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Lucretius

Written by: Alfred Lord Tennyson | Biography
 | Quotes (78) |
 Lucilla, wedded to Lucretius, found
Her master cold; for when the morning flush
Of passion and the first embrace had died 
Between them, tho' he loved her none the less, 
Yet often when the woman heard his foot 
Return from pacings in the field, and ran 
To greet him with a kiss, the master took 
Small notice, or austerely, for his mind 
Half buried in some weightier argument, 
Or fancy-borne perhaps upon the rise 
And long roll of the hexameter -- he past 
To turn and ponder those three hundred scrolls
Left by the Teacher, whom he held divine.
She brook'd it not, but wrathful, petulant Dreaming some rival, sought and found a witch Who brew'd the philtre which had power, they said To lead an errant passion home again.
And this, at times, she mingled with his drink, And this destroy'd him; for the wicked broth Confused the chemic labor of the blood, And tickling the brute brain within the man's Made havoc among those tender cells, and check'd His power to shape.
He loathed himself, and once After a tempest woke upon a morn That mock'd him with returning calm, and cried: "Storm in the night! for thrice I heard the rain Rushing; and once the flash of a thunderbolt -- Methought I never saw so fierce a fork -- Struck out the streaming mountain-side, and show'd A riotous confluence of watercourses Blanching and billowing in a hollow of it, Where all but yester-eve was dusty-dry.
"Storm, and what dreams, ye holy Gods, what dreams! For thrice I waken'd after dreams.
Perchance We do but recollect the dreams that come Just ere the waking.
Terrible: for it seem'd A void was made in Nature, all her bonds Crack'd; and I saw the flaring atom-streams And torrents of her myriad universe, Ruining along the illimitable inane, Fly on to clash together again, and make Another and another frame of things For ever.
That was mine, my dream, I knew it -- Of and belonging to me, as the dog With inward yelp and restless forefoot plies His function of the woodland; but the next! I thought that all the blood by Sylla shed Came driving rainlike down again on earth, And where it dash'd the reddening meadow, sprang No dragon warriors from Cadmean teeth, For these I thought my dream would show to me, But girls, Hetairai, curious in their art, Hired animalisms, vile as those that made The mulberry-faced Dictator's orgies worse Than aught they fable of the quiet Gods.
And hands they mixt, and yell'd and round me drove In narrowing circles till I yell'd again Half-suffocated, and sprang up, and saw -- Was it the first beam of my latest day? "Then, then, from utter gloom stood out the The breasts of Helen, and hoveringly a sword Now over and now under, now direct, Pointed itself to pierce, but sank down shamed At all that beauty; and as I stared, a fire, The fire that left a roofless Ilion, Shot out of them, and scorch'd me that I woke.
"Is this thy vengeance, holy Venus, thine, Because I would not one of thine own doves, Not even a rose, were offered to thee? thine, Forgetful how my rich proemion makes Thy glory fly along the Italian field, In lays that will outlast thy deity? "Deity? nay, thy worshippers.
My tongue Trips, or I speak profanely.
Which of these Angers thee most, or angers thee at all? Not if thou be'st of those who, far aloof From envy, hate and pity, and spite and scorn, Live the great life which all our greatest fain Would follow, centred in eternal calm.
"Nay, if thou canst, Goddess, like ourselves Touch, and be touch'd, then would I cry to thee To kiss thy Mavors, roll thy tender arms Round him, and keep him from the lust of blood That makes a steaming slaughter-house of Rome.
"Ay, but I meant not thee; I meant riot her Whom all the pines of Ida shook to see Slide from that quiet heaven of hers, and tempt The Trojan, while his neatherds were abroad Nor her that o'er her wounded hunter wept Her deity false in human-amorous tears; Nor whom her beardless apple-arbiter Decided fairest.
Rather, O ye Gods, Poet-like, as the great Sicilian called Calliope to grace his golden verse -- Ay, and this Kypris also -- did I take That popular name of thine to shadow forth The all-generating powers and genial heat Of Nature, when she strikes thro' the thick blood Of cattle, and light is large, and lambs are glad Nosing the mother's udder, and the bird Makes his heart voice amid the blaze of flowers; Which things appear the work of mighty Gods.
"The Gods! and if I go my work is left Unfinish'd -- if I go.
The Gods, who haunt The lucid interspace of world and world, Where never creeps a cloud, or moves a wind, Nor ever falls the least white star of mow Nor ever lowest roll of thunder moans, Nor sound of human sorrow mounts to mar Their sacred everlasting calm! and such, Not all so fine, nor so divine a calm Not such, nor all unlike it, man may gain Letting his own life go.
The Gods, the Godsl If all be atoms, how then should the Gods Being atomic not be dissoluble, Not follow the great law? My master held That Gods there are, for all men so believe.
I prest my footsteps into his, and meant Surely to lead my Memmius in a train Of fiowery clauses onward to the proof That Gods there are, and deathless.
Meant? I meant? I have forgotten what I meant, my mind Stumbles, and all my faculties are lamed.
"Look where another of our Gods, the Sun Apollo, Delius, or of older use All-seeing Hyperion -- what you will -- Has mounted yonder; since he never sware, Except his wrath were wreak'd on wretched man, That he would only shine among the dead Hereafter -- tales! for never yet on earth Could dead flesh creep, or bits of roasting ox Moan round the spit -- nor knows he what he sees; King of the East altho' he seem, and girt With song and flame and fragrance, slowly lifts His golden feet on those empurpled stairs That climb into the windy halls of heaven And here he glances on an eye new-born, And gets for greeting but a wail of pain; And here he stays upon a freezing orb That fain would gaze upon him to the last; And here upon a yellow eyelid fallen And closed by those who mourn a friend in vain, Not thankful that his troubles are no more.
