Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 4.1-25: The Merits of a Spoonful of Sugar

This passage was famous long before Mary Poppins stole its theme….


“I cross the roadless places of the Pierides
where no earlier step has fallen. I am pleased to find untouched springs
and to drink deep, and to pick new flowers
to fashion into a well-marked crown for my head
from fields where the Muses have covered no man’s temple.
First, this is because I teach about weighty matters
and I try to free the mind from the tight knots of religion;
And then because I elicit lucidity from dark affairs
as I adorn my whole song with the Muses’ charm.
This too does not seem to be separate from reason:
For just as doctors when they try to administer
bitter medicine to children will first spread around
the top of the cup the pleasing touch of sweet honey
so that the unsuspecting youth is deceived
Right to the lips, until they finish drinking down
medicine’s bitter bite, merely tricked but not betrayed;
then he returns to health because of this secret.
So now I, because this lesson often seems to be
rather harsh to those who are unacquainted with it—
the very reason the crowd recoils in response—
I have decided to set out this argument in the sweet-speech
of Pierian song and just in the same way to touch it with the Muses’ honey
if there is any way I am able to hold a mind to this thought
with my verses until you can perceive
the whole nature of the universe and what it is for.”


Avia Pieridum peragro loca nullius ante
trita solo. iuvat integros accedere fontis
atque haurire, iuvatque novos decerpere flores
insignemque meo capiti petere inde coronam,
unde prius nulli velarint tempora musae;
primum quod magnis doceo de rebus et artis
religionum animum nodis exsolvere pergo,
deinde quod obscura de re tam lucida pango
carmina musaeo contingens cuncta lepore.
id quoque enim non ab nulla ratione videtur;
nam vel uti pueris absinthia taetra medentes
cum dare conantur, prius oras pocula circum
contingunt mellis dulci flavoque liquore,
ut puerorum aetas inprovida ludificetur
labrorum tenus, interea perpotet amarum
absinthi laticem deceptaque non capiatur,
sed potius tali facto recreata valescat,
sic ego nunc, quoniam haec ratio plerumque videtur
tristior esse quibus non est tractata, retroque
volgus abhorret ab hac, volui tibi suaviloquenti
carmine Pierio rationem exponere nostram
et quasi musaeo dulci contingere melle;
si tibi forte animum tali ratione tenere
versibus in nostris possem, dum percipis omnem
naturam rerum ac persentis utilitatem.


And you knew this was coming:

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