Immagini della pagina

and it is a sure sign of infirmity to have many wants. It is with life just as with swimming : that man is the most expert who is the most disengaged from all incumbrances. ... For my part, I have learned that in this especially the gods surpass mankind, that they have to satisfy no necessities. Hence it is that him among us who has the fewest possible necessities, I consider most strongly to resemble a god.



[Titus Carus LUCRETIUS, Roman poet of the first rank, was born B.c. 95; committed suicide B.c. 55. His poem “On the Nature of Things" expounds the atomic theory and the Epicurean philosophy, to the result of atheism but with great splendor of thought and poetry.]

MOTHER and mistress of the Roman race,

Pleasure of gods and men, O fostering
Venus, whose presence breathes in every place,

Peopling all soils whence fruits and grasses spring,
And all the water's navigable ways,

Water and earth and air and everything,
Since by thy power alone their life is given
To all beneath the sliding signs of heaven;

Goddess, thou comest, and the clouds before thee

Melt, and the ruffian blasts take flight and fly;
The dædal lands, they know thee and adore thee,

And clothe themselves with sweet flowers instantly;
Whilst pouring down its largest radiance o'er thee,

In azure calm subsides the rounded sky,
To overarch thine advent; and for thee
A livelier sunlight laughs along the sea.

For lo, no sooner come the soft and glowing

Days of the spring, and all the air is stirred
With amorous breaths of zephyr freshly blowing,

Than the first prelude of thy power is heard
On all sides, in aërial music flowing

Out of the bill of every pairing bird ;
And every songster feels, on every tree,

Its small heart pulsing with the power of thee.
By permission of W. Black wool & Sons. (Crown 8vo., price 28. 6d.)


Next the herds feel thee; and the wild fleet races

Bound o'er the fields, that smile in the bright weather, And swim the streaming floods in fordless places,

Led by thy chain, and captive in thy tether.
At last through seas and hills, thine influence passes,

Through field and flood and all the world together,
And the birds' leafy homes; and thou dost fire
Each to renew his kind with sweet desire.

Wherefore, since thou, O lady, only thou

Art she who guides the world upon its way; Nor can aught rise without thee anyhow

Up into the clear borders of the day,
Neither can aught without thee ever grow

Lovely and sweet — to thee, to thee I pray -
Aid and be near thy suppliant as he sings
Of nature and the secret ways of things.

When human life a shame to human eyes,

Lay sprawling in the mire in foul estate,
A cowering thing without the strength to rise,

Held down by fell Religion's heavy weight -
Religion scowling downward from the skies,

With hideous head, and vigilant eyes of hate -
First did a man of Greece presume to raise
His brows, and give the monster gaze for gaze.

Him not the tales of all the gods in heaven,

Nor the heaven's lightnings, nor the menacing roar Of thunder daunted. He was only driven,

By these vain vauntings, to desire the more
To burst through Nature's gates, and rive the unriven

Bars. And he gained the day; and, conqueror,
His spirit broke beyond our world, and past
Its flaming walls, and fathomed all the vast.

And back returning, crowned with victory, he

Divulged of things the hidden mysteries,
Laying quite bare what can and cannot be,

How to each force is set strong boundaries,
How no power raves unchained, and naught is free.

So the times change; and now religion lies
Trampled by us; and unto us 'tis given
Fearless with level gaze to scan the heaven.

Yet fear I lest thou haply deem that thus

We sin, and enter wicked ways of reason. Whereas 'gainst all things good and beauteous

'Tis oft religion does the foulest treason. Has not the tale of Aulis come to us,

And those great chiefs who, in the windless season, Bade young Iphianassa's form be laid Upon the altar of the Trivian maid ?

Soon as the fillet round her virgin hair

Fell in its equal lengths down either cheek, Soon as she saw her father standing there,

Sad, by the altar, without power to speak, And at his side the murderous minister,

Hiding the knife, and many a faithful Greek Weeping - her knees grew weak, and with no sound She sank, in speechless terror, on the ground.

