Verse > Anthologies > T. R. Smith, ed. > Poetica Erotica: A Collection of Rare and Curious Amatory Verse
T. R. Smith, comp.  Poetica Erotica: Rare and Curious Amatory Verse.  1921–22.
Concerning the Nature of Love
By Lucretius, c. 99–55 B.C.
(From the Fourth Book; translated by John Dryden)

THUS, therefore, he who feels the fiery dart
Of strong desire transfix his amorous heart,
Whether some beauteous boy’s alluring face,
Or lovelier maid, with unresisting grace,
From her each part the winged arrow sends,        5
From whence he first was struck he thither tends;
Restless he roams, impatient to be freed,
And eager to inject the sprightly seed;
For fierce desire does all his mind employ,
And ardent love assures approaching joy.        10
Such is the nature of that pleasing smart,
Whose burning drops distil upon the heart,
The fever of the soul shot from the fair,
And the cold ague of succeeding care.
If absent, her idea still appears,        15
And her sweet name is chiming in your ears.
But strive those pleasing phantoms to remove,
And shun the aerial images of love,
That feed the flame; when one molests thy mind,
Discharge thy loins on all the leaky kind;        20
For that’s a wiser way than to restrain
Within thy swelling nerves that hoard of pain.
For every hour some deadlier symptom shows,
And by delay the gathering venom grows,
When kindly applications are not used;        25
The viper, love, must on the wound be bruised:
On that one object ’tis not safe to stay,
But force the tide of thought some other way:
The squandered spirits prodigally throw,
And in the common globe of nature sow.        30
Nor wants he all the bliss that lovers feign,
Who takes the pleasure, and avoids the pain;
For purer joys in purer health abound,
And less affect the sickly than the sound.
  When love its utmost vigor does employ,        35
Even then ’tis but a restless wandering joy:
Nor knows the lover in that wild excess,
With hands or eyes, what first he would possess:
But strains at all, and, fast’ning where he strains,
Too closely presses with his frantic pains;        40
With biting kisses hurts the twining fair,
Which shows his joys imperfect, insincere:
For, stung with inward rage, he flings around,
And strives to avenge the smart on that which gave the wound.
But love those eager bitings does restrain,        45
And mingling pleasure mollifies the pain.
For ardent hope still flatters anxious grief,
And sends him to his foe to seek relief:
Which yet the nature of the thing denies;
For love, and love alone of all our joys,        50
By full possession does but fan the fire;
The more we still enjoy, the more we still desire.
Nature for meat and drink provides a space,
And, when received, they fill their certain place:
Hence thirst and hunger may be satisfied;        55
But this repletion is to love denied:
Form, feature, colour, whatsoe’er delight
Provokes the lover’s endless appetite,
These fill no space, nor can we thence remove
With lips, or hands, or all our instruments of love:        60
In our deluded grasp we nothing find,
But thin aerial shapes, that fleet before the mind.
As he, who in a dream with drought is curst,
And finds no real drink to quench his thirst;
Runs to imagined lakes his heat to steep,        65
And vainly swills and labors in his sleep;
So love with phantoms cheats our longing eyes,
Which hourly seeing never satisfies:
Our hands pull nothing from the parts they strain,
But wander o’er the lovely limbs in vain:        70
Nor when the youthful pair more closely join,
When hands in hands they lock, and thighs in thighs they twine,
Just in the raging foam of full desire,
When both press on, both murmur, both expire,
They grip, they squeeze, their humid tongues they dart,        75
As each would force their way to t’other’s heart:
In vain; they only cruise about the coast;
For bodies cannot pierce, nor be in bodies lost;
As sure they strive to be, when both engage
In that tumultuous momentary rage;        80
So ’tangled in the nets of love they lie,
Till man dissolves in that excess of joy.
Then, when the gathered bag has burst its way,
And ebbing tides the slackened nerves betray,
A pause ensues; and nature nods awhile,        85
Till with recruited rage new spirits boil;
And then the same vain violence returns;
With flames renewed the erected furnace burns.
Again they in each other would be lost,
But still by adamantine bars are crossed.        90
All ways they try, successless all they prove,
To cure the secret sore of ling’ring love.
