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Of The Nature of Things by Lucretius [Titus Lucretius Carus]

Part 5 out of 5

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And often, lounging with friends in the soft grass
Beside a river of water, underneath
A big tree's branches, merrily they'd refresh
Their frames, with no vast outlay- most of all
If the weather were smiling and the times of the year
Were painting the green of the grass around with flowers.
Then jokes, then talk, then peals of jollity
Would circle round; for then the rustic muse
Was in her glory; then would antic Mirth
Prompt them to garland head and shoulders about
With chaplets of intertwined flowers and leaves,
And to dance onward, out of tune, with limbs
Clownishly swaying, and with clownish foot
To beat our mother earth- from whence arose
Laughter and peals of jollity, for, lo,
Such frolic acts were in their glory then,
Being more new and strange. And wakeful men
Found solaces for their unsleeping hours
In drawing forth variety of notes,
In modulating melodies, in running
With puckered lips along the tuned reeds,
Whence, even in our day do the watchmen guard
These old traditions, and have learned well
To keep true measure. And yet they no whit
Do get a larger fruit of gladsomeness
Than got the woodland aborigines
In olden times. For what we have at hand-
If theretofore naught sweeter we have known-
That chiefly pleases and seems best of all;
But then some later, likely better, find
Destroys its worth and changes our desires
Regarding good of yesterday.
And thus
Began the loathing of the acorn; thus
Abandoned were those beds with grasses strewn
And with the leaves beladen. Thus, again,
Fell into new contempt the pelts of beasts-
Erstwhile a robe of honour, which, I guess,
Aroused in those days envy so malign
That the first wearer went to woeful death
By ambuscades,- and yet that hairy prize,
Rent into rags by greedy foemen there
And splashed by blood, was ruined utterly
Beyond all use or vantage. Thus of old
'Twas pelts, and of to-day 'tis purple and gold
That cark men's lives with cares and weary with war.
Wherefore, methinks, resides the greater blame
With us vain men to-day: for cold would rack,
Without their pelts, the naked sons of earth;
But us it nothing hurts to do without
The purple vestment, broidered with gold
And with imposing figures, if we still
Make shift with some mean garment of the Plebs.
So man in vain futilities toils on
Forever and wastes in idle cares his years-
Because, of very truth, he hath not learnt
What the true end of getting is, nor yet
At all how far true pleasure may increase.
And 'tis desire for better and for more
Hath carried by degrees mortality
Out onward to the deep, and roused up
From the far bottom mighty waves of war.
But sun and moon, those watchmen of the world,
With their own lanterns traversing around
The mighty, the revolving vault, have taught
Unto mankind that seasons of the years
Return again, and that the Thing takes place
After a fixed plan and order fixed.
Already would they pass their life, hedged round
By the strong towers; and cultivate an earth
All portioned out and boundaried; already
Would the sea flower and sail-winged ships;
Already men had, under treaty pacts,
Confederates and allies, when poets began
To hand heroic actions down in verse;
Nor long ere this had letters been devised-
Hence is our age unable to look back
On what has gone before, except where reason
Shows us a footprint.
Sailings on the seas,
Tillings of fields, walls, laws, and arms, and roads,
Dress and the like, all prizes, all delights
Of finer life, poems, pictures, chiselled shapes
Of polished sculptures- all these arts were learned
By practice and the mind's experience,
As men walked forward step by eager step.
Thus time draws forward each and everything
Little by little into the midst of men,
And reason uplifts it to the shores of light.
For one thing after other did men see
Grow clear by intellect, till with their arts
They've now achieved the supreme pinnacle.



'Twas Athens first, the glorious in name,
That whilom gave to hapless sons of men
The sheaves of harvest, and re-ordered life,
And decreed laws; and she the first that gave
Life its sweet solaces, when she begat
A man of heart so wise, who whilom poured
All wisdom forth from his truth-speaking mouth;
The glory of whom, though dead, is yet to-day,
Because of those discoveries divine
Renowned of old, exalted to the sky.
For when saw he that well-nigh everything
Which needs of man most urgently require
Was ready to hand for mortals, and that life,
As far as might be, was established safe,
That men were lords in riches, honour, praise,
And eminent in goodly fame of sons,
And that they yet, O yet, within the home,
Still had the anxious heart which vexed life
Unpausingly with torments of the mind,
And raved perforce with angry plaints, then he,
Then he, the master, did perceive that 'twas
The vessel itself which worked the bane, and all,
However wholesome, which from here or there
Was gathered into it, was by that bane
Spoilt from within,- in part, because he saw
The vessel so cracked and leaky that nowise
'T could ever be filled to brim; in part because
He marked how it polluted with foul taste
Whate'er it got within itself. So he,
The master, then by his truth-speaking words,
Purged the breasts of men, and set the bounds
Of lust and terror, and exhibited
The supreme good whither we all endeavour,
And showed the path whereby we might arrive
Thereunto by a little cross-cut straight,
And what of ills in all affairs of mortals
Upsprang and flitted deviously about
(Whether by chance or force), since nature thus
Had destined; and from out what gates a man
Should sally to each combat. And he proved
That mostly vainly doth the human race
Roll in its bosom the grim waves of care.
For just as children tremble and fear all
In the viewless dark, so even we at times
Dread in the light so many things that be
No whit more fearsome than what children feign,
Shuddering, will be upon them in the dark.
This terror then, this darkness of the mind,
Not sunrise with its flaring spokes of light,
Nor glittering arrows of morning can disperse,
But only nature's aspect and her law.
Wherefore the more will I go on to weave
In verses this my undertaken task.
And since I've taught thee that the world's great vaults
Are mortal and that sky is fashioned
Of frame e'en born in time, and whatsoe'er
Therein go on and must perforce go on
. . . . . .
The most I have unravelled; what remains
Do thou take in, besides; since once for all
To climb into that chariot' renowned
. . . . . .
Of winds arise; and they appeased are
So that all things again...
. . . . . .
Which were, are changed now, with fury stilled;
All other movements through the earth and sky
Which mortals gaze upon (O anxious oft
In quaking thoughts!), and which abase their minds
With dread of deities and press them crushed
Down to the earth, because their ignorance
Of cosmic causes forces them to yield
All things unto the empery of gods
And to concede the kingly rule to them.
For even those men who have learned full well
That godheads lead a long life free of care,
If yet meanwhile they wonder by what plan
Things can go on (and chiefly yon high things
Observed o'erhead on the ethereal coasts),
Again are hurried back unto the fears
Of old religion and adopt again
Harsh masters, deemed almighty,- wretched men,
Unwitting what can be and what cannot,
And by what law to each its scope prescribed,
Its boundary stone that clings so deep in Time.
Wherefore the more are they borne wandering on
By blindfold reason. And, Memmius, unless
From out thy mind thou spuest all of this
And casteth far from thee all thoughts which be
Unworthy gods and alien to their peace,
Then often will the holy majesties
Of the high gods be harmful unto thee,
As by thy thought degraded,- not, indeed,
That essence supreme of gods could be by this
So outraged as in wrath to thirst to seek
Revenges keen; but even because thyself
Thou plaguest with the notion that the gods,
Even they, the Calm Ones in serene repose,
Do roll the mighty waves of wrath on wrath;
Nor wilt thou enter with a serene breast
Shrines of the gods; nor wilt thou able be
In tranquil peace of mind to take and know
Those images which from their holy bodies
Are carried into intellects of men,
As the announcers of their form divine.
What sort of life will follow after this
'Tis thine to see. But that afar from us
Veriest reason may drive such life away,
Much yet remains to be embellished yet
In polished verses, albeit hath issued forth
So much from me already; lo, there is
The law and aspect of the sky to be
By reason grasped; there are the tempest times
And the bright lightnings to be hymned now-
Even what they do and from what cause soe'er
They're borne along- that thou mayst tremble not,
Marking off regions of prophetic skies
For auguries, O foolishly distraught
Even as to whence the flying flame hath come,
Or to which half of heaven it turns, or how
Through walled places it hath wound its way,
Or, after proving its dominion there,
How it hath speeded forth from thence amain-
Whereof nowise the causes do men know,
And think divinities are working there.
Do thou, Calliope, ingenious Muse,
Solace of mortals and delight of gods,
Point out the course before me, as I race
On to the white line of the utmost goal,
That I may get with signal praise the crown,
With thee my guide!


And so in first place, then,
With thunder are shaken the blue deeps of heaven,
Because the ethereal clouds, scudding aloft,
Together clash, what time 'gainst one another
The winds are battling. For never a sound there comes
From out the serene regions of the sky;
But wheresoever in a host more dense
The clouds foregather, thence more often comes
A crash with mighty rumbling. And, again,
Clouds cannot be of so condensed a frame
As stones and timbers, nor again so fine
As mists and flying smoke; for then perforce
They'd either fall, borne down by their brute weight,
Like stones, or, like the smoke, they'd powerless be
To keep their mass, or to retain within
Frore snows and storms of hail. And they give forth
O'er skiey levels of the spreading world
A sound on high, as linen-awning, stretched
O'er mighty theatres, gives forth at times
A cracking roar, when much 'tis beaten about
Betwixt the poles and cross-beams. Sometimes, too,
Asunder rent by wanton gusts, it raves
And imitates the tearing sound of sheets
Of paper- even this kind of noise thou mayst
In thunder hear- or sound as when winds whirl
With lashings and do buffet about in air
A hanging cloth and flying paper-sheets.
