My soul is wrought to sing of forms transformed
to bodies new and strange! Immortal Gods
inspire my heart, for ye have changed yourselves
and all things you have changed! Oh lead my song
in smooth and measured strains, from olden days
when earth began to this completed time!
Before the ocean and the earth appeared —
before the skies had overspread them all —
the face of Nature in a vast expanse
was naught but Chaos uniformly waste.
It was a rude and undeveloped mass,
that nothing made except a ponderous weight;
and all discordant elements confused,
were there congested in a shapeless heap.
As yet the sun afforded earth no light,
nor did the moon renew her crescent horns;
the earth was not suspended in the air
exactly balanced by her heavy weight.
Not far along the margin of the shores
had Amphitrite stretched her lengthened arms, —
for all the land was mixed with sea and air.
The land was soft, the sea unfit to sail,
the atmosphere opaque, to naught was given
a proper form, in everything was strife,
and all was mingled in a seething mass —
with hot the cold parts strove, and wet with dry
and soft with hard, and weight with empty void.
But God, or kindly Nature, ended strife —
he cut the land from skies, the sea from land,
the heavens ethereal from material air;
and when were all evolved from that dark mass
he bound the fractious parts in tranquil peace.
The fiery element of convex heaven
leaped from the mass devoid of dragging weight,
and chose the summit arch to which the air
as next in quality was next in place.
The earth more dense attracted grosser parts
and moved by gravity sank underneath;
and last of all the wide surrounding waves
in deeper channels rolled around the globe.
And when this God — which one is yet unknown —
had carved asunder that discordant mass,
had thus reduced it to its elements,
that every part should equally combine,
when time began He rounded out the earth
and moulded it to form a mighty globe.
Then poured He forth the deeps and gave command
that they should billow in the rapid winds,
that they should compass every shore of earth.
he also added fountains, pools and lakes,
and bound with shelving banks the slanting streams,
which partly are absorbed and partly join
the boundless ocean. Thus received amid
the wide expanse of uncontrolled waves,
they beat the shores instead of crooked banks.
At His command the boundless plains extend,
the valleys are depressed, the woods are clothed
in green, the stony mountains rise. And as
the heavens are intersected on the right
by two broad zones, by two that cut the left,
and by a fifth consumed with ardent heat,
with such a number did the careful God
mark off the compassed weight, and thus the earth
received as many climes. — Such heat consumes
the middle zone that none may dwell therein;
and two extremes are covered with deep snow;
and two are placed betwixt the hot and cold,
which mixed together give a temperate clime;
and over all the atmosphere suspends
with weight proportioned to the fiery sky,
exactly as the weight of earth compares
with weight of water.
And He ordered mist
to gather in the air and spread the clouds.
He fixed the thunders that disturb our souls,
and brought the lightning on destructive winds
that also waft the cold. Nor did the great
Artificer permit these mighty winds
to blow unbounded in the pathless skies,
but each discordant brother fixed in space,
although His power can scarce restrain their rage
to rend the universe. At His command
to far Aurora, Eurus took his way,
to Nabath, Persia, and that mountain range
first gilded by the dawn; and Zephyr’s flight
was towards the evening star and peaceful shores,
warm with the setting sun; and Boreas
invaded Scythia and the northern snows;
and Auster wafted to the distant south
where clouds and rain encompass his abode. —
and over these He fixed the liquid sky,
devoid of weight and free from earthly dross.
And scarcely had He separated these
and fixed their certain bounds, when all the stars,
which long were pressed and hidden in the mass,
began to gleam out from the plains of heaven,
and traversed, with the Gods, bright ether fields:
and lest some part might be bereft of life
the gleaming waves were filled with twinkling fish;
the earth was covered with wild animals;
the agitated air was filled with birds.
But one more perfect and more sanctified,
a being capable of lofty thought,
intelligent to rule, was wanting still
man was created! Did the Unknown God
designing then a better world make man
of seed divine? or did Prometheus
take the new soil of earth (that still contained
some godly element of Heaven’s Life)
and use it to create the race of man;
first mingling it with water of new streams;
so that his new creation, upright man,
was made in image of commanding Gods?
On earth the brute creation bends its gaze,
but man was given a lofty countenance
and was commanded to behold the skies;
and with an upright face may view the stars: —
and so it was that shapeless clay put on
the form of man till then unknown to earth.