. You won’t find 730

A living Centaur, since no entity

Like that has ever lived in history.

The images of man and horse, as we

Now recognize, meet accidentally

Because they’re fine and thin in form. The rest

Of images like this have all been blessed

With the same structure. Since they’re borne with speed

And are extremely light, as I indeed

Have said before, then any one of these

Fine images bestirs our mind with ease 740

Because the mind is thin and wonderfully

Easy to move. Now you may easily

Discern from how this happens as I say

That mind and eye must in a similar way

React. I’ve said that lions I’ve perceived

By means of images my eyes received,

So thus we’re sure the mind is equally

Moved by the images of all we see

Except that they are thinner. Nor is there

Another reason why, when daily care 750

Is lulled by sleep, our mind contrarily

Is conscious but that when we’re equally

Conscious, the images are the same as when

We slumbered but to such a degree that then

We seem to see a man devoid of breath,

A dead man mastered now by dust and death,

Because our senses are impeded through

The limbs and cannot tell false from what’s true.

Moreover, when asleep, the memory

Lies calm and tranquil and won’t disagree 760

That he the mind has seen alive is not

But long has lain beneath his funeral plot.

That images can move and rhythmically

Wiggle their limbs is no surprise to me –

In sleep they seem to do this. When one dies,

A second image takes its place and lies

In another state, changed by the former one.

This must be thought to be rapidly done.

So great is their velocity and store

Of things, and there are particles galore 770

Of sense at any moment to supply

The images. I must be clear: first, why

Does the mind think of some whim immediately?

Do the images wait and then, as soon as we

Want it, is there a picture they supply,

Be it the earth, the ocean or the sky?

Does Nature at a word prepare them, then –

Processions, battles, feasts, parlays of men?

Meanwhile, though, different thoughts in that same place

Are happening. Moreover, when we face 780

Those images in dreams that gently sway,

Arms matching feet in time, what should we say?

That they’re well-trained in choreography

And through the night make sport in revelry.

Or maybe it’s because, when we have heard

In just a twinkling a single word,

Many times are lurking , which our reason knows

Are there, at any time keen to impose

Their presence in any vicinity.

The images are thin, and so we see 790

The mind cannot exactly recognize

Each one of them unless it really tries

To squint. Except for those for which it’s made

Ready, all of the images must fade

Away. They hope to see what happens when

They’ve made their preparations; indeed then

That follows. Don’t you see that, when the eyes

See something thin, they try to organize

Themselves, without which we can’t clearly see?

But even with what can be visibly 800

Perceived, it will be clear that, if the mind

Neglects to pay attention, you will find

It seems so far removed. Then why should we

Wonder because the mind shows laxity

In all but what it’s keen on? We assume

A lot from little, furthermore, and doom

Ourselves to falsehood. And occasionally

We find the image following to be

A different kind: a woman, then, may change

Into a man, or there may be a range 810

Of different shapes and ages which ensue.

Sleep and oblivion, though, see that we do

Not wonder. Shun this error fearfully:

Don’t think our eyes were made that we might see

The things before us, and do not surmise

That, placed above our feet, our calves and thighs

Enable us to walk, or, furthermore,

The hands, arms and forearms were structured for

Our daily use, because this explanation

Seems such a twisted rationalization. 820

For nothing in the body was assigned

To help us, but what has been born, you’ll find,

Creates the use. There was no sight before

The eyes were born, no speaking, furthermore,

Before the tongue was made, for its foundation

Existed long before articulation,

And ears preceded sound and, as I guess,

All of our limbs predated usefulness.

For they would not have grown up otherwise

To be of any use. Contrariwise,. 830

Hand-to-hand combat in bloodthirsty war

And mutilation happened long before

Bright spears went flying; men learned to evade

A wound in war before the shield was made.

To yield to longed-for rest, it must be said,

Goes back much further than a pliant bed.

And thirst preceded cups. Accordingly,

What we learned by familiarity

Was made foe the sake of use, we may suppose.

But of a very different class are those 840

Structured before their use was recognized.