For sometimes, too, it chances that the clouds
Cannot together crash head-on, but rather
Move side-wise and with motions contrary
Graze each the other's body without speed,
From whence that dry sound grateth on our ears,
So long drawn-out, until the clouds have passed
From out their close positions.
And, again,
In following wise all things seem oft to quake
At shock of heavy thunder, and mightiest walls
Of the wide reaches of the upper world
There on the instant to have sprung apart,
Riven asunder, what time a gathered blast
Of the fierce hurricane hath all at once
Twisted its way into a mass of clouds,
And, there enclosed, ever more and more
Compelleth by its spinning whirl the cloud
To grow all hollow with a thickened crust
Surrounding; for thereafter, when the force
And the keen onset of the wind have weakened
That crust, lo, then the cloud, to-split in twain,
Gives forth a hideous crash with bang and boom.
No marvel this; since oft a bladder small,
Filled up with air, will, when of sudden burst,
Give forth a like large sound.
There's reason, too,
Why clouds make sounds, as through them blow the winds:
We see, borne down the sky, oft shapes of clouds
Rough-edged or branched many forky ways;
And 'tis the same, as when the sudden flaws
Of north-west wind through the dense forest blow,
Making the leaves to sough and limbs to crash.
It happens too at times that roused force
Of the fierce hurricane to-rends the cloud,
Breaking right through it by a front assault;
For what a blast of wind may do up there
Is manifest from facts when here on earth
A blast more gentle yet uptwists tall trees
And sucks them madly from their deepest roots.
Besides, among the clouds are waves, and these
Give, as they roughly break, a rumbling roar;
As when along deep streams or the great sea
Breaks the loud surf. It happens, too, whenever
Out from one cloud into another falls
The fiery energy of thunderbolt,
That straightaway the cloud, if full of wet,
Extinguishes the fire with mighty noise;
As iron, white from the hot furnaces,
Sizzles, when speedily we've plunged its glow
Down the cold water. Further, if a cloud
More dry receive the fire, 'twill suddenly
Kindle to flame and burn with monstrous sound,
As if a flame with whirl of winds should range
Along the laurel-tressed mountains far,
Upburning with its vast assault those trees;
Nor is there aught that in the crackling flame
Consumes with sound more terrible to man
Than Delphic laurel of Apollo lord.
Oft, too, the multitudinous crash of ice
And down-pour of swift hail gives forth a sound
Among the mighty clouds on high; for when
The wind hath packed them close, each mountain mass
Of rain-cloud, there congealed utterly
And mixed with hail-stones, breaks and booms...
. . . . . .
Likewise, it lightens, when the clouds have struck,
By their collision, forth the seeds of fire:
As if a stone should smite a stone or steel,
For light then too leaps forth and fire then scatters
The shining sparks. But with our ears we get
The thunder after eyes behold the flash,
Because forever things arrive the ears
More tardily than the eyes- as thou mayst see
From this example too: when markest thou
Some man far yonder felling a great tree
With double-edged ax, it comes to pass
Thine eye beholds the swinging stroke before
The blow gives forth a sound athrough thine ears:
Thus also we behold the flashing ere
We hear the thunder, which discharged is
At same time with the fire and by same cause,
Born of the same collision.
In following wise
The clouds suffuse with leaping light the lands,
And the storm flashes with tremulous elan:
When the wind hath invaded a cloud, and, whirling there,
Hath wrought (as I have shown above) the cloud
Into a hollow with a thickened crust,
It becomes hot of own velocity:
Just as thou seest how motion will o'erheat
And set ablaze all objects,- verily
A leaden ball, hurtling through length of space,
Even melts. Therefore, when this same wind a-fire
Hath split black cloud, it scatters the fire-seeds,
Which, so to say, have been pressed out by force
Of sudden from the cloud;- and these do make
The pulsing flashes of flame; thence followeth
The detonation which attacks our ears
More tardily than aught which comes along
Unto the sight of eyeballs. This takes place-
As know thou mayst- at times when clouds are dense
And one upon the other piled aloft
With wonderful upheavings- nor be thou
Deceived because we see how broad their base
From underneath, and not how high they tower.
For make thine observations at a time
When winds shall bear athwart the horizon's blue
Clouds like to mountain-ranges moving on,
Or when about the sides of mighty peaks
Thou seest them one upon the other massed
And burdening downward, anchored in high repose,
With the winds sepulchred on all sides round:
Then canst thou know their mighty masses, then
Canst view their caverns, as if builded there
Of beetling crags; which, when the hurricanes
In gathered storm have filled utterly,
Then, prisoned in clouds, they rave around
With mighty roarings, and within those dens
Bluster like savage beasts, and now from here,
And now from there, send growlings through the clouds,
And seeking an outlet, whirl themselves about,
And roll from 'mid the clouds the seeds of fire,
And heap them multitudinously there,
And in the hollow furnaces within
Wheel flame around, until from bursted cloud
In forky flashes they have gleamed forth.
Again, from following cause it comes to pass
That yon swift golden hue of liquid fire
Darts downward to the earth: because the clouds
Themselves must hold abundant seeds of fire;
For, when they be without all moisture, then
They be for most part of a flamy hue
And a resplendent. And, indeed, they must
Even from the light of sun unto themselves
Take multitudinous seeds, and so perforce
Redden and pour their bright fires all abroad.
And therefore, when the wind hath driven and thrust,
Hath forced and squeezed into one spot these clouds,
They pour abroad the seeds of fire pressed out,
Which make to flash these colours of the flame.
Likewise, it lightens also when the clouds
Grow rare and thin along the sky; for, when
The wind with gentle touch unravels them
And breaketh asunder as they move, those seeds
Which make the lightnings must by nature fall;
At such an hour the horizon lightens round
Without the hideous terror of dread noise
And skiey uproar.
To proceed apace,
What sort of nature thunderbolts possess
Is by their strokes made manifest and by
The brand-marks of their searing heat on things,
And by the scorched scars exhaling round
The heavy fumes of sulphur. For all these
Are marks, O not of wind or rain, but fire.
Again, they often enkindle even the roofs
Of houses and inside the very rooms
With swift flame hold a fierce dominion.
Know thou that nature fashioned this fire
Subtler than fires all other, with minute
And dartling bodies,- a fire 'gainst which there's naught
Can in the least hold out: the thunderbolt,
The mighty, passes through the hedging walls
Of houses, like to voices or a shout,-
Through stones, through bronze it passes, and it melts
Upon the instant bronze and gold; and makes,
Likewise, the wines sudden to vanish forth,
The wine-jars intact,- because, ye see,
Its heat arriving renders loose and porous
Readily all the wine- jar's earthen sides,
And winding its way within, it scattereth
The elements primordial of the wine
With speedy dissolution- process which
Even in an age the fiery steam of sun
Could not accomplish, however puissant he
With his hot coruscations: so much more
Agile and overpowering is this force.
. . . . . .
Now in what manner engendered are these things,
How fashioned of such impetuous strength
As to cleave towers asunder, and houses all
To overtopple, and to wrench apart
Timbers and beams, and heroes' monuments
To pile in ruins and upheave amain,
And to take breath forever out of men,
And to o'erthrow the cattle everywhere,-
Yes, by what force the lightnings do all this,
All this and more, I will unfold to thee,
Nor longer keep thee in mere promises.
The bolts of thunder, then, must be conceived
As all begotten in those crasser clouds
Up-piled aloft; for, from the sky serene
And from the clouds of lighter density,
None are sent forth forever. That 'tis so
Beyond a doubt, fact plain to sense declares:
To wit, at such a time the densed clouds
So mass themselves through all the upper air
That we might think that round about all murk
Had parted forth from Acheron and filled
The mighty vaults of sky- so grievously,
As gathers thus the storm-clouds' gruesome might,
Do faces of black horror hang on high-
When tempest begins its thunderbolts to forge.
Besides, full often also out at sea
A blackest thunderhead, like cataract
Of pitch hurled down from heaven, and far away
Bulging with murkiness, down on the waves
Falls with vast uproar, and draws on amain
The darkling tempests big with thunderbolts
And hurricanes, itself the while so crammed
Tremendously with fires and winds, that even
Back on the lands the people shudder round
And seek for cover. Therefore, as I said,
The storm must be conceived as o'er our head
Towering most high; for never would the clouds
O'erwhelm the lands with such a massy dark,
Unless up-builded heap on lofty heap,
To shut the round sun off. Nor could the clouds,
As on they come, engulf with rain so vast
As thus to make the rivers overflow
And fields to float, if ether were not thus
Furnished with lofty-piled clouds. Lo, then,
Here be all things fulfilled with winds and fires-
Hence the long lightnings and the thunders loud.
