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No Single Thing Abides

February 13, 2017

No Single Thing Abides – by Lucretius (c. 99-55 B.C.) – translated by W.H. Mallock

I

No single thing abides; but all things flow.
Fragment to fragment clings–the things thus grow
Until we know and name them. By degrees
They melt, and are no more the things we know.

II

Globed from the atoms falling slow or swift
I see the suns, I see the systems lift
Their forms; and even the systems and the suns
Shall go back slowly to the eternal drift.

III

Thou soo, oh earth–thine empires, lands, and seas–
Least, with thy stars, of all the galaxies,
Globed from the drift like these, like these thou too
Shalt go. Thou art going, hour by hour, like these.

IV

Nothing abides. The seas in delicate haze
Go off; those moonéd sands forsake their place;
And where they are, shall other seas in turn
Mow with their scythes of whiteness other bays.

V

Lo, how the terraced towers, and monstrous round
Of league-long ramparts rise from out the ground,
With gardens in the clouds. Then all is gone,
And Babylon is a memory and a mound.

VI

Observe this dew-drenched rose of Tyrian grain–
A rose today. But you will ask in vain
Tomorrow what it is; and yesterday
It was the dust, the sunshine and the rain.

VII

This bowl of milk, the pitch on yonder jar,
Are strange and far-bound travelers come from far
This is a snow-flake that was once a flame–
The flame was once the fragment of a star.

VIII

Round, angular, soft, brittle, dry, cold, warm,
Things are their qualities: things are their form–
And these in combination, even as bees,
Not singly but combined, make up the swarm:

IX

And when the qualities like bees on wing,
Having a moment clustered, cease to cling,
As the thing dies without its qualities,
So die the qualities without the thing.

X

Where is the coolness when no cool winds blow?
Where is the music when the lute lies low?
Are not the redness and the red rose one,
And the snow’s whiteness one thing with the snow?

XI

Even so, now mark me, here we reach the goal
Of Science, and in little have the whole–
Even as the redness and the rose are one,
So with the body one thing is the soul.

XII

For, as our limbs and organs all unite
to make our sum of suffering and delight,
And without eyes and ears and touch and tongue,
Were no such things as taste and sound and sight.

XIII

So without these we all in vain shall try
To find the things that gives them unity–
The thing to which each whispers, “Thou art thou”–
The soul which answers each, “And I am I.”

XIV

What! shall the dateless worlds in dust be blown
Back to the unremembered and unknown,
And this frail Thou–this flame of yesterday–
Burn on, forlorn, immortal, and alone?

XV

Did Nature, in the nurseries of the night
Tend it for this–Nature whose heedless might,
Casts, like some shipwrecked sailor, the poor babe,
Naked and bleating on the shores of light?

XVI

What is it there? A cry is all it is.
It knows not if its limbs be yours or his.
Less than that cry the babe was yesterday.
The man tomorrow shall be less than this.

XVII

Tissue by tissue to a soul he grows,
As leaf by leaf the rose becomes the rose.
Tissue from tissue rots; and, as the Sun
Goes from the bubbles when they burst, he goes.

XVIII

Ah, mark those pearls of Sunrise! Fast and free
Upon the waves they are dancing. Souls shall be
Things that outlast their bodies, when each spark
Outlasts its wave, each wave outlasts the sea.

XIX

The seeds that once were we take flight and fly,
Winnowed to earth, or whirled along the sky,
Not lost but disunited. Life lives on.
It is the lives, the lives, the lives, that die.

XX

They go beyond recapture and recall,
Lost in the all-indissoluble All:–
Gone like the rainbow from the fountain’s foam,
Gone like the spindrift shuddering down the squall.

XXI

Flakes of the water, on the waters cease!
Soul of the body, melt and sleep like these.
Atoms to atoms–weariness to rest–
Ashes to ashes–hopes and fears to peace!

XXII

Oh Science, lift aloud thy voice that stills
The pulse of fear, and through the conscience thrills–
Thrills through the conscience the news of peace–
How beautiful thy feet are on the hills!

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