Today's poem is by Lucretius, translated by A. E. Stallings

from "The Dance of Atoms"

Even now, the world is past its prime, and the spent Earth
Can hardly fashion the scrawniest creatures, when she once gave birth
To all kinds, and the bodies of monstrous beasts. I cannot hold
The race of mortal beings was lowered on a rope of gold
To the fields down from the lofty heavens, nor that mortals came
From the sea, nor from the waves that smash the rocks. It's from the same
Earth that feeds them from her body now that they were born.
Besides, she was the first who volunteered the gleaming corn
For Man, and joyful vines, sweet fruits and the green fields which now
Can scarce be made to yield despite the salt-sweat of our brow.
We grind down oxen, the strength of farmers, the iron of the plough,
And still we barely eke a living from the fields — the soil,
So stingy with its fruits, has grown so greedy for our toil.

Now the old farmer shakes his head and groans again and again
That the hard labours of his hands have turned out all in vain.
He rails against the present, while he has nothing but praise
For the fortunes of his father — yes, those were the good old days!
And the planter of the spent and shrivelled vine-stock heaves a sigh,
Harps upon the times and shakes his fist against the sky.
He mutters how, in olden days, when men obeyed the gods,
Folk could easily make a living from their narrow plots,
Seeing how, before, the farmers had much smaller lots.
He doesn't know that all things dwindle away, stage by stage.
All list towards the Rocks exhausted by the course of Age.

Copyright © 2008 A. E. Stallings All rights reserved
from The Nature of Things
Penguin Classics
Reprinted by Verse Daily® with permission

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