For, verily, I've taught thee even now
How cavernous clouds hold seeds innumerable
Of fiery exhalations, and they must
From off the sunbeams and the heat of these
Take many still. And so, when that same wind
(Which, haply, into one region of the sky
Collects those clouds) hath pressed from out the same
The many fiery seeds, and with that fire
Hath at the same time inter-mixed itself,
O then and there that wind, a whirlwind now,
Deep in the belly of the cloud spins round
In narrow confines, and sharpens there inside
In glowing furnaces the thunderbolt.
For in a two-fold manner is that wind
Enkindled all: it trembles into heat
Both by its own velocity and by
Repeated touch of fire. Thereafter, when
The energy of wind is heated through
And the fierce impulse of the fire hath sped
Deeply within, O then the thunderbolt,
Now ripened, so to say, doth suddenly
Splinter the cloud, and the aroused flash
Leaps onward, lumining with forky light
All places round. And followeth anon
A clap so heavy that the skiey vaults,
As if asunder burst, seem from on high
To engulf the earth. Then fearfully a quake
Pervades the lands, and 'long the lofty skies
Run the far rumblings. For at such a time
Nigh the whole tempest quakes, shook through and through,
And roused are the roarings,- from which shock
Comes such resounding and abounding rain,
That all the murky ether seems to turn
Now into rain, and, as it tumbles down,
To summon the fields back to primeval floods:
So big the rains that be sent down on men
By burst of cloud and by the hurricane,
What time the thunder-clap, from burning bolt
That cracks the cloud, flies forth along. At times
The force of wind, excited from without,
Smiteth into a cloud already hot
With a ripe thunderbolt. And when that wind
Hath splintered that cloud, then down there cleaves forthwith
Yon fiery coil of flame which still we call,
Even with our fathers' word, a thunderbolt.
The same thing haps toward every other side
Whither that force hath swept. It happens, too,
That sometimes force of wind, though hurtled forth
Without all fire, yet in its voyage through space
Igniteth, whilst it comes along, along,-
Losing some larger bodies which cannot
Pass, like the others, through the bulks of air,-
And, scraping together out of air itself
Some smaller bodies, carries them along,
And these, commingling, by their flight make fire:
Much in the manner as oft a leaden ball
Grows hot upon its aery course, the while
It loseth many bodies of stark cold
And taketh into itself along the air
New particles of fire. It happens, too,
That force of blow itself arouses fire,
When force of wind, a-cold and hurtled forth
Without all fire, hath strook somewhere amain-
No marvel, because, when with terrific stroke
'Thas smitten, the elements of fiery-stuff
Can stream together from out the very wind
And, simultaneously, from out that thing
Which then and there receives the stroke: as flies
The fire when with the steel we hack the stone;
Nor yet, because the force of steel's a-cold,
Rush the less speedily together there
Under the stroke its seeds of radiance hot.
And therefore, thuswise must an object too
Be kindled by a thunderbolt, if haply
'Thas been adapt and suited to the flames.
Yet force of wind must not be rashly deemed
As altogether and entirely cold-
That force which is discharged from on high
With such stupendous power; but if 'tis not
Upon its course already kindled with fire,
It yet arriveth warmed and mixed with heat.
And, now, the speed and stroke of thunderbolt
Is so tremendous, and with glide so swift
Those thunderbolts rush on and down, because
Their roused force itself collects itself
First always in the clouds, and then prepares
For the huge effort of their going-forth;
Next, when the cloud no longer can retain
The increment of their fierce impetus,
Their force is pressed out, and therefore flies
With impetus so wondrous, like to shots
Hurled from the powerful Roman catapults.
Note, too, this force consists of elements
Both small and smooth, nor is there aught that can
With ease resist such nature. For it darts
Between and enters through the pores of things;
And so it never falters in delay
Despite innumerable collisions, but
Flies shooting onward with a swift elan.
Next, since by nature always every weight
Bears downward, doubled is the swiftness then
And that elan is still more wild and dread,
When, verily, to weight are added blows,
So that more madly and more fiercely then
The thunderbolt shakes into shivers all
That blocks its path, following on its way.
Then, too, because it comes along, along
With one continuing elan, it must
Take on velocity anew, anew,
Which still increases as it goes, and ever
Augments the bolt's vast powers and to the blow
Gives larger vigour; for it forces all,
All of the thunder's seeds of fire, to sweep
In a straight line unto one place, as 'twere,-
Casting them one by other, as they roll,
Into that onward course. Again, perchance,
In coming along, it pulls from out the air
Some certain bodies, which by their own blows
Enkindle its velocity. And, lo,
It comes through objects leaving them unharmed,
It goes through many things and leaves them whole,
Because the liquid fire flieth along
Athrough their pores. And much it does transfix,
When these primordial atoms of the bolt
Have fallen upon the atoms of these things
Precisely where the intertwined atoms
Are held together. And, further, easily
Brass it unbinds and quickly fuseth gold,
Because its force is so minutely made
Of tiny parts and elements so smooth
That easily they wind their way within,
And, when once in, quickly unbind all knots
And loosen all the bonds of union there.
And most in autumn is shaken the house of heaven,
The house so studded with the glittering stars,
And the whole earth around- most too in spring
When flowery times unfold themselves: for, lo,
In the cold season is there lack of fire,
And winds are scanty in the hot, and clouds
Have not so dense a bulk. But when, indeed,
The seasons of heaven are betwixt these twain,
The divers causes of the thunderbolt
Then all concur; for then both cold and heat
Are mixed in the cross-seas of the year,
So that a discord rises among things
And air in vast tumultuosity
Billows, infuriate with the fires and winds-
Of which the both are needed by the cloud
For fabrication of the thunderbolt.
For the first part of heat and last of cold
Is the time of spring; wherefore must things unlike
Do battle one with other, and, when mixed,
Tumultuously rage. And when rolls round
The latest heat mixed with the earliest chill-
The time which bears the name of autumn- then
Likewise fierce cold-spells wrestle with fierce heats.
On this account these seasons of the year
Are nominated "cross-seas."- And no marvel
If in those times the thunderbolts prevail
And storms are roused turbulent in heaven,
Since then both sides in dubious warfare rage
Tumultuously, the one with flames, the other
With winds and with waters mixed with winds.
This, this it is, O Memmius, to see through
The very nature of fire-fraught thunderbolt;
O this it is to mark by what blind force
It maketh each effect, and not, O not
To unwind Etrurian scrolls oracular,
Inquiring tokens of occult will of gods,
Even as to whence the flying flame hath come,
Or to which half of heaven it turns, or how
Through walled places it hath wound its way,
Or, after proving its dominion there,
How it hath speeded forth from thence amain,
Or what the thunderstroke portends of ill
From out high heaven. But if Jupiter
And other gods shake those refulgent vaults
With dread reverberations and hurl fire
Whither it pleases each, why smite they not
Mortals of reckless and revolting crimes,
That such may pant from a transpierced breast
Forth flames of the red levin- unto men
A drastic lesson?- why is rather he-
O he self-conscious of no foul offence-
Involved in flames, though innocent, and clasped
Up-caught in skiey whirlwind and in fire?
Nay, why, then, aim they at eternal wastes,
And spend themselves in vain?- perchance, even so
To exercise their arms and strengthen shoulders?
Why suffer they the Father's javelin
To be so blunted on the earth? And why
Doth he himself allow it, nor spare the same
Even for his enemies? O why most oft
Aims he at lofty places? Why behold we
Marks of his lightnings most on mountain tops?
Then for what reason shoots he at the sea?-
What sacrilege have waves and bulk of brine
And floating fields of foam been guilty of?
Besides, if 'tis his will that we beware
Against the lightning-stroke, why feareth he
To grant us power for to behold the shot?
And, contrariwise, if wills he to o'erwhelm us,
Quite off our guard, with fire, why thunders he
Off in yon quarter, so that we may shun?
Why rouseth he beforehand darkling air
And the far din and rumblings? And O how
Canst thou believe he shoots at one same time
Into diverse directions? Or darest thou
Contend that never hath it come to pass
That divers strokes have happened at one time?
But oft and often hath it come to pass,
And often still it must, that, even as showers
And rains o'er many regions fall, so too
Dart many thunderbolts at one same time.
Again, why never hurtles Jupiter
A bolt upon the lands nor pours abroad
Clap upon clap, when skies are cloudless all?
Or, say, doth he, so soon as ever the clouds
Have come thereunder, then into the same
Descend in person, that from thence he may
Near-by decide upon the stroke of shaft?
And, lastly, why, with devastating bolt
Shakes he asunder holy shrines of gods
And his own thrones of splendour, and to-breaks
The well-wrought idols of divinities,
And robs of glory his own images
By wound of violence?
But to return apace,
Easy it is from these same facts to know
In just what wise those things (which from their sort
The Greeks have named "bellows") do come down,
Discharged from on high, upon the seas.
