Alfred Lord Tennyson, ‘Lucretius’ (first published in Macmillan’s Magazine, May 1868)

Lucilia, wedded to Lucretius, found 1
Her master cold; for when the morning flush
Of passion and the first embrace had died
Between them, tho’ he lov’d her none the less,
Yet often when the woman heard his foot 5
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 10
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 15
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 labour of the blood. 20
And tickling the brute brain within the man’s 
Made havock 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: 25

‘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 30
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  35
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, 40
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 45
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, 50
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. 55
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 breasts, 60
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, 65
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 ev’n a rose, were offer’d to thee? thine, 
Forgetful how my rich prooemion makes 70
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? 75
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, center’d in eternal calm.

‘Nay, if thou canst, O Goddess, like ourselves 80
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 not her, 85
Whom all the pines of Ida shook to see 
Slide from that quiet heaven of hers, and tempt 
The Trojan, while his neat-herds were abroad; 
Nor her that o’er her wounded hunter wept 
Her Deity false in human-amorous tears; 90
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 95
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 100
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, 105
Where never creeps a cloud, or moves a wind, 
Nor ever falls the least white star of snow, 
Nor ever lowest roll of thunder moans, 
Nor sound of human sorrow mounts to mar 
Their sacred everlasting calm! and such, 110
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 Gods! 
If all be atoms, how then should the Gods 
Being atomic not be dissoluble, 115
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 flowery clauses onward to the proof 120
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 125
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 130
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 135
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; 140
And here upon a yellow eyelid fall’n 
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 145
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 150
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, 155
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, 160
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 165
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 they 170
The basest, far into that council-hall 
Where sit the best and stateliest of the land? 

‘Can I not fling this horror off me again, 
Seeing with how great ease Nature can smile, 
Balmier and nobler from her bath of storm, 175
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? 180

‘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 185
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, 190
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 195
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, 200
Fledged as it were with Mercury’s ankle-wing, 
Whirls her to me: but will she fling herself, 
Shameless upon me? Catch her, goat-foot: nay, 
Hide, hide them, million-myrtled wilderness, 
And cavern-shadowing laurels, hide! do I wish― 205
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― 210
No lewdness, narrowing envy, monkey-spite, 
No madness of ambition, avarice, none: 
No larger feast than under plane or pine 
With neighbours laid along the grass, to take 
Only such cups as left us friendly-warm, 215
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, 220
Wrenching it back ward 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 225
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, 230
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 235
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. 240
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, 245
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 in one day 250
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, 255
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, 260
That 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, 265
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 270
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, 275
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!’ 280

Relevant guides Lucretius