From Book III of De Rerum Natura of Titus Lucretius Carus
translated by David R. Slavitt
If you could get him to see the obvious truth, how could he
not give up his strenuous, pointless hustle and bustle,
and perhaps turn his attention to the more satisfying study
of the nature of things? What he is worried about, or ought
to devote his attention to, is not his mood of the hour
but rather the unchanging human condition, how
to live in this world, and what to expect in the time after death.
What, after all, is this terrible eagerness for life
that hounds us and fills us with doubts and irrational fears? We
are mortals, which means that our lives do not go on forever, 950
and we all know this and, one way or another, we manage
to face death and to die. No one avoids or eludes
that end. We scurry and rush amid the things of this world,
looking for some new pleasure, something with which to sate
our persistent hunger, but nothing we happen to seize on will answer
the question that nags at us still, and we want something else, something new.
Our mouths are always agape and we perish with quenchless thirsts,
as we worry what the next year, the next month, the next day may bring.
Something good? Or disaster? Or the same old thing? Or death? 960
We all want to live longer, but we know in our hearts that we cannot
shorten death’s domain by one drop of the water-clock.
Stay well, live long, see grandchildren, great-grandchildren, but death
still lurks in an obscure corner of every room you enter,
biding his good time. You have an appointment with him
and you will start serving your infinite sentence that stretches out
as long for you as for him who died many years ago.
Note to our readers: This translation will soon be published by the University of California. The numbers in it represent the numbers corresponding to the translation, not the original Latin.
Also, you may notice subtle differences within the text with regard to spacing and alignment. This text does not offer an exact replica of the print, due to issues related to relative screen pixels. We hope that you appreciate the translation and our attempt to preserve the text in electronic form.*
* The Romans were not adept with digital pixels.
Per Contra Poetry - Fall 2006