For it haps that sometimes from the sky descends
Upon the seas a column, as if pushed,
Round which the surges seethe, tremendously
Aroused by puffing gusts; and whatso'er
Of ships are caught within that tumult then
Come into extreme peril, dashed along.
This haps when sometimes wind's aroused force
Can't burst the cloud it tries to, but down-weighs
That cloud, until 'tis like a column from sky
Upon the seas pushed downward- gradually,
As if a Somewhat from on high were shoved
By fist and nether thrust of arm, and lengthened
Far to the waves. And when the force of wind
Hath rived this cloud, from out the cloud it rushes
Down on the seas, and starts among the waves
A wondrous seething, for the eddying whirl
Descends and downward draws along with it
That cloud of ductile body. And soon as ever
'Thas shoved unto the levels of the main
That laden cloud, the whirl suddenly then
Plunges its whole self into the waters there
And rouses all the sea with monstrous roar,
Constraining it to seethe. It happens too
That very vortex of the wind involves
Itself in clouds, scraping from out the air
The seeds of cloud, and counterfeits, as 'twere,
The "bellows" pushed from heaven. And when this shape
Hath dropped upon the lands and burst apart,
It belches forth immeasurable might
Of whirlwind and of blast. Yet since 'tis formed
At most but rarely, and on land the hills
Must block its way, 'tis seen more oft out there
On the broad prospect of the level main
Along the free horizons.
Into being
The clouds condense, when in this upper space
Of the high heaven have gathered suddenly,
As round they flew, unnumbered particles-
World's rougher ones, which can, though interlinked
With scanty couplings, yet be fastened firm,
The one on other caught. These particles
First cause small clouds to form; and, thereupon,
These catch the one on other and swarm in a flock
And grow by their conjoining, and by winds
Are borne along, along, until collects
The tempest fury. Happens, too, the nearer
The mountain summits neighbour to the sky,
The more unceasingly their far crags smoke
With the thick darkness of swart cloud, because
When first the mists do form, ere ever the eyes
Can there behold them (tenuous as they be),
The carrier-winds will drive them up and on
Unto the topmost summits of the mountain;
And then at last it happens, when they be
In vaster throng upgathered, that they can
By this very condensation lie revealed,
And that at same time they are seen to surge
From very vertex of the mountain up
Into far ether. For very fact and feeling,
As we up-climb high mountains, proveth clear
That windy are those upward regions free.
Besides, the clothes hung-out along the shore,
When in they take the clinging moisture, prove
That nature lifts from over all the sea
Unnumbered particles. Whereby the more
'Tis manifest that many particles
Even from the salt upheavings of the main
Can rise together to augment the bulk
Of massed clouds. For moistures in these twain
Are near akin. Besides, from out all rivers,
As well as from the land itself, we see
Up-rising mists and steam, which like a breath
Are forced out from them and borne aloft,
To curtain heaven with their murk, and make,
By slow foregathering, the skiey clouds.
For, in addition, lo, the heat on high
Of constellated ether burdens down
Upon them, and by sort of condensation
Weaveth beneath the azure firmament
The reek of darkling cloud. It happens, too,
That hither to the skies from the Beyond
Do come those particles which make the clouds
And flying thunderheads. For I have taught
That this their number is innumerable
And infinite the sum of the Abyss,
And I have shown with what stupendous speed
Those bodies fly and how they're wont to pass
Amain through incommunicable space.
Therefore, 'tis not exceeding strange, if oft
In little time tempest and darkness cover
With bulking thunderheads hanging on high
The oceans and the lands, since everywhere
Through all the narrow tubes of yonder ether,
Yea, so to speak, through all the breathing-holes
Of the great upper-world encompassing,
There be for the primordial elements
Exits and entrances.
Now come, and how
The rainy moisture thickens into being
In the lofty clouds, and how upon the lands
'Tis then discharged in down-pour of large showers,
I will unfold. And first triumphantly
Will I persuade thee that up-rise together,
With clouds themselves, full many seeds of water
From out all things, and that they both increase-
Both clouds and water which is in the clouds-
In like proportion, as our frames increase
In like proportion with our blood, as well
As sweat or any moisture in our members.
Besides, the clouds take in from time to time
Much moisture risen from the broad marine,-
Whilst the winds bear them o'er the mighty sea,
Like hanging fleeces of white wool. Thuswise,
Even from all rivers is there lifted up
Moisture into the clouds. And when therein
The seeds of water so many in many ways
Have come together, augmented from all sides,
The close-jammed clouds then struggle to discharge
Their rain-storms for a two-fold reason: lo,
The wind's force crowds them, and the very excess
Of storm-clouds (massed in a vaster throng)
Giveth an urge and pressure from above
And makes the rains out-pour. Besides when, too,
The clouds are winnowed by the winds, or scattered
Smitten on top by heat of sun, they send
Their rainy moisture, and distil their drops,
Even as the wax, by fiery warmth on top,
Wasteth and liquefies abundantly.
But comes the violence of the bigger rains
When violently the clouds are weighted down
Both by their cumulated mass and by
The onset of the wind. And rains are wont
To endure awhile and to abide for long,
When many seeds of waters are aroused,
And clouds on clouds and racks on racks outstream
In piled layers and are borne along
From every quarter, and when all the earth
Smoking exhales her moisture. At such a time
When sun with beams amid the tempest-murk
Hath shone against the showers of black rains,
Then in the swart clouds there emerges bright
The radiance of the bow.
And as to things
Not mentioned here which of themselves do grow
Or of themselves are gendered, and all things
Which in the clouds condense to being- all,
Snow and the winds, hail and the hoar-frosts chill,
And freezing, mighty force- of lakes and pools
The mighty hardener, and mighty check
Which in the winter curbeth everywhere
The rivers as they go- 'tis easy still,
Soon to discover and with mind to see
How they all happen, whereby gendered,
When once thou well hast understood just what
Functions have been vouchsafed from of old
Unto the procreant atoms of the world.
Now come, and what the law of earthquakes is
Hearken, and first of all take care to know
That the under-earth, like to the earth around us,
Is full of windy caverns all about;
And many a pool and many a grim abyss
She bears within her bosom, ay, and cliffs
And jagged scarps; and many a river, hid
Beneath her chine, rolls rapidly along
Its billows and plunging boulders. For clear fact
Requires that earth must be in every part
Alike in constitution. Therefore, earth,
With these things underneath affixed and set,
Trembleth above, jarred by big down-tumblings,
When time hath undermined the huge caves,
The subterranean. Yea, whole mountains fall,
And instantly from spot of that big jar
There quiver the tremors far and wide abroad.
And with good reason: since houses on the street
Begin to quake throughout, when jarred by a cart
Of no large weight; and, too, the furniture
Within the house up-bounds, when a paving-block
Gives either iron rim of the wheels a jolt.
It happens, too, when some prodigious bulk
Of age-worn soil is rolled from mountain slopes
Into tremendous pools of water dark,
That the reeling land itself is rocked about
By the water's undulations; as a basin
Sometimes won't come to rest until the fluid
Within it ceases to be rocked about
In random undulations.
And besides,
When subterranean winds, up-gathered there
In the hollow deeps, bulk forward from one spot,
And press with the big urge of mighty powers
Against the lofty grottos, then the earth
Bulks to that quarter whither push amain
The headlong winds. Then all the builded houses
Above ground- and the more, the higher up-reared
Unto the sky- lean ominously, careening
Into the same direction; and the beams,
Wrenched forward, over-hang, ready to go.
Yet dread men to believe that there awaits
The nature of the mighty world a time
Of doom and cataclysm, albeit they see
So great a bulk of lands to bulge and break!
And lest the winds blew back again, no force
Could rein things in nor hold from sure career
On to disaster. But now because those winds
Blow back and forth in alternation strong,
And, so to say, rallying charge again,
And then repulsed retreat, on this account
Earth oftener threatens than she brings to pass
Collapses dire. For to one side she leans,
Then back she sways; and after tottering
Forward, recovers then her seats of poise.
Thus, this is why whole houses rock, the roofs
More than the middle stories, middle more
Than lowest, and the lowest least of all.