And me, altho' his fire is on my face Blinding, he sees not, nor at all can tell Whether I mean this day to end myself.
Or lend an ear to Plato where he says, That men like soldiers may not quit the post Allotted by the Gods.
But he that holds The Gods are careless, wherefore need he care Greatly for them, nor rather plunge at once, Being troubled, wholly out of sight, and sink Past earthquake -- ay, and gout and stone, that break Body toward death, and palsy, death-in-life, And wretched age -- and worst disease of all, These prodigies of myriad nakednesses, And twisted shapes of lust, unspeakable, Abominable, strangers at my hearth Not welcome, harpies miring every dish, The phantom husks of something foully done, And fleeting thro' the boundless universe, And blasting the long quiet of my breast With animal heat and dire insanity? "How should the mind, except it loved them, clasp These idols to herself? or do they fly Now thinner, and now thicker, like the flakes In a fall of snow, and so press in, perforce Of multitude, as crowds that in an hour Of civic tumult jam the doors, and bear The keepers down, and throng, their rags and the The basest, far into that council-hall Where sit the best and stateliest of the land? ³Can I not fling this horror off me again, Seeing with how great ease Nature can smile Balmier and nobler from her bath of storm, At random ravage? and how easily The mountain there has cast his cloudy slough, Now towering o'er him in serenest air, A mountain o'er a mountain, -- ay, and within All hollow as the hopes and fears of men? "But who was he that in the garden snared Picus and Faunus, rustic Gods? a tale To laugh at -- more to laugh at in myself -- For look! what is it? there? yon arbutus Totters; a noiseless riot underneath Strikes through the wood, sets all the tops quivering -- ; The mountain quickens into Nymph and Faun, And here an Oread -- how the sun delights To glance and shift about her slippery sides, And rosy knees and supple roundedness, And budded bosom-peaks -- who this way runs Before the rest! -- a satyr, a satyr, see, Follows; but him I proved impossible Twy-natured is no nature.
Yet he draws Nearer and nearer, and I scan him now Beastlier than any phantom of his kind That ever butted his rough brother-brute For lust or lusty blood or provender.
I hate, abhor, spit, sicken at him; and she Loathes him as well; such a precipitate heel, Fledged as it were with Mercury's ankle-wing, Whirls her to me -- ;but will she fling herself Shameless upon me? Catch her, goatfoot! nay, Hide, hide them, million-myrtled wilderness, And cavern-shadowing laurels, hide! do I wish -- What? -- ;that the bush were leafless? or to whelm All of them in one massacre? O ye Gods I know you careless, yet, behold, to you From childly wont and ancient use I call -- I thought I lived securely as yourselves -- No lewdness, narrowing envy, monkey-spite, No madness of ambition, avarice, none; No larger feast than under plane or pine With neighbors laid along the grass, to take Only such cups as left us friendly-warm, Affirming each his own philosophy Nothing to mar the sober majesties Of settled, sweet, Epicurean life.
But now it seems some unseen monster lays His vast and filthy hands upon my will, Wrenching it backward into his, and spoils My bliss in being; and it was not great, For save when shutting reasons up in rhythm, Or Heliconian honey in living words, To make a truth less harsh, I often grew Tired of so much within our little life Or of so little in our little life -- Poor little life that toddles half an hour Crown'd with a flower or two, and there an end -- And since the nobler pleasure seems to fade, Why should I, beastlike as I find myself, Not manlike end myself? -- our privilege -- ; What beast has heart to do it? And what man What Roman would be dragg'd in triumph thus? Not I; not he, who bears one name with her Whose death-blow struck the dateless doom of kings, When, brooking not the Tarquin in her veins, She made her blood in sight of Collatine And all his peers, flushing the guiltless air, Spout from the maiden fountain in her heart.
And from it sprang the Commonwealth, which breaks As I am breaking now! "And therefore now Let her, that is the womb and tomb of all Great Nature, take, and forcing far apart Those blind beginnings that have made me man, Dash them anew together at her will Thro' all her cycles -- into man once more, Or beast or bird or fish, or opulent flower.
But till this cosmic order everywhere Shatter'd into one earthquake m one day Cracks all to pieces, -- and that hour perhaps Is not so far when momentary man Shall seem no more a something to himself, But he, his hopes and hates, his homes and fanes And even his bones long laid within the grave, The very sides of the grave itself shall pass, Vanishing, atom and void, atom and void, Into the unseen for ever, -- till that hour, My golden work in which I told a truth That stays the rolling Ixionian wheel, And numbs the Fury's ringlet-snake, and plucks The mortal soul from out immortal hell Shall stand.
Ay, surely; then it fails at last And perishes as I must, for O Thou Passionless bride, divine Tranquillity, Yearn'd after by the wisest of the wise Who fail to find thee, being as thou art Without one pleasure and without one pain, Howbeit I know thou surely must be mine Or soon or late, yet out of season, thus I woo thee roughly, for thou carest not How roughly men may woo thee so they win -- ; Thus -- thus -- the soul flies out and dies in the air With that he drove the knife into his side.
She heard him raging, heard him fall, ran in, Beat breast, tore hair, cried out upon herself As having fail'd in duty to him, shriek'd That she but meant to win him back, fell on him Clasp'd, kiss'd him, wail'd.
He answer'd, "Care not thou! Thy duty? What is duty? Fare thee well!"



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