The limbs and senses must be categorized

In this class. So I must repeat once more

That you can’t think that they were structured for

Their use. It should not stretch credulity

That all beasts seek their food spontaneously,

Untaught. For many bodies, as I’ve shown,

Are in so many ways from objects thrown,

But most from living creatures: they progress

Quickly and from their insides many press 850

Through sweat, wearily panting, and are blown

Out of the mouth. Thus Nature’s overthrown,

The body rarefied, and therefore pain

Ensues. Thus food is taken to sustain

The body with nutrition and create

More strength: the lust for food then will abate

Throughout the frame. Moisture goes everywhere

It’s needed. Bodies of heat are gathered there

Where moisture snuffs out all the blazing flame

So that the dry heat may not scorch the frame. 860

And thus our panting thirst is swilled away,

Our craving satisfied. I now will say

How we may walk whenever we have a mind

To do so and with every different kind

Of movement and what caused the urge to do it.

This is what I must tell you – listen to it!

First, images of movement hit the mind,

As I have said before. Not far behind

Comes will, for no-one does a thing until

Intelligence has first foreseen its will, 870

Which is within the mind. Thus when it starts

Its plan to make a move, at once it darts

Upon the mass of spirit that’s consigned

To the whole frame. Since spirit and the mind

Are closely linked, it’s managed easily –

The spirit strikes the frame sequentially,

The whole mass moving piecemeal. Furthermore,

The body then expands its every pore,

And air, so sensitive to movement, goes

In streams straight through the opened porticoes, 880

To even the very smallest entities

Within the body. So it is that these

Carry the body, each in its own way,

Just as the canvas and the wind convey

A ship. That such small things can shake about

So large a frame should not cause us to doubt

The facts. The wind, so gossamer-like, indeed

Can push a mighty galleon with great speed.

One hand and just one rudder can control

How fast it goes and steer to its chosen goal. 890

Machines move many bodies of great weight

While all their powers barely dissipate.

How slumber floods the frame with quietness

And takes stress from the heart I’ll now profess

In brief but honeyed verse, just as the swan

More sweetly trills than honking cranes upon

The passage of the sky. Lend me your ear

And a sagacious mind lest what you hear

You claim’s not possible and then depart

From me, showing a truth-repelling heart. 900

The power of spirit has been drawn away

When sleep appears, while part has gone astray,

Cast out, while another part has vanished deep

Inside, for then the limbs loosen in sleep.

The action of the spirit, there’s no doubt,

Sees to it that this feeling comes about,

And when sleep snuffs it out, why, then, we must

Assume it’s been disordered and then thrust

Abroad – not all, for then, deprived of breath,

The body would repose in endless death; 910

Since no part of the spirit, hidden, stays

Within the limbs, as ashes hide the blaze

Of fire, whence could that feeling be aflame

Once more summarily throughout the frame,

As sparks from hidden fires can arise?

How this can come to pass I’ll analyze,

And how the soul can be in disarray,

The body languid. See that what I say

Won’t scatter in the winds. Primarily,

Since air touches the body, it must be 920

Thumped by its frequent blows; and that is why

The majority of things are shielded by

Skin, shells or bark. As well, this air will thwack

Our insides as we breathe, then is drawn back.

Since we are beaten on both parts, therefore,

And through the tiny vents blows reach our core,

Our limbs start to collapse gradually.

For body and mind’s germs are disorderly.

Part of the mind’s cast out, a part subsides

Into the body’s regions, where it hides, 930

A third, drawn through the frame, cannot array

Itself with other parts in any way.

For Nature shuts off all communication,

All paths; when motions change, therefore, sensation

Hides deep. So, since there’s nothing there to stay

The limbs, the body starts to waste away,

The limbs to languish; arms and eyelids drop,

And, as one starts to lie down, hamstrings flop.

Sleep follows food, acting the same as air

As through the veins it’s doled out everywhere. 940

Indeed by far the greatest drowsiness

Comes when one’s full of food or weariness –

Most elements are then in disarray,

Dulled by long effort, and, in the same way,

At a greater depth part of the soul is cast

Together, and its volume is more vast,

More split up in itself and more dispersed.

Whatever things for which we have a thirst,

Whatever in the past has occupied

Our minds, those interests mainly coincide 950

With what we dream of: counsellors, then, seem

To plead their cause and make laws when they dream,

Generals go to war and sailors try

To battle winds, while with my writing I

Am occupied. Other activities

Often engage men with such fantasies.