Arises, too, this same great earth-quaking,
When wind and some prodigious force of air,
Collected from without or down within
The old telluric deeps, have hurled themselves
Amain into those caverns sub-terrene,
And there at first tumultuously chafe
Among the vasty grottos, borne about
In mad rotations, till their lashed force
Aroused out-bursts abroad, and then and there,
Riving the deep earth, makes a mighty chasm-
What once in Syrian Sidon did befall,
And once in Peloponnesian Aegium,
Twain cities which such out-break of wild air
And earth's convulsion, following hard upon,
O'erthrew of old. And many a walled town,
Besides, hath fall'n by such omnipotent
Convulsions on the land, and in the sea
Engulfed hath sunken many a city down
With all its populace. But if, indeed,
They burst not forth, yet is the very rush
Of the wild air and fury-force of wind
Then dissipated, like an ague-fit,
Through the innumerable pores of earth,
To set her all a-shake- even as a chill,
When it hath gone into our marrow-bones,
Sets us convulsively, despite ourselves,
A-shivering and a-shaking. Therefore, men
With two-fold terror bustle in alarm
Through cities to and fro: they fear the roofs
Above the head; and underfoot they dread
The caverns, lest the nature of the earth
Suddenly rend them open, and she gape,
Herself asunder, with tremendous maw,
And, all confounded, seek to chock it full
With her own ruins. Let men, then, go on
Feigning at will that heaven and earth shall be
Inviolable, entrusted evermore
To an eternal weal: and yet at times
The very force of danger here at hand
Prods them on some side with this goad of fear-
This among others- that the earth, withdrawn
Abruptly from under their feet, be hurried down,
Down into the abyss, and the Sum-of-Things
Be following after, utterly fordone,
Till be but wrack and wreckage of a world.
. . . . . .


In chief, men marvel nature renders not
Bigger and bigger the bulk of ocean, since
So vast the down-rush of the waters be,
And every river out of every realm
Cometh thereto; and add the random rains
And flying tempests, which spatter every sea
And every land bedew; add their own springs:
Yet all of these unto the ocean's sum
Shall be but as the increase of a drop.
Wherefore 'tis less a marvel that the sea,
The mighty ocean, increaseth not. Besides,
Sun with his heat draws off a mighty part:
Yea, we behold that sun with burning beams
To dry our garments dripping all with wet;
And many a sea, and far out-spread beneath,
Do we behold. Therefore, however slight
The portion of wet that sun on any spot
Culls from the level main, he still will take
From off the waves in such a wide expanse
Abundantly. Then, further, also winds,
Sweeping the level waters, can bear off
A mighty part of wet, since we behold
Oft in a single night the highways dried
By winds, and soft mud crusted o'er at dawn.
Again, I've taught thee that the clouds bear off
Much moisture too, up-taken from the reaches
Of the mighty main, and sprinkle it about
O'er all the zones, when rain is on the lands
And winds convey the aery racks of vapour.
Lastly, since earth is porous through her frame,
And neighbours on the seas, girdling their shores,
The water's wet must seep into the lands
From briny ocean, as from lands it comes
Into the seas. For brine is filtered off,
And then the liquid stuff seeps back again
And all re-poureth at the river-heads,
Whence in fresh-water currents it returns
Over the lands, adown the channels which
Were cleft erstwhile and erstwhile bore along
The liquid-footed floods.
And now the cause
Whereby athrough the throat of Aetna's Mount
Such vast tornado-fires out-breathe at times,
I will unfold: for with no middling might
Of devastation the flamy tempest rose
And held dominion in Sicilian fields:
Drawing upon itself the upturned faces
Of neighbouring clans, what time they saw afar
The skiey vaults a-fume and sparkling all,
And filled their bosoms with dread anxiety
Of what new thing nature were travailing at.
In these affairs it much behooveth thee
To look both wide and deep, and far abroad
To peer to every quarter, that thou mayst
Remember how boundless is the Sum-of-Things,
And mark how infinitely small a part
Of the whole Sum is this one sky of ours-
O not so large a part as is one man
Of the whole earth. And plainly if thou viewest
This cosmic fact, placing it square in front,
And plainly understandest, thou wilt leave
Wondering at many things. For who of us
Wondereth if some one gets into his joints
A fever, gathering head with fiery heat,
Or any other dolorous disease
Along his members? For anon the foot
Grows blue and bulbous; often the sharp twinge
Seizes the teeth, attacks the very eyes;
Out-breaks the sacred fire, and, crawling on
Over the body, burneth every part
It seizeth on, and works its hideous way
Along the frame. No marvel this, since, lo,
Of things innumerable be seeds enough,
And this our earth and sky do bring to us
Enough of bane from whence can grow the strength
Of maladies uncounted. Thuswise, then,
We must suppose to all the sky and earth
Are ever supplied from out the infinite
All things, O all in stores enough whereby
The shaken earth can of a sudden move,
And fierce typhoons can over sea and lands
Go tearing on, and Aetna's fires o'erflow,
And heaven become a flame-burst. For that, too,
Happens at times, and the celestial vaults
Glow into fire, and rainy tempests rise
In heavier congregation, when, percase,
The seeds of water have foregathered thus
From out the infinite. "Aye, but passing huge
The fiery turmoil of that conflagration!"
So sayst thou; well, huge many a river seems
To him that erstwhile ne'er a larger saw;
Thus, huge seems tree or man; and everything
Which mortal sees the biggest of each class,
That he imagines to be "huge"; though yet
All these, with sky and land and sea to boot,
Are all as nothing to the sum entire
Of the all-Sum.
But now I will unfold
At last how yonder suddenly angered flame
Out-blows abroad from vasty furnaces
Aetnaean. First, the mountain's nature is
All under-hollow, propped about, about
With caverns of basaltic piers. And, lo,
In all its grottos be there wind and air-
For wind is made when air hath been uproused
By violent agitation. When this air
Is heated through and through, and, raging round,
Hath made the earth and all the rocks it touches
Horribly hot, and hath struck off from them
Fierce fire of swiftest flame, it lifts itself
And hurtles thus straight upwards through its throat
Into high heav'n, and thus bears on afar
Its burning blasts and scattereth afar
Its ashes, and rolls a smoke of pitchy murk
And heaveth the while boulders of wondrous weight-
Leaving no doubt in thee that 'tis the air's
Tumultuous power. Besides, in mighty part,
The sea there at the roots of that same mount
Breaks its old billows and sucks back its surf.
And grottos from the sea pass in below
Even to the bottom of the mountain's throat.
Herethrough thou must admit there go...
. . . . . .
And the conditions force [the water and air]
Deeply to penetrate from the open sea,
And to out-blow abroad, and to up-bear
Thereby the flame, and to up-cast from deeps
The boulders, and to rear the clouds of sand.
For at the top be "bowls," as people there
Are wont to name what we at Rome do call
The throats and mouths.
There be, besides, some thing
Of which 'tis not enough one only cause
To state- but rather several, whereof one
Will be the true: lo, if thou shouldst espy
Lying afar some fellow's lifeless corse,
'Twere meet to name all causes of a death,
That cause of his death might thereby be named:
For prove thou mayst he perished not by steel,
By cold, nor even by poison nor disease,
Yet somewhat of this sort hath come to him
We know- And thus we have to say the same
In divers cases.
Toward the summer, Nile
Waxeth and overfloweth the champaign,
Unique in all the landscape, river sole
Of the Aegyptians. In mid-season heats
Often and oft he waters Aegypt o'er,
Either because in summer against his mouths
Come those northwinds which at that time of year
Men name the Etesian blasts, and, blowing thus
Upstream, retard, and, forcing back his waves,
Fill him o'erfull and force his flow to stop.
For out of doubt these blasts which driven be
From icy constellations of the pole
Are borne straight up the river. Comes that river
From forth the sultry places down the south,
Rising far up in midmost realm of day,
Among black generations of strong men
With sun-baked skins. 'Tis possible, besides,
That a big bulk of piled sand may bar
His mouths against his onward waves, when sea,
Wild in the winds, tumbles the sand to inland;
Whereby the river's outlet were less free,
Likewise less headlong his descending floods.
It may be, too, that in this season rains
Are more abundant at its fountain head,
Because the Etesian blasts of those northwinds
Then urge all clouds into those inland parts.
And, soothly, when they're thus foregathered there,
Urged yonder into midmost realm of day,
Then, crowded against the lofty mountain sides,
They're massed and powerfully pressed. Again,
Perchance, his waters wax, O far away,
Among the Aethiopians' lofty mountains,
When the all-beholding sun with thawing beams
Drives the white snows to flow into the vales.
Now come; and unto thee I will unfold,
As to the Birdless spots and Birdless tarns,
What sort of nature they are furnished with.
First, as to name of "birdless,"- that derives
From very fact, because they noxious be
Unto all birds. For when above those spots
In horizontal flight the birds have come,
Forgetting to oar with wings, they furl their sails,
And, with down-drooping of their delicate necks,
Fall headlong into earth, if haply such
The nature of the spots, or into water,
If haply spreads thereunder Birdless tarn.
Such spot's at Cumae, where the mountains smoke,
Charged with the pungent sulphur, and increased
With steaming springs. And such a spot there is
Within the walls of Athens, even there
On summit of Acropolis, beside
Fane of Tritonian Pallas bountiful,
Where never cawing crows can wing their course,
Not even when smoke the altars with good gifts,-
But evermore they flee- yet not from wrath
Of Pallas, grieved at that espial old,
As poets of the Greeks have sung the tale;
But very nature of the place compels.
In Syria also- as men say- a spot
Is to be seen, where also four-foot kinds,
As soon as ever they've set their steps within,
Collapse, o'ercome by its essential power,
As if there slaughtered to the under-gods.
