Tag Archives: classical poetry

Lucretius on Philosophy

Some brilliant lines from one of the greatest figures in Western letters–the philosopher/poet Lucretius:

Lucretius The Nature of Things [The A.E. Stallings Translation]
[Book V] (lines on the value of the philosopher)

…But if you think the deeds of Hercules compare somehow, [to the work of the philosopher]
You stray from truth and common sense. For what harm could come now
To us from the gaping jaws of the Nemean lion? And what more
Have we to fear now from that bristly brute, the Arcadian boar? [and several other monsters slain by Hercules]
…And yet what dangers threaten if the mind is not washed clear,
What battles we unwillingly invite into the heart!
How biting are desire’s cares that worry man apart,
How menacing the fears! And then consider Pride and Wrath
And Lust—and the catastrophes which are their aftermath—
And Gluttony and Sloth. And he who’s conquered all these, then,
And banished them from the mind—not by the sword, but by the pen—
Shouldn’t he be numbered with the gods and not with men?
[lines 22-24, 42-52]

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From Ovid’s *Metamorphoses* [Lines on Impermanence and Inter-being];

From Ovid’s Metamorphoses [Lines on Impermanence and Inter-being]; all passages from the Horace Gregory translation (which, unfortunately, does not contain line numbers. The passages appear in the section called “The Philosopher,” who seems to be Pythagoras]

And so I ride (which is my metaphor)
A full-sailed ship upon an endless sea,
A universe where nothing stays the same.
Sea, sky, wind, earth, and time forever changing—
Time like a river in its ceaseless motion:
On, on, each speeding hour cannot stand still,
But as waves, thrust by waves, drive waves before them
So time runs first or follows forever new:
The flying moment gone, what once seemed never
Is now, which vanishes before we say it,
Each disappearing moment in a cycle,
Each loss replaced within the living hour

[Book XV, p. 419]

Nothing retains the shape of what it was,
And Nature, always making old things new,
Proves nothing dies within the universe,
But takes another being in new forms.
What is called birth is change from what we were,
And death the shape of being left behind.
Though all things melt or grow from here to there,
Yet the same balance of the world remains.

Nothing, no nothing keeps its outward show,
For golden ages turn to years of iron;
And Fortune changes many looks of places.
I’ve seen land turn to miles of flood-tossed waters,
Or land rise up within a restless sea;
Shells have been found upon a sanded plain
With never an ocean or a ship in sight,
Someone has seen an anchor turn to rust,
Caught among brushes on a mountaintop.
Stormed by great cataracts, a wide plateau
Turns to a valley and Spring floods have swept
Far hills into chambers of the sea.
And where a swamp once flowed beneath the willows,
Is now a strip of sand, and where a desert was,
A little lake sways under growing reeds.
[p. 421-22]