Reading Lucretius in Edmonton in winter




Almost 2,100 years ago, the Lucretius wrote a book called On the Nature of Things. The scientist-poet muses on the soul, matter, physics, history, happiness, sailing, corn, existential dread, wine, the weather, the theatre, mud, the allure of tyrants in times of ordeal, love, the senses, death, compounds, dreams, fire, fallacy, flatulence, why evil happens to good people, images, the afterlife and other breezy topics of interest to Rome back in the day. And volcanoes. He writes about volcanoes, too. And fabric. 

The tract is a song of praise to Epicurus, the Greek philosopher who "was the first that dared to raise mortal eyes" against superstitious religion. It's a slow, timely read. 

The book ends unexpectedly during an account of the plague that devastated Greece at the time of the Peloponnesian War. Some scholars suggest Lucretius died before being able to weave together the cosmos into a complete account. I kinda like how it ends. I also like the way The Sopranos ends.

The parts of The Nature of Things I enjoy the most are the things of nature. Early morning mists above the water are likened to vapoured garments. The winds carry great mountains of clouds through the air. Ice is "the great hardener of the waters, and the restraint which everywhere delays the eager rivers."

The description of ice makes me wonder what Lucretius would think of the frazil pans in the North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton this time of year. 



The great hardener of waters. What a memorable description and a thrilling gift from across the valley of time. 

Karl Ove Knausgaard distinguishes snow from rain in a Lucretiusque way. Snow is rain which for a time is out of circulation, he says. Snow signifies the temporary cessation of the movement of rain, he says. Later in the little essay called Snow, Knausgaard adjusts his perspective on snow and ice, making it more a doer than just a stopper. The whiteness of winter, the author says, is like an orchestra "where every single instrument suddenly begins to play the same note." 

I hear the lonely oboe in the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra sounding the A note, leading the strings and the horns into that same note of winter, with songs of Sibelius ahead.



I hear Leonard Cohen. too. Like Lucretius, Leonard Cohen travels with the sisters of mercy, Venus and Calliope. In I Can't Forget, Cohen also likens winter to an orchestra tuning up. 

Printing is like winter. 

Printed texts and scores harden and make stand still the flow of language and sound. 



So that readers and players may in their own time make their own discoveries that again make life new by "a process," Lucretius says, "similar to what we often witness, when, in the morning, the golden rays of the beaming sun first blush over the grass gemmed with dew." 













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