Lo, all these wonders work by natural law,
And from what causes they are brought to pass
The origin is manifest; so, haply,
Let none believe that in these regions stands
The gate of Orcus, nor us then suppose,
Haply, that thence the under-gods draw down
Souls to dark shores of Acheron- as stags,
The wing-footed, are thought to draw to light,
By sniffing nostrils, from their dusky lairs
The wriggling generations of wild snakes.
How far removed from true reason is this,
Perceive thou straight; for now I'll try to say
Somewhat about the very fact.
And, first,
This do I say, as oft I've said before:
In earth are atoms of things of every sort;
And know, these all thus rise from out the earth-
Many life-giving which be good for food,
And many which can generate disease
And hasten death, O many primal seeds
Of many things in many modes- since earth
Contains them mingled and gives forth discrete.
And we have shown before that certain things
Be unto certain creatures suited more
For ends of life, by virtue of a nature,
A texture, and primordial shapes, unlike
For kinds alike. Then too 'tis thine to see
How many things oppressive be and foul
To man, and to sensation most malign:
Many meander miserably through ears;
Many in-wind athrough the nostrils too,
Malign and harsh when mortal draws a breath;
Of not a few must one avoid the touch;
Of not a few must one escape the sight;
And some there be all loathsome to the taste;
And many, besides, relax the languid limbs
Along the frame, and undermine the soul
In its abodes within. To certain trees
There hath been given so dolorous a shade
That often they gender achings of the head,
If one but be beneath, outstretched on the sward.
There is, again, on Helicon's high hills
A tree that's wont to kill a man outright
By fetid odour of its very flower.
And when the pungent stench of the night-lamp,
Extinguished but a moment since, assails
The nostrils, then and there it puts to sleep
A man afflicted with the falling sickness
And foamings at the mouth. A woman, too,
At the heavy castor drowses back in chair,
And from her delicate fingers slips away
Her gaudy handiwork, if haply she
Hath got the whiff at menstruation-time.
Once more, if thou delayest in hot baths,
When thou art over-full, how readily
From stool in middle of the steaming water
Thou tumblest in a fit! How readily
The heavy fumes of charcoal wind their way
Into the brain, unless beforehand we
Of water 've drunk. But when a burning fever,
O'ermastering man, hath seized upon his limbs,
Then odour of wine is like a hammer-blow.
And seest thou not how in the very earth
Sulphur is gendered and bitumen thickens
With noisome stench?- What direful stenches, too,
Scaptensula out-breathes from down below,
When men pursue the veins of silver and gold,
With pick-axe probing round the hidden realms
Deep in the earth?- Or what of deadly bane
The mines of gold exhale? O what a look,
And what a ghastly hue they give to men!
And seest thou not, or hearest, how they're wont
In little time to perish, and how fail
The life-stores in those folk whom mighty power
Of grim necessity confineth there
In such a task? Thus, this telluric earth
Out-streams with all these dread effluvia
And breathes them out into the open world
And into the visible regions under heaven.
Thus, too, those Birdless places must up-send
An essence bearing death to winged things,
Which from the earth rises into the breezes
To poison part of skiey space, and when
Thither the winged is on pennons borne,
There, seized by the unseen poison, 'tis ensnared,
And from the horizontal of its flight
Drops to the spot whence sprang the effluvium.
And when 'thas there collapsed, then the same power
Of that effluvium takes from all its limbs
The relics of its life. That power first strikes
The creatures with a wildering dizziness,
And then thereafter, when they're once down-fallen
Into the poison's very fountains, then
Life, too, they vomit out perforce, because
So thick the stores of bane around them fume.
Again, at times it happens that this power,
This exhalation of the Birdless places,
Dispels the air betwixt the ground and birds,
Leaving well-nigh a void. And thither when
In horizontal flight the birds have come,
Forthwith their buoyancy of pennons limps,
All useless, and each effort of both wings
Falls out in vain. Here, when without all power
To buoy themselves and on their wings to lean,
Lo, nature constrains them by their weight to slip
Down to the earth, and lying prostrate there
Along the well-nigh empty void, they spend
Their souls through all the openings of their frame.
. . . . . .
Further, the water of wells is colder then
At summer time, because the earth by heat
Is rarefied, and sends abroad in air
Whatever seeds it peradventure have
Of its own fiery exhalations.
The more, then, the telluric ground is drained
Of heat, the colder grows the water hid
Within the earth. Further, when all the earth
Is by the cold compressed, and thus contracts
And, so to say, concretes, it happens, lo,
That by contracting it expresses then
Into the wells what heat it bears itself.
'Tis said at Hammon's fane a fountain is,
In daylight cold and hot in time of night.
This fountain men be-wonder over-much,
And think that suddenly it seethes in heat
By intense sun, the subterranean, when
Night with her terrible murk hath cloaked the lands-
What's not true reasoning by a long remove:
I' faith when sun o'erhead, touching with beams
An open body of water, had no power
To render it hot upon its upper side,
Though his high light possess such burning glare,
How, then, can he, when under the gross earth,
Make water boil and glut with fiery heat?-
And, specially, since scarcely potent he
Through hedging walls of houses to inject
His exhalations hot, with ardent rays.
What, then's, the principle? Why, this, indeed:
The earth about that spring is porous more
Than elsewhere the telluric ground, and be
Many the seeds of fire hard by the water;
On this account, when night with dew-fraught shades
Hath whelmed the earth, anon the earth deep down
Grows chill, contracts; and thuswise squeezes out
Into the spring what seeds she holds of fire
(As one might squeeze with fist), which render hot
The touch and steam of the fluid. Next, when sun,
Up-risen, with his rays has split the soil
And rarefied the earth with waxing heat,
Again into their ancient abodes return
The seeds of fire, and all the Hot of water
Into the earth retires; and this is why
The fountain in the daylight gets so cold.
Besides, the water's wet is beat upon
By rays of sun, and, with the dawn, becomes
Rarer in texture under his pulsing blaze;
And, therefore, whatso seeds it holds of fire
It renders up, even as it renders oft
The frost that it contains within itself
And thaws its ice and looseneth the knots.
There is, moreover, a fountain cold in kind
That makes a bit of tow (above it held)
Take fire forthwith and shoot a flame; so, too,
A pitch-pine torch will kindle and flare round
Along its waves, wherever 'tis impelled
Afloat before the breeze. No marvel, this:
Because full many seeds of heat there be
Within the water; and, from earth itself
Out of the deeps must particles of fire
Athrough the entire fountain surge aloft,
And speed in exhalations into air
Forth and abroad (yet not in numbers enow
As to make hot the fountain). And, moreo'er,
Some force constrains them, scattered through the water,
Forthwith to burst abroad, and to combine
In flame above. Even as a fountain far
There is at Aradus amid the sea,
Which bubbles out sweet water and disparts
From round itself the salt waves; and, behold,
In many another region the broad main
Yields to the thirsty mariners timely help,
Belching sweet waters forth amid salt waves.
Just so, then, can those seeds of fire burst forth
Athrough that other fount, and bubble out
Abroad against the bit of tow; and when
They there collect or cleave unto the torch,
Forthwith they readily flash aflame, because
The tow and torches, also, in themselves
Have many seeds of latent fire. Indeed,
And seest thou not, when near the nightly lamps
Thou bringest a flaxen wick, extinguished
A moment since, it catches fire before
'Thas touched the flame, and in same wise a torch?
And many another object flashes aflame
When at a distance, touched by heat alone,
Before 'tis steeped in veritable fire.
This, then, we must suppose to come to pass
In that spring also.
Now to other things!
And I'll begin to treat by what decree
Of nature it came to pass that iron can be
By that stone drawn which Greeks the magnet call
After the country's name (its origin
Being in country of Magnesian folk).
This stone men marvel at; and sure it oft
Maketh a chain of rings, depending, lo,
From off itself! Nay, thou mayest see at times
Five or yet more in order dangling down
And swaying in the delicate winds, whilst one
Depends from other, cleaving to under-side,
And ilk one feels the stone's own power and bonds-
So over-masteringly its power flows down.
In things of this sort, much must be made sure
Ere thou account of the thing itself canst give,
And the approaches roundabout must be;
Wherefore the more do I exact of thee
A mind and ears attent.
First, from all things
We see soever, evermore must flow,
Must be discharged and strewn about, about,
Bodies that strike the eyes, awaking sight.
From certain things flow odours evermore,
As cold from rivers, heat from sun, and spray
From waves of ocean, eater-out of walls
Along the coasts. Nor ever cease to seep
The varied echoings athrough the air.
Then, too, there comes into the mouth at times
The wet of a salt taste, when by the sea
We roam about; and so, whene'er we watch
The wormwood being mixed, its bitter stings.
To such degree from all things is each thing
Borne streamingly along, and sent about
To every region round; and nature grants
Nor rest nor respite of the onward flow,
Since 'tis incessantly we feeling have,
And all the time are suffered to descry
And smell all things at hand, and hear them sound.
Now will I seek again to bring to mind
How porous a body all things have- a fact
Made manifest in my first canto, too.