Whenever games have held somebody’s mind

For several days on end, we usually find

That, even when these men no longer gaze

At them, there still exist some passageways               960

Within the mind where images can go.

They see all this for many days, and so

When even awake, they see lithe dancers still

And listen to the lyre’s rippling trill

And speaking strings, beholding that same scene

With all the glories that the stage’s sheen

Affords. So great, then, is this will and zeal

Which not just men but all live creatures feel.

In fact horses of mettle you may see

Perspiring In their sleep and constantly    970

Panting, as though with their last strength they vie

To win the palm as from the gates they fly,

While hounds in gentle sleep will often bay

And kick and snuff the air, just as if they

Were chasing a wild beast, then, if brought back

From sleep, they run around as if to track

 The image of a stag they see in flight

Until they have recovered and set right

Their error. Pet dogs leap up from the ground,

Shaking themselves from sleep, as if they’ve found 980

An unknown face. The fiercer is the breed,

The greater while it slumbers is the need

To show its fierceness. But birds will take flight,

Disturbing all the holy groves at night,

If, as they’re sleeping, hawks chase them and fly

At them in hostile manner. By and By

The minds of men, which in reality

Accomplish many deeds, similarly

Do so in dreams: for kings win victories,

Are captured and begin hostilities, 990

Cry out as though their throats were, then and there,

Being cut, many struggle hard, groan with despair

And with their howling make the region ring

As if they were attacked by the vicious sting

Of a panther’s or a lion’s jaws. Again,

Many talk of weighty matters, while some men

Perjure themselves, while many folk have died

And many others, too, are terrified

Of falling off a mountain - when they wake,

Like those deprived of senses, how they shake 1000

In turmoil, getting back but narrowly

The feelings that they’d had just formerly!

Some sit beside a stream or pleasant spring,

Thirsty, and end up all but swallowing

It all. And many often think they lie

Beside a piss-pot, and therefore let fly

Their urine, lifting up their clothes, and steep

The splendid coverlets – all in their sleep!

Again, those people who first feel inside

Themselves the semen that the choppy tide              1010

Of youth has placed there sees some element

Flying abroad and seeming to have sent

A lovely face which gnaws the parts which swell

And stain their clothes. As I said formerly,

This seed is stirred up when maturity

Strengthens the body. Different sources lead

To different outcomes. But the human seed

Is drawn forth but by man’s ability.

Once it is brought out from its sanctuary, 1020

It’s taken through the body, gathering

Among parts of the loins and kindling

The genitals. Excited by the seed,

These parts are nourished by an urgent need

To send it whither craving urge has aimed;

The body seeks out what with love has maimed

The mind. We’ve all received a wound, and so

The blood jets from where we’ve received the blow,

And, if he’s still nearby, the enemy

Is inundated with our blood, and he 1030

Who’s suffered Venus’s wounds, be he a lad

With soft limbs or a woman who is mad

For sex, the lover’s adamant to go

Wherever is the well-spring of that blow

The lover targets, yearning to unite,

Body to body, to its mute delight.

This is our Venus: from her comes love’s name;

And from the first her sweetness’ dewdrops came

Into the heart, and then ice-cold distress,

For if your love is absent, nonetheless 1040

Its images are there, and the sweet name

Sounds in your ears. But you should, all the same,

Avoid such images and scare away

Love’s food and turn your mind another way

And cast your gathered liquid anywhere

And not retain it, harbouring your care

For only one, avoiding pain, whose sore

Quickens and will with feeding evermore

Continue, for the madness daily grows,

The grief as well, if you don’t find new blows 1050

And drop the old, eventually remedying

These too when you again go wandering

With Venus or else turn your thoughts elsewhere.

The man avoiding love still has his share

Of Venus, for he takes her gains while he

Avoids the penalty. For certainly

The pleasure’s purer when a man is well

Than when he’s lovesick. There’s a stormy swell

That stirs the act of love, its course unsure,

Ever uncertain as to which allure 1060

It first should savour. Lovers closely press

Together, causing some carnal distress,

Teeth crushing lips with kisses, for the joy

Is not unmixed, while secret stings annoy

The very thing, whatever it may be,

That caused these frenzied germs originally.