They waste their strength in the venereal strife,
And to a woman’s will enslave their life;        95
The estate runs out, and mortgages are made;
All offices of friendship are decayed;
Their fortune ruined, and their fame betrayed.
Assyrian ointment from their temples flows,
And diamond buckles sparkle at their shoes.        100
The cheerful emerald twinkles on their hands,
With all the luxury of foreign lands:
And the blue coat, that with embroid’ry shines,
Is drunk with sweat of their o’er-labored loins.
Their frugal fathers’ gains they misemploy,        105
And turn to paint, and pearl, and ev’ry female toy.
French fashions, costly treats are their delight;
The park by day, and plays and balls by night.
In vain:——
For in the fountain, where their sweets are sought,        110
Some bitter bubbles up, and poisons all the draught.
First, guilty Conscience does the mirror bring,
Then sharp Remorse shoots out her angry sting;
And anxious thoughts, within themselves at strife,
Upbraid the long misspent, luxurious life.        115
Perhaps, the fickle fair one proves unkind,
Or drops a doubtful word, that pains his mind,
And leaves a rankling jealousy behind.
Perhaps, he watches close her amorous eyes,
And in the act of ogling does surprise;        120
And thinks he sees upon her cheeks the while
The dimpled tracks of some foregoing smile;
His raging pulse beats thick, and his pent spirits boil.
This is the product e’en of prosp’rous love:
Think then what pangs disastrous passions prove!        125
Innumerable ills; disdain, despair,
With all the meager family of care.
  Thus, as I said, ’tis better to prevent,
Than flatter the disease, and late repent:
Because to shun the allurement is not hard        130
To minds resolved, forewarned, and well prepared;
But wondrous difficult, when once beset,
To struggle through the straits, and break the involving net.
Yet, thus ensnared, thy freedom thou may’st gain,
If, like a fool, thou dost not hug thy chain;        135
If not to ruin obstinately blind,
And wilfully endeavoring not to find
Her plain defects of body and of mind.
For thus the Bedlam train of lovers use
T’ enhance the value, and the faults excuse;        140
And therefore ’tis no wonder if we see
They doat on dowdies and deformity;
E’en what they cannot praise, they will not blame,
But veil with some extenuating name:
The sallow skin is for the swarthy put,        145
And love can make a slattern of a slut.
If cat-eyed, then a Pallas is their love;
If freckled, she’s a party-coloured dove;
If little, then she’s life and soul all o’er:
An Amazon, the large two-handed whore.        150
She stammers; oh what grace in lisping lies!
If she says nothing, to be sure she’s wise.
If shrill, and with a voice to drown a choir,
Sharp-witted she must be, and full of fire.
The lean, consumptive wench, with coughs decayed,        155
Is called a pretty, tight, and slender maid.
The o’ergrown, a goodly Ceres is exprest,
A bed-fellow for Bacchus at the least.
Flat-nose the name of Satyr never misses,
And hanging blobber lips but pout for kisses.        160
The task were endless all the rest to trace:
Yet grant she were a Venus for her face
And shape, yet others equal beauty share;
And time was you could live without the fair;
She does no more, in that for which you woo,        165
Then homelier women full as well can do.
Besides, she daubs; and stinks so much of paint,
Her own attendants cannot bear the scent,
But laugh behind, and bite their lips to hold;
Meantime, excluded, and exposed to cold,        170
The whining lover stands before the gates,
And there with humble adoration waits:
Crowning with flowers the threshold and the floor,
And printing kisses on the obdurate door:
Who, if admitted in that nick of time,        175
If some unsav’ry whiff betray the crime,
Invents a quarrel straight, if there be none,
Or makes some faint excuses to be gone;
And calls himself a doting fool to serve,
Ascribing more than woman can deserve.        180
Which well they understand like cunning queens;
And hide their nastiness behind the scenes,
From him they have allured, and would retain;
But to a piercing eye ’tis all in vain:
For common sense brings all their cheats to view,        185
And the false light discovers by the true;
Which a wise harlot owns, and hopes to find
A pardon for defects, that run thro’ all the kind.
  Nor always do they feign the sweets of love,
When round the panting youth their pliant limbs they move,        190
And cling, and heave, and moisten ev’ry kiss;
They often share, and more than share the bliss:
From every part ev’n to their inmost soul,
They feel the trickling joys, and run with vigor to the goal.
