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This review is taken from PN Review 1, Volume 4 Number 1, October - December 1977.

LUCRETIUS REDIVIVUS Lucretius, De Rerum Natura/The Poem on Nature, translated from the Latin by C. H. Sisson, Carcanet, £3.90.

Lucretius is perhaps the most neglected of the major Latin poets. His work is an invaluable source-book for the history of science, although his scientific concepts were not original, but most readers of poetry pay lip-service to his reputation and pass by on the other side of the road without even a limp shaking of hands. De Rerum Natura is a didactic poem nearly 7500 lines long. Didacticism in poetry is out of fashion, and didacticism at such length . . . ! Neglecting Lucretius, we miss out on a passionate sincerity which sweeps the most sceptical reader along, on many passages of vivid description, and on a wit and clarity most poets would envy.

Lucretius' love of intellectual argument and his touches of sarcasm and satire are qualities which C. H. Sisson is well-qualified to reproduce. So too with the descriptive passages. But Sisson is too intelligent a poet to shackle himself to a literal translation, and his imagination is too strong not to add its own brush-strokes. Thus when Lucretius says that if things were created from nothing 'young men would suddenly be made from small infants', Sisson has 'Young men would disconcertingly spring from perambulators'. Another example is his rendering of the description of the sacrifice at Aulis: where in Lucretius the people 'weep at the sight, dumb with terror', Sisson is more cynical: 'And all the bystanders merely blubbered and liked it.' Sisson goes on to reproduce magnificently Lucretius' contrast of Iphigenia being ...


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