For, truly, though to know this doth import
For many things, yet for this very thing
On which straightway I'm going to discourse,
'Tis needful most of all to make it sure
That naught's at hand but body mixed with void.
A first ensample: in grottos, rocks o'erhead
Sweat moisture and distil the oozy drops;
Likewise, from all our body seeps the sweat;
There grows the beard, and along our members all
And along our frame the hairs. Through all our veins
Disseminates the foods, and gives increase
And aliment down to the extreme parts,
Even to the tiniest finger-nails. Likewise,
Through solid bronze the cold and fiery heat
We feel to pass; likewise, we feel them pass
Through gold, through silver, when we clasp in hand
The brimming goblets. And, again, there flit
Voices through houses' hedging walls of stone;
Odour seeps through, and cold, and heat of fire
That's wont to penetrate even strength of iron.
Again, where corselet of the sky girds round
. . . . . .
And at same time, some Influence of bane,
When from Beyond 'thas stolen into [our world].
And tempests, gathering from the earth and sky,
Back to the sky and earth absorbed retire-
With reason, since there's naught that's fashioned not
With body porous.
Furthermore, not all
The particles which be from things thrown off
Are furnished with same qualities for sense,
Nor be for all things equally adapt.
A first ensample: the sun doth bake and parch
The earth; but ice he thaws, and with his beams
Compels the lofty snows, up-reared white
Upon the lofty hills, to waste away;
Then, wax, if set beneath the heat of him,
Melts to a liquid. And the fire, likewise,
Will melt the copper and will fuse the gold,
But hides and flesh it shrivels up and shrinks.
The water hardens the iron just off the fire,
But hides and flesh (made hard by heat) it softens.
The oleaster-tree as much delights
The bearded she-goats, verily as though
'Twere nectar-steeped and shed ambrosia;
Than which is naught that burgeons into leaf
More bitter food for man. A hog draws back
For marjoram oil, and every unguent fears
Fierce poison these unto the bristled hogs,
Yet unto us from time to time they seem,
As 'twere, to give new life. But, contrariwise,
Though unto us the mire be filth most foul,
To hogs that mire doth so delightsome seem
That they with wallowing from belly to back
Are never cloyed.
A point remains, besides,
Which best it seems to tell of, ere I go
To telling of the fact at hand itself.
Since to the varied things assigned be
The many pores, those pores must be diverse
In nature one from other, and each have
Its very shape, its own direction fixed.
And so, indeed, in breathing creatures be
The several senses, of which each takes in
Unto itself, in its own fashion ever,
Its own peculiar object. For we mark
How sounds do into one place penetrate,
Into another flavours of all juice,
And savour of smell into a third. Moreover,
One sort through rocks we see to seep, and, lo,
One sort to pass through wood, another still
Through gold, and others to go out and off
Through silver and through glass. For we do see
Through some pores form-and-look of things to flow,
Through others heat to go, and some things still
To speedier pass than others through same pores.
Of verity, the nature of these same paths,
Varying in many modes (as aforesaid)
Because of unlike nature and warp and woof
Of cosmic things, constrains it so to be.
Wherefore, since all these matters now have been
Established and settled well for us
As premises prepared, for what remains
'Twill not be hard to render clear account
By means of these, and the whole cause reveal
Whereby the magnet lures the strength of iron.
First, stream there must from off the lode-stone seeds
Innumerable, a very tide, which smites
By blows that air asunder lying betwixt
The stone and iron. And when is emptied out
This space, and a large place between the two
Is made a void, forthwith the primal germs
Of iron, headlong slipping, fall conjoined
Into the vacuum, and the ring itself
By reason thereof doth follow after and go
Thuswise with all its body. And naught there is
That of its own primordial elements
More thoroughly knit or tighter linked coheres
Than nature and cold roughness of stout iron.
Wherefore, 'tis less a marvel what I said,
That from such elements no bodies can
From out the iron collect in larger throng
And be into the vacuum borne along,
Without the ring itself do follow after.
And this it does, and followeth on until
'Thath reached the stone itself and cleaved to it
By links invisible. Moreover, likewise,
The motion's assisted by a thing of aid
(Whereby the process easier becomes),-
Namely, by this: as soon as rarer grows
That air in front of the ring, and space between
Is emptied more and made a void, forthwith
It happens all the air that lies behind
Conveys it onward, pushing from the rear.
For ever doth the circumambient air
Drub things unmoved, but here it pushes forth
The iron, because upon one side the space
Lies void and thus receives the iron in.
This air, whereof I am reminding thee,
Winding athrough the iron's abundant pores
So subtly into the tiny parts thereof,
Shoves it and pushes, as wind the ship and sails.
The same doth happen in all directions forth:
From whatso side a space is made a void,
Whether from crosswise or above, forthwith
The neighbour particles are borne along
Into the vacuum; for of verity,
They're set a-going by poundings from elsewhere,
Nor by themselves of own accord can they
Rise upwards into the air. Again, all things
Must in their framework hold some air, because
They are of framework porous, and the air
Encompasses and borders on all things.
Thus, then, this air in iron so deeply stored
Is tossed evermore in vexed motion,
And therefore drubs upon the ring sans doubt
And shakes it up inside....
. . . . . .
In sooth, that ring is thither borne along
To where 'thas once plunged headlong- thither, lo,
Unto the void whereto it took its start.
It happens, too, at times that nature of iron
Shrinks from this stone away, accustomed
By turns to flee and follow. Yea, I've seen
Those Samothracian iron rings leap up,
And iron filings in the brazen bowls
Seethe furiously, when underneath was set
The magnet stone. So strongly iron seems
To crave to flee that rock. Such discord great
Is gendered by the interposed brass,
Because, forsooth, when first the tide of brass
Hath seized upon and held possession of
The iron's open passage-ways, thereafter
Cometh the tide of the stone, and in that iron
Findeth all spaces full, nor now hath holes
To swim through, as before. 'Tis thus constrained
With its own current 'gainst the iron's fabric
To dash and beat; by means whereof it spues
Forth from itself- and through the brass stirs up-
The things which otherwise without the brass
It sucks into itself. In these affairs
Marvel thou not that from this stone the tide
Prevails not likewise other things to move
With its own blows: for some stand firm by weight,
As gold; and some cannot be moved forever,
Because so porous in their framework they
That there the tide streams through without a break,
Of which sort stuff of wood is seen to be.
Therefore, when iron (which lies between the two)
Hath taken in some atoms of the brass,
Then do the streams of that Magnesian rock
Move iron by their smitings.
Yet these things
Are not so alien from others, that I
Of this same sort am ill prepared to name
Ensamples still of things exclusively
To one another adapt. Thou seest, first,
How lime alone cementeth stones: how wood
Only by glue-of-bull with wood is joined-
So firmly too that oftener the boards
Crack open along the weakness of the grain
Ere ever those taurine bonds will lax their hold.
The vine-born juices with the water-springs
Are bold to mix, though not the heavy pitch
With the light oil-of-olive. And purple dye
Of shell-fish so uniteth with the wool's
Body alone that it cannot be ta'en
Away forever- nay, though thou gavest toil
To restore the same with the Neptunian flood,
Nay, though all ocean willed to wash it out
With all its waves. Again, gold unto gold
Doth not one substance bind, and only one?
And is not brass by tin joined unto brass?
And other ensamples how many might one find!
What then? Nor is there unto thee a need
Of such long ways and roundabout, nor boots it
For me much toil on this to spend. More fit
It is in few words briefly to embrace
Things many: things whose textures fall together
So mutually adapt, that cavities
To solids correspond, these cavities
Of this thing to the solid parts of that,
And those of that to solid parts of this-
Such joinings are the best. Again, some things
Can be the one with other coupled and held,
Linked by hooks and eyes, as 'twere; and this
Seems more the fact with iron and this stone.
Now, of diseases what the law, and whence
The Influence of bane upgathering can
Upon the race of man and herds of cattle
Kindle a devastation fraught with death,
I will unfold. And, first, I've taught above
That seeds there be of many things to us
Life-giving, and that, contrariwise, there must
Fly many round bringing disease and death.
When these have, haply, chanced to collect
And to derange the atmosphere of earth,
The air becometh baneful. And, lo, all
That Influence of bane, that pestilence,
Or from Beyond down through our atmosphere,
Like clouds and mists, descends, or else collects
From earth herself and rises, when, a-soak
And beat by rains unseasonable and suns,
Our earth hath then contracted stench and rot.
Seest thou not, also, that whoso arrive
In region far from fatherland and home
Are by the strangeness of the clime and waters
Distempered?- since conditions vary much.
For in what else may we suppose the clime
Among the Britons to differ from Aegypt's own
(Where totters awry the axis of the world),
Or in what else to differ Pontic clime
From Gades' and from climes adown the south,
On to black generations of strong men
With sun-baked skins? Even as we thus do see
Four climes diverse under the four main-winds
And under the four main-regions of the sky,
So, too, are seen the colour and face of men
Vastly to disagree, and fixed diseases
To seize the generations, kind by kind:
There is the elephant-disease which down
In midmost Aegypt, hard by streams of Nile,
Engendered is- and never otherwhere.