But Venus lightly tempers this distress

And curbs the bites with soothing playfulness;

For herein lies the promise that the flame

Will be extinguished even from the frame 1070

Whence first it came, but Nature will profess

This is not so; the more that we possess

In love, the more we burn with the intent

For lust. Our bodies take in nourishment,

And since these have fixed parts, we’re easily

Supplied with bread and water. But we see

In human faces and their lovely glow

Nothing but slender images, although

This wretched hope is often carried off

By winds. In dreams, when someone yearns to quaff 1080

A drink when thirsty, but no drink is there

To quench the burning that he needs must bear,

Within a rushing river, even though

He drinks from it, he still feels thirst: and so

In love games Venus makes a mockery

Of their participants with imagery;

Lovers cannot be sated with a gaze

Nor from their partners’ tender limbs erase

Something while with their hands they aimlessly

Wander about their bodies. Finally, 1090

When clasped together, just about to yield

To youthful climax while the woman’s field

Is being sown by Venus, greedily

They share their mouths’ saliva, heavily

Breathing, teeth pressed to lips – but all in vain:

Nothing can be rubbed off, nor can they gain

Entrance and, thus absorbed, become as one:

For sometimes they desire such union,

It seems. And therefore eagerly they cling,

With slackened limbs, to Venus’ coupling, 1100

Delighting in the power of ecstasy.

Then when the gathered lust has finally

Burst from the loins, a tiny breathing-space

Occurs: the frenzy then recurs apace,

And when what they desire they can’t attain,

They can’t find anything to ease the pain.

The secret wound in such uncertainty

Still plagues them. Think of this additionally:

This labour kills them as they waste away;

As well, they live under another’s sway. 1110

Meanwhile one’s lost most of his property,

Which now consists only of tapestry

From Babylon. His duty languishing,

His reputation’s sick and tottering.

Upon his mistress’ perfumed feet there shimmer

Sicyonian slippers, massive emeralds glimmer,

Their green light set in gold, while constantly

He wears a tunic purple as the sea

Well used to soaking up Queen Venus’ sweat;

A headscarf or perhaps a coronet 1120

Replaced the fortune that his father made,

Or else a cloak or silks that were conveyed

From Ceos or Alinda, while chez lui

Feasts are prepared with splendid finery

And food, drapes, garlands, games to entertain

The guests, unguents, great jars of wine – in vain!

For when all this enchantment’s at its height,

A drop of bitterness will come to bite

The wretch amidst the joy. Perhaps a sting

Of conscience will tell him he’s languishing 1140

In sloth or that all his debauchery

Will kill him, or his mistress craftily

Has shot a dubious word at him, now set

Within his yearning heart, the fire yet

Alive, or that too freely she makes eyes

At someone else (or thus he will surmise)

And slyly smile. In love that brings success

These ills appear, and all is happiness.

But with a bootless one, such ills arise

In spades, which, even when you close your eyes, 1150

You see. Be watchful, then, as I have said,

Lest you into the snares of love should tread –

For it is easier to cut straight through

The powerful knots of Venus, although you

May dodge the danger, should you not impede

Your progress and do not observe the need

To check the faults of her you want. For when

They’re blinded by desire, this is what men

Are wont to do – they credit to those who

Are dear to them advantages they do                                     1160

Not have. The unattractive women they

Will think of as delightful and display

Their favour of them. One lover will tease

Another one and urge him to appease

Venus as one involved in an affair

That’s shameful, while he does not have a care

For his own monstrous faults. A jet-black wench

He calls nut-brown, one lax and with a stench

His sweet disorder; Pallas’ eyes are green

And so a girl who has green eyes is seen    1160

As “little Pallas”, one stringy and dry

Is a gazelle, another, four-foot high,

Is one of the Graces, full of repartee,

A large one stunning with great dignity,

A stutterer’s a lisper, he’ll tell us,

A mute one’s modest, while an odious

Gossip’s a little squib, a girl who might

Be just too thin to live “my spare delight”

Is called, one who’s consumptive willowy;

