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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.
TRANSLATION BY W. H. MALLOCK.
[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
Peopling all soils whence fruits and grasses spring,
Water and earth and air and everything,
Goddess, thou comest, and the clouds before thee
Melt, and the ruffian blasts take flight and fly;
And clothe themselves with sweet flowers instantly;
In azure calm subsides the rounded sky,
For lo, no sooner come the soft and glowing
Days of the spring, and all the air is stirred
Than the first prelude of thy power is heard
Out of the bill of every pairing bird ;
Its small heart pulsing with the power of thee.
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.
Through field and flood and all the world together,
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,
Lovely and sweet — to thee, to thee I pray -
When human life a shame to human eyes,
Lay sprawling in the mire in foul estate,
Held down by fell Religion's heavy weight -
With hideous head, and vigilant eyes of hate -
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
Bars. And he gained the day; and, conqueror,
And back returning, crowned with victory, he
Divulged of things the hidden mysteries,
How to each force is set strong boundaries,
So the times change; and now religion lies
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;
And as they bore her, ne'er a golden lyre
Rang round her coming with a bridal strain;
A stainless maiden, amid bloody stain,
That so the ships the wished-for wind might gain,
'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,
Spending in pride and wrangling all their powers
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.
It ost itself with its own smile entices,
That leave us small desire for art's devices.
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 -
Nor gold nor silver fret the dazzling wall,
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 !
TRANSLATION BY DRYDEN.
What has this bugbear death to frighten man,
Nay, e'en suppose, when we have suffered fate,
For backward if you look on that long space