Distinctions of Birth:
Hunger for Immortality in
Lucretius's De Rerum Natura
If from the earth we came, it was an earth
That bore us as a part of all the things
It breeds and that was lewder than it is.
Our nature is her nature. Hence it comes,
Since by our nature we grow old, earth grows
The same. We parallel the mother's death.
She walks an autumn ampler than the wind
Cries up for us and colder than the frost
Pricks in our spirits at the summer's end,
And over the bare spaces of our skies
She sees a barer sky that does not bend.
In this part of the book I turn from biblical to Graeco-Roman traditions on the earth that bore us, and to Lucretius, whose resolute refusal of mythic creator gods allows him to entertain the pull on the imagination of feminine maternal creative processes. Lucretius's unrelenting purpose in De rerum natura is to free his reader from the fear of death, and this involves him in the task of facing the indifference of the natural world and of the mother, as Wallace Stevens does in the lines that I cite