I have begun translating portions of Lucretius, The Nature of Things. Not because a new translation is needed, which is far from the case, but because it was Lucretius who first gave me permission to follow my own thoughts. I still find in Lucretius that same sense of relief and release from the weight of authority and religion that readers must have valued 2,000 years ago - and not least because the work is more than 2,000 years old and remains an antidote to the arrogance of the modern mind that has lost the poetic roots of the mind's natural history. By, as it were, rewriting Lucretius by hand, I come closer to that mind.
From lines 146-198:
Each birth goes forth upon the shores of light
From its own stuff.. William Ellery Leonard, On the Nature of Things
Even the sun
and broad daylight
can’t conquer fear
or dispel the dark shadows
that haunt the mind.
We need to cast the light
on the outward forms
and inner laws of nature.
We start from this first principle:
Nothing is created out of nothing
by divine power.
For we fear what we don’t understand
and surrender our reason to the gods.
But once we say
nothing can be made from nothing
we can begin to seek
the sources of creation and the means
by which things come to be
without the intervention of the gods.
If everything arose from nothing
then nothing would depend upon its seed.
Men could rise from the sea,
scaly fish from out the earth
and birds hatch from the sky
already on the wing.
Pears could hang from apple trees
and nothing would be certain.
But certain seeds give birth to certain things
or how else could I be my mother’s son?
What need then would we have to grow?
A child might instantly become a man
astonished at the trees that suddenly
leap out at him full grown.
But every thing
grows up by degrees
from seeds of the particular
to become itself, nourished,
it is reasonable to think,
by its own material elements.
And think, too, that the earth
needs its seasons and the rain
and living creatures food
to live and reproduce their kind
and so we should conclude
that everything has common elements
as words are rearrangements of their common letters
and nothing springs into being without them.