Friday, August 21, 2009

Drown Us In Persuasion

This week, we've got Roman philosopher-poet Titus Lucretius Carus (known also just as Lucretius). I'm not sure if I've posted any poetry older than this. He died around 50 B.C.

Here's one of the most "wow!" requests for peace I've ever read.
from The Way Things Are
by Titus Lucretius Carus, translated by Rolfe Humphries

In this piece, Lucretius is writing to the goddess Venus:

Your blessing has endowed with excellence
All ways, and always. Therefore, all the more,
Give to our book a radiance, a grace,
Brightness and candor; over land and sea,
Meanwhile, to soldiery's fierce duty bring
A slumber, an implacable repose --
Since you alone can help with tranquil peace
The human race, and Mars, the governor
Of war's fierce duty, more than once has come,
Gentled by love's eternal wound, to you,
Forgetful of his office, head bent back,
No more the roughneck, gazing up at you,
Gazing and gaping, all agog for love,
His every breath dependent on your lips.
Ah, goddess, pour yourself around him, bend
With all your body's holiness, above
His supine meekness, drown him in persuasion,
Imploring, for the Romans, blessed peace.


In another section, Lucretius vividly describes the seasons:
Autumn is one season when the starry halls
Of heaven are shaken, like our world below,
And blossoming spring is such another time.
Not winter, though, when the fires fail, and wind
Blows cold, and the clouds are meager and mean. Halfway
Between the winter and the summertime
We find, in combination, every cause
Of lightning and of thunder. Heat and cold
Mingle and clash, things are discordant, air
Seethes in a turbulence of thermal winds,
And all of this is needed for the clouds
To manufacture thunderbolts. Heat's head
Devour's cold's tail; there's spring for you, a time
Of warfare and confusion, bound to brawls.
The same in autumn, turned the other way,
Winter's raw vanguard chopping at the rear
Of summer's ragged veterans. Call such times
The foul rifts of the year, and do not be
Surprised if many and many a thunderbolt
Is then hurled loose, if skies are dark with storm,
If winds and rain are allies against fire
In wars of which no augur knows the end.


He explains how porous the world is:

...once again
I hammer home this axiom: everything
Perceived by sense is matter mixed with void.
Rocks drip with moisture in caves, and sweat breaks out
All over our bodies. We grow beards, have hair --
No only on our faces. All our food,
Distributed through the bloodstream, nourishes,
Brings growth to even our toe-nails. We can feel
Both cold and heat pass through a bowl of bronze
Or cups of gold and silver at banquet time.
And voices penetrate through walls of stone,
As odors trickle through, and heat and cold
And fire can force a passageway through iron.
Even the chain mail armament of sky
Is penetrable; through its chinks there come
Diseases from a world beyond, and storms
In earth or sky engendered make their way
To sky or earth, reciprocal; wherefore
We say once more, How porous things are!


One last bit:

Also, as years go through their revolutions
A ring wears thin under the finger's touch,
The drop of water hollows the stone, the plough
With its curving iron slowly wastes away
In the field it works; the footsteps of the people
We see wear out the paving-stones of rock
In the city streets, and at the city gates
Bronze statues show their right hands, thinner and thinner
From the touch of passers-by, through years of greeting.
We see these things worn down, diminished, only
After long lapse of time; nature denies us
The sight we need for any given moment.


When tiny salt eats into great sea cliffs,
You cannot see the process of the loss
At any given moment. Nature's work
Is done by means of particles unseen.

For more poems, visit Poetry Friday at The Boy Reader.

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