One with enormous breasts turns out to be 1170

Ceres while suckling Bacchus, one whose nose

Is short is called Silena, while all those

With thick lips are “all kiss” – too long a list

To go through! Let her be the loveliest,

However, and let Venus radiate

From her, but there are others, I can state,

And we have lived so far without that one

Who does what unattractive girls have done –

Disgusting odours she will pour upon

Her body while her slave-girls scurry on 1180

And laugh behind her back – we’re well aware

Of this. But a lover in the cold night air,

Shut out, upon the steps sets a bouquet

And on the haughty doorposts he will spray

Marjoram oil and, weeping, on the door

Press lovesick kisses. But if he should score

A bid to enter, he’d find sickening

That whiff and seek a decent way to sling

His hook, thus ending his long malady,

So deeply felt, and the stupidity 1190

He now condemns, because he since has learned

That there’s no single mortal who has earned

The praise he gave her. Venuses well know

All this, and thus to greater pains they go

To hide such scenes of life from those they aim

To bind in chains of love. But, all the same,

It’s bootless, since you can attempt to see

It all and find the source of all that glee.

And if you find her nice, you can concede

That it’s mere human weakness and find need 1200

To overlook. It’s not always the case

A woman feigns a passionate embrace

With moistened kisses. Often she will act

Straight from the heart, while hankering, in fact,

For mutual pleasure and a love affair

That lasts, or else the creatures of the air,

Sheep, wild beasts, cattle, mares would not submit

To sex if their own ardour did not fit

Their nature when in heat. Do you not see,

When two are bound in mutual ecstasy,    1210

How in their common chains they’re tortured so?

Dogs often at the crossroads, keen to go

Their separate ways, will pull with all their might,

While in love’s fervent couplings they’re held tight.

But they’d not be in this strange situation

Unless they felt that mutual exaltation

That trapped them. Now in the mingling of the seed,

If she should have more power suddenly,

The child will be like her: contrarily 1220

It will resemble him should he eject

A stronger seed. But if in its aspect

It’s like them both, in growing, it possesses

The blood of each of them which coalesces.

For as in ecstasy they breathed together,

Venus stirred up the seeds, not knowing whether

Either holds sway. Sometimes a child will be

Like his grandfather or, quite possibly,

Even his great-grandfather in its mien,

Because its parents oftentimes will screen 1230

The many first-beginnings which are blent

In many ways and passed on, by descent,

Through time. Thus there is a miscellany

Of forms remade – the look, the voice’s key,

The hair, as with our bodies. Girls spring, too,

Out of their father’s seed, while boys ensue

Out of their mother’s seed, for each creates

A birth: the one a child approximates

In looks has more than half. This you may see

In either sex. It’s no divinity 1240

Who drives away a man’s productive force

And sees that he will never be the source

Of darling children, living in the throes

Of barren wedlock, as most men suppose,

Sorrowfully on their altars sprinkling

The blood of many beasts while offering

Their sacrifices that abundantly

They’ll fill their wives with seed: it’s vanity

To weary all the gods, since he must heed

That he’s infertile, for maybe his seed 1250

Is too thick (or too thin). The thin won’t stick

And, unproductive, flows away; the thick,

Too closely clotted, does not reach its mark

Or, if it does, it cannot cause a spark

On women’s seed. For sexual harmony

Seems very varied: some men’s potency

Is great; some women can with ease conceive;

Many in early marriage can’t receive

Productive seeds but can eventually

Be favoured with the gift of progeny, 1260

And many men who had a barren wife

Then find her fruitful – thus domestic life

Is blessed with children, who one day will tend

To his old age. It’s vital that seeds blend

For generation’s sake, the watery

And thick alike. It’s vital, too, that we

Eat well, for some foods cause the seeds to grow

Too thick while with some others it will go

To waste. How we have sex is vital, too –

It’s thought that birth’s more likely to ensue 1270

Through doggy-style, whereby the seeds may dwell

Where they should be. But it is never well

For wives to wiggle about lasciviously,

Thwarting conception as they pleasurably

Jiggle their bums and turn the plough away

From the furrow – thus they make the seeds betray

Their function. Since it is their occupation,

Whores do this to avoid the situation

Of pregnancy and please the men who hire

Their services: this amatory fire 1280

Wives do not seem to want. It happens, too,

Sometimes an ugly woman’s loved, not due

To Venus or some god, for sometimes she

By her own conduct and her decency,

Neatness and cleanliness accustoms you

To live with her. For it is habit, too,

That causes love, because a frequent blow,

However light, will finally bring you low.

A stone, when water, falling constantly,

Hits it will wear away eventually 1290

The end of De Rerum Natura: Book IV