But naught availed it in that hour accurst

To save the maid from such a doom as this, That her lips were the baby lips that first

Called the king father with their cries and kiss. For round her came the strong men, and none durst

Refuse to do what cruel part was his;
So silently they raised her up, and bore her,
All quivering, to the deadly shrine before her.

And as they bore her, ne'er a golden lyre

Rang round her coming with a bridal strain;
But in the very season of desire,

A stainless maiden, amid bloody stain,
She died — a victim felled by its own sire –

That so the ships the wished-for wind might gain,
And air puff out their canvas. Learn thou, then,
To what damned deeds religion urges men.

'Tis sweet when tempests roar upon

the sea To watch from land another's deep distress Amongst the waves — his toil and misery:

Not that his sorrow makes our happiness, But that some sweetness there must ever be

Watching what sorrows we do not possess : So, too, 'tis sweet to safely view from far Gleam o'er the plains the savage ways of war.

But sweeter far to look with purgèd eyes

Down from the battlements and topmost towers Of learning, those high bastions of the wise,

And far below us see this world of ours,
The vain crowds wandering blindly, led by lies,

Spending in pride and wrangling all their powers
So far below — the pygmy toil and strife,
The pain and piteous rivalries of life.

O peoples miserable! O fools and blind!

What night you cast o'er all the days of man, And in that night before you and behind

What perils prowl! But you nor will nor can See that the treasure of a tranquil mind

Is all that Nature pleads for, for this span, So that between our birth and grave we gain Some quiet pleasures, and a pause from pain.

Wherefore we see that for the body's need

A pause from pain almost itself suffices.
For only let our life from pain be freed,

It ost itself with its own smile entices,
And fills our healthy hearts with joys indeed,

That leave us small desire for art's devices.
Nor do we sigh for more in hours like these,
Rich in our wealth of sweet simplicities.

What though about the halls no silent band

Of golden boys on many a pedestal Dangle their hanging lamps from outstretched hand,

To flare along the midnight festival -
Though on our board no priceless vessels stand,

Nor gold nor silver fret the dazzling wall,
Nor does the soft voluptuous air resound
From gilded ceilings with the cithern's sound;

The grass is ours, and sweeter sounds than these,

As down we couch us by the babbling spring, And overhead we hear the branching trees

That shade us, whisper; and for food we bring Only the country's simple luxuries.

Ah, sweet is this, and sweetest in the spring, When the sun goes through all the balmy hours, And all the green earth's lap is filled with flowers !


What has this bugbear death to frighten man,
If souls can die, as well as bodies can ?
For, as before our birth we felt no pain,
When Punic arms infested land and main,
When heaven and earth were in confusion hurled,
For the debated empire of the world,
Which awed with dreadful expectation lay,
Sure to be slaves, uncertain who should sway:
So when our mortal frame shall be disjoined,
The lifeless lump uncoupled from the mind,
From sense of grief and pain we shall be free;
We shall not feel, because we shall not be,
Though earth in seas, and seas in heaven were lost,
We should not move, we only should be tossed.

Nay, e'en suppose, when we have suffered fate,
The soul should feel in her divided state,
What's that to us ? for we are only we
While souls and bodies in one frame agree.
Nay, though our atoms should revolve by chance,
And matter leap into the former dance;
Though time our life and motion could restore,
And make our bodies what they were before,
What gain to us would all this bustle bring ?
The new-made man would be another thing.
When once an interrupting pause is made,
That individual being is decayed.
We, who are dead and gone, shall bear no part
In all the pleasures, nor shall feel the smart,
Which to that other mortal shall accrue,
Whom of our matter time shall mold anew.

For backward if you look on that long space
Of ages past, and view the changing face
Of matter, tossed and variously combined
In sundry shapes, 'tis easy for the mind
From thence to infer, that seeds of things have been
In the same order as they now are seen:
Which yet our dark remembrance cannot trace,
Because a pause of life, a gaping space,
Has come betwixt, where memory lies dead,
And all the wandering motions from the sense are fled.
For whosoe'er shall in misfortunes live,
Must be, when those misfortunes shall arrive;
And since the man who is not, feels not woe,

« IndietroContinua »