In Attica the feet are oft attacked,
And in Achaean lands the eyes. And so
The divers spots to divers parts and limbs
Are noxious; 'tis a variable air
That causes this. Thus when an atmosphere,
Alien by chance to us, begins to heave,
And noxious airs begin to crawl along,
They creep and wind like unto mist and cloud,
Slowly, and everything upon their way
They disarrange and force to change its state.
It happens, too, that when they've come at last
Into this atmosphere of ours, they taint
And make it like themselves and alien.
Therefore, asudden this devastation strange,
This pestilence, upon the waters falls,
Or settles on the very crops of grain
Or other meat of men and feed of flocks.
Or it remains a subtle force, suspense
In the atmosphere itself; and when therefrom
We draw our inhalations of mixed air,
Into our body equally its bane
Also we must suck in. In manner like,
Oft comes the pestilence upon the kine,
And sickness, too, upon the sluggish sheep.
Nor aught it matters whether journey we
To regions adverse to ourselves and change
The atmospheric cloak, or whether nature
Herself import a tainted atmosphere
To us or something strange to our own use
Which can attack us soon as ever it come.


'Twas such a manner of disease, 'twas such
Mortal miasma in Cecropian lands
Whilom reduced the plains to dead men's bones,
Unpeopled the highways, drained of citizens
The Athenian town. For coming from afar,
Rising in lands of Aegypt, traversing
Reaches of air and floating fields of foam,
At last on all Pandion's folk it swooped;
Whereat by troops unto disease and death
Were they o'er-given. At first, they'd bear about
A skull on fire with heat, and eyeballs twain
Red with suffusion of blank glare. Their throats,
Black on the inside, sweated oozy blood;
And the walled pathway of the voice of man
Was clogged with ulcers; and the very tongue,
The mind's interpreter, would trickle gore,
Weakened by torments, tardy, rough to touch.
Next when that Influence of bane had chocked,
Down through the throat, the breast, and streamed had
E'en into sullen heart of those sick folk,
Then, verily, all the fences of man's life
Began to topple. From the mouth the breath
Would roll a noisome stink, as stink to heaven
Rotting cadavers flung unburied out.
And, lo, thereafter, all the body's strength
And every power of mind would languish, now
In very doorway of destruction.
And anxious anguish and ululation (mixed
With many a groan) companioned alway
The intolerable torments. Night and day,
Recurrent spasms of vomiting would rack
Alway their thews and members, breaking down
With sheer exhaustion men already spent.
And yet on no one's body couldst thou mark
The skin with o'er-much heat to burn aglow,
But rather the body unto touch of hands
Would offer a warmish feeling, and thereby
Show red all over, with ulcers, so to say,
Inbranded, like the "sacred fires" o'erspread
Along the members. The inward parts of men,
In truth, would blaze unto the very bones;
A flame, like flame in furnaces, would blaze
Within the stomach. Nor couldst aught apply
Unto their members light enough and thin
For shift of aid- but coolness and a breeze
Ever and ever. Some would plunge those limbs
On fire with bane into the icy streams,
Hurling the body naked into the waves;
Many would headlong fling them deeply down
The water-pits, tumbling with eager mouth
Already agape. The insatiable thirst
That whelmed their parched bodies, lo, would make
A goodly shower seem like to scanty drops.
Respite of torment was there none. Their frames
Forspent lay prone. With silent lips of fear
Would Medicine mumble low, the while she saw
So many a time men roll their eyeballs round,
Staring wide-open, unvisited of sleep,
The heralds of old death. And in those months
Was given many another sign of death:
The intellect of mind by sorrow and dread
Deranged, the sad brow, the countenance
Fierce and delirious, the tormented ears
Beset with ringings, the breath quick and short
Or huge and intermittent, soaking sweat
A-glisten on neck, the spittle in fine gouts
Tainted with colour of crocus and so salt,
The cough scarce wheezing through the rattling throat.
Aye, and the sinews in the fingered hands
Were sure to contract, and sure the jointed frame
To shiver, and up from feet the cold to mount
Inch after inch: and toward the supreme hour
At last the pinched nostrils, nose's tip
A very point, eyes sunken, temples hollow,
Skin cold and hard, the shuddering grimace,
The pulled and puffy flesh above the brows!-
O not long after would their frames lie prone
In rigid death. And by about the eighth
Resplendent light of sun, or at the most
On the ninth flaming of his flambeau, they
Would render up the life. If any then
Had 'scaped the doom of that destruction, yet
Him there awaited in the after days
A wasting and a death from ulcers vile
And black discharges of the belly, or else
Through the clogged nostrils would there ooze along
Much fouled blood, oft with an aching head:
Hither would stream a man's whole strength and flesh.
And whoso had survived that virulent flow
Of the vile blood, yet into thews of him
And into his joints and very genitals
Would pass the old disease. And some there were,
Dreading the doorways of destruction
So much, lived on, deprived by the knife
Of the male member; not a few, though lopped
Of hands and feet, would yet persist in life,
And some there were who lost their eyeballs: O
So fierce a fear of death had fallen on them!
And some, besides, were by oblivion
Of all things seized, that even themselves they knew
No longer. And though corpse on corpse lay piled
Unburied on ground, the race of birds and beasts
Would or spring back, scurrying to escape
The virulent stench, or, if they'd tasted there,
Would languish in approaching death. But yet
Hardly at all during those many suns
Appeared a fowl, nor from the woods went forth
The sullen generations of wild beasts-
They languished with disease and died and died.
In chief, the faithful dogs, in all the streets
Outstretched, would yield their breath distressfully
For so that Influence of bane would twist
Life from their members. Nor was found one sure
And universal principle of cure:
For what to one had given the power to take
The vital winds of air into his mouth,
And to gaze upward at the vaults of sky,
The same to others was their death and doom.
In those affairs, O awfullest of all,
O pitiable most was this, was this:
Whoso once saw himself in that disease
Entangled, ay, as damned unto death,
Would lie in wanhope, with a sullen heart,
Would, in fore-vision of his funeral,
Give up the ghost, O then and there. For, lo,
At no time did they cease one from another
To catch contagion of the greedy plague,-
As though but woolly flocks and horned herds;
And this in chief would heap the dead on dead:
For who forbore to look to their own sick,
O these (too eager of life, of death afeard)
Would then, soon after, slaughtering Neglect
Visit with vengeance of evil death and base-
Themselves deserted and forlorn of help.
But who had stayed at hand would perish there
By that contagion and the toil which then
A sense of honour and the pleading voice
Of weary watchers, mixed with voice of wail
Of dying folk, forced them to undergo.
This kind of death each nobler soul would meet.
The funerals, uncompanioned, forsaken,
Like rivals contended to be hurried through.
. . . . . .
And men contending to ensepulchre
Pile upon pile the throng of their own dead:
And weary with woe and weeping wandered home;
And then the most would take to bed from grief.
Nor could be found not one, whom nor disease
Nor death, nor woe had not in those dread times
By now the shepherds and neatherds all,
Yea, even the sturdy guiders of curved ploughs,
Began to sicken, and their bodies would lie
Huddled within back-corners of their huts,
Delivered by squalor and disease to death.
O often and often couldst thou then have seen
On lifeless children lifeless parents prone,
Or offspring on their fathers', mothers' corpse
Yielding the life. And into the city poured
O not in least part from the countryside
That tribulation, which the peasantry
Sick, sick, brought thither, thronging from every quarter,
Plague-stricken mob. All places would they crowd,
All buildings too; whereby the more would death
Up-pile a-heap the folk so crammed in town.
Ah, many a body thirst had dragged and rolled
Along the highways there was lying strewn
Besides Silenus-headed water-fountains,-
The life-breath choked from that too dear desire
Of pleasant waters. Ah, everywhere along
The open places of the populace,
And along the highways, O thou mightest see
Of many a half-dead body the sagged limbs,
Rough with squalor, wrapped around with rags,
Perish from very nastiness, with naught
But skin upon the bones, well-nigh already
Buried- in ulcers vile and obscene filth.
All holy temples, too, of deities
Had Death becrammed with the carcasses;
And stood each fane of the Celestial Ones
Laden with stark cadavers everywhere-
Places which warders of the shrines had crowded
With many a guest. For now no longer men
Did mightily esteem the old Divine,
The worship of the gods: the woe at hand
Did over-master. Nor in the city then
Remained those rites of sepulture, with which
That pious folk had evermore been wont
To buried be. For it was wildered all
In wild alarms, and each and every one
With sullen sorrow would bury his own dead,
As present shift allowed. And sudden stress
And poverty to many an awful act
Impelled; and with a monstrous screaming they
Would, on the frames of alien funeral pyres,
Place their own kin, and thrust the torch beneath
Oft brawling with much bloodshed round about
Rather than quit dead bodies loved in life.

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