Stirred with the same impetuous desire,        195
Birds, beasts, and herds, and mares, their males require:
Because the throbbing nature in their veins
Provokes them to assuage their kindly pains.
The lusty leap the expecting female stands,
By mutual heat compelled to mutual bands.        200
Thus dogs with lolling tongues by love are tied;
Nor shouting boys nor blows their union can divide:
At either end they strive the link to loose;
In vain, for stronger Venus holds the noose.
Which never would those wretched lovers do,        205
But that the common heats of love they know;
The pleasure therefore must be shared in common too:
And when the woman’s more prevailing juice
Sucks in the man’s, the mixture will produce
The mother’s likeness; when the man prevails,        210
His own resemblance in the seed he seals,
But when we see the new-begotten race
Reflect the features of each parents’ face,
Then of the father’s and the mother’s blood
The justly tempered seed is understood:        215
When both conspire, with equal ardor bent,
From every limb the due proportion sent,
When neither party foils, when neither foiled,
This gives the blended features of the child.
Sometimes the boy the grandsire’s image bears;        220
Sometimes the more remote progenitor he shares;
Because the genial atoms of the seed
Lie long concealed ere they exert the breed;
And, after sundry ages past, produce
The tardy likeness of the latent juice.        225
Hence, families such different figures take,
And represent their ancestors in face, and hair, and make;
Because of the same seed, the voice, and hair,
And shape, and face, and other members are,
And the same antique mold the likeness does prepare.        230
Thus oft the father’s likeness does prevail
In females, and the mother’s in the male;
For, since the seed is of a double kind,
From that where we the most resemblance find,
We may conclude the strongest tincture sent,        235
And that was in conception prevalent.
  Nor can the vain decrees of powers above
Deny production to the act of love,
Or hinder fathers of that happy name,
Or with a barren womb the matron shame;        240
As many think, who stain with victims’ blood
The mournful altars, and with incense load,
To bless the show’ry seed with future life,
And to impregnate the well-laboured wife.
In vain they weary Heaven with prayer, or fly        245
To oracles, or magic numbers try:
For barrenness of sexes will proceed
Either from too condensed or wat’ry seed:
The wat’ry juice too soon dissolves away,
And in the parts projected will not stay:        250
The too condensed, unsouled, unwieldy mass,
Drops short, nor carries to the destined place;
Nor pierces to the parts, nor, tho’ injected home,
Will mingle with the kindly moisture of the womb.
For nuptials are alike in their success:        255
Some men with fruitful seed some women bless;
And from some men some women fruitful are;
Just as their constitutions join or jar:
And many seeming barren wives have been,
Who after, matched with more prolific men,        260
Have filled a family with prattling boys:
And many, not supplied at home with joys,
Have found a friend abroad, to ease their smart,
And to perform the sapless husbands’ part.
So much it does import that seed with seed        265
Should of the kindly mixture make the breed;
And thick with thin, and thin with thick should join,
So to produce and propagate the line.
Of such concernment too is drink and food,
To incrassate, to attenuate the blood.        270
Of like importance is the posture too,
In which the genial feat of love we do:
For, as the females of the four-foot kind
Receive the leapings of their males behind;
So the good wives, with loins uplifted high,        275
And leaning on their hands, the fruitful stroke may try:
For in that posture will they best conceive:
Not when, supinely laid, they frisk and heave:
For active motions only break the blow:
And more of strumpets than of wives they show;        280
When, answering stroke with stroke, the mingled liquors flow;
Endearments eager, and too brisk a bound
Throws off the plowshare from the furrowed ground.
But common harlots in conjunction heave
Because ’tis less their business to conceive        285
Than to delight, and to provoke the deed;
A trick which honest wives but little need.
Now is it from the gods, or Cupid’s dart,
That many a homely woman takes the heart,
But wives well-humored, dutiful, and chaste,        290
And clean, will hold their wand’ring husbands fast;
Such are the links of love, and such a love will last.
For what remains, long habitude, and use,
Will kindness in domestic bands produce:
For custom will a strong impression leave.        295
Hard bodies, which the lightest stroke receive,
In length of time will molder and decay,
And stones with drops of rain are washed away.

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