Lyrical Translation of Parmenides’ Poem

Written by Parmenides of Elea, ca. 495 BCE
Poetical translation by M.J. Henn
Quoted from ‘Parmenides of Elea’

The Proem

Careering chargers, thundering swift, dispatch
My heart to places only hearts can match.´
Then destinies, far out in front, fast speed
Me down a road of song, whose windings feed

The knowing man through every village found.
This way conveyed I came. For coursers crowned
With wise renown advanced my speeding heart
Along – outstretching far my quickening cart.

Fair maidens led the way. From out its shaft
The axle sent a whining cry abaft,
Hot – burning under constant friction, bright
Within fast flickering hubs. For in their flight

Two wheels whirled the axle on a lathe,
As fleet Heliades caress and bathe
My car with dawning light, abandoning
Dark realms of Night to seek their father’s ring

Of light; while turning back, with regal hand,
Smooth veils from fair faces. Right there stand
Twin lofty gates dividing the way of Night
From Day. A lintel and sill of stony might

Encase them strong on either side, while doors
Of massive sweep and sway fill up with force
Their heavenly frame. And painful Justice holds,
With pain – dispensing woe, both locking bolts.

But gently urging maidens urged their way
With softened words, and quick She thrust away
For them the bolt – bars from the guarded gate.
Its doors then forced a yawning chasm great,

Unfolding giant wings attached with pins
Of brass in two – way hinges. Squealing dins
The air with plaintive moans, as doors fixed fast
With rows of riveted bolts wheel lazily past.

Through open gates swift maidens reined my horse
And car to trace their high celestial course.

A gracious goddess kindly welcomed me
With open arms and hospitality.
My right hand softly she entwined with hers
And spake to me in song this gentle verse:

“O Child of high-soaring ecstasies,
Immortal charioteers and chargers seize
You to my palace halls. I welcome you
Today! No evil Fate has sent you to

Traverse this starry path of mine (far back
It lies, removed from man’s own beaten track),
But Right and Justice teamed. Necessity
Demands you learn of nature’s panoply:

To wit, well-rounded Truth’s untrembling core
Of life, plus opinions born of common lore,
In which there is no true belief. Still yet
There is one thing you must not soon forget

How needs must seem those things which seem-to
Far-penetrating all reality.”

The Truth

“Arise, I say, take home my warbling lays
To hear afresh. These are the only ways
A thinking man should seek: One claims quite free
That Being Is, and is not not-to-be!

(She is Persuasion’s path, attending Truth).
The other, in opposite vein, retorts forsooth,

There is no Being! There must not ever be!
This path, I say, you’ll never learn to see;
For neither can you know non-being, a sheer
Impossibility, nor phrase it clear,

For Thinking and Being are one and the same.”

“Behold within your mind’s own deepening frame
Those presences steadfastly fixed, yet all
Removed from obviousness; for never shall
These beings dissolve their ineluctable hold

On Being, whether scattered manifold
Across the cosmic all, or packed into
A rounded ball; for, where I start, thereto
Shall I again return self-same. Now you

Must say and think that Being exists as true
Necessity; since Being is to Be,
But nothingness impossibility.
I urge you now to contemplate these lays,

For from the first path’s search I block your gaze.
Far off her winding course have mortals strayed
Alone in ambiguity, dismayed
Mid nothing seen nor known; for helplessness

Drives on the mind far – wandering their heart’s abyss.
They carry on both dumb and blind, amazed,
Confused, these feckless tribes, who wholly dazed,
Adjudge to be and not to be the same,

Yet not the same—A backward turning game
The path of all. So never be seduced
By thoughts that nothings equal beings reduced.
Blot from your thought this course! Raise high a fence!

Don’t let old Habit’s harsh experience
Propel you headlong down this fruitless path.
But close your blinded eyes, your ears with wrath
Of worldly sounds beset, and stay your tongue,

To judge, by reason’s aid alone, among
The paths my strife-filled refutations rive.
“Thus only one path’s myth remains alive.
The one that claims that ‘Being Is!’ Along

This path are posted many signs that throng
The passerby, such as UNGENERABLE
And absolutely INDESTRUCTIBLE,
UNWAVERING, ENDLESS, EVERY
– LIMB – ONE – WHOLE;

No was nor will: all past and future null;
Since Being subsists in one ubiquitous
Now – unitary and continuous.
For what descent would one assert for Being?

And how, from whence, will Being grow, so teeming
With vast increase? I bid you neither say
Nor think that Being springs from nothing’s way;
The notion that this Being is not is not

For thought to think, nor lips to speak. For what
Necessity would rouse vast Being to grow,
Begun in time or sprung ex nihilo?
So, Being must exist in fullest might,

Or not at all. Nor will the strength of right
Belief compel a thing to come – to – be
From nothing absolute. Its plain to see:
From nothing only nothing comes, because

By law does Justice hold from Being the cause
Of generation and decay. She feigns.
But slackens not her dominating chains.
Her grips grow stronger still! Your judgment o’er

My words resolves this crucial either – or,
Reflect it to your very core: Being is,
Or Being is not. Decide I say! Dismiss
The latter from your heart, a nameless course,

And thoughtless too, for she shows not the source
Of Truth. Traverse, instead, the Way of Being.
Embrace the Is, authentic, never fleeing.
So how, I ask, would Being cease? And how

Would Being come – to – be? It is not now,
If once it was, not even should it last
The span of future time extending past
Us now. So, genesis is quenched; its ruin

Not for experience. Nor is it strewn
Across vast multitudes, divided from
Itself; since all of Being is like, not some
Of it more here, and some of it less there.

The former forbids all binding holds unfair;
The latter neglects that all is filled to full
With Being. Hence, all exists together whole,
As being pulls itself to being by forced

Attraction mutual. But quite divorced,
Unmoved within the limits of great chains
Exists a sourceless, ceaseless Being; twin banes
Of birth and death long banished to the tides.

For true belief has pushed them out. It bides
The same in self-same place, remaining on
Its own, and so remains in fetters drawn

Steadfastly to its core. For powerful
Necessity ensnares it in her pull

Of chains and shackles binding fast, cinched tight
On every side. On this account ’tis right
For Being to be not incomplete. It lacks
No thing; since, if it did, its need would wax

For everything. Self – same as well the thought
And thinking act that Being Is; for not
Without the Being, in which it is expressed,
Will you discern the thinking act impressed

Upon the mind: for nothing else outside
Of Being exists or ever will. Cold pride
Of Fate confined it whole and motionless
To stay. Whence flow all names which mortals dress

With playful suppositions based on mere
Belief that naming captures Truth. You hear
Them speak of generation and decay,
Of being and non-being, of flight away

From place of rest, exchange of brilliant hue.
But here the outer limit shows the clue;
Since, now perfected from all points, just like
A massive sphere, it circles back to strike

Itself, in all ways equal from its core.
This limit needs must never be some more
Here, and some less there. For neither can
There be a what – is – not to halt its span

Out through itself toward self – same unity,
Nor can pure Being escape the symmetry
Of cosmic equipoise. It can not change
Intensity, nor broach its rounding range

To bulge with excess or deficiency,
Since all remains untouched simplicity.
For, equal to itself from every source,
Being meets with equal limits all its force.”

The Convention

“I cease here now, concerning Truth, my thought
And trusted speech for you; and learn you ought
The ways of mortal minds. So listen close
To hear the words deceptive order chose:

Men set their minds two shapes to name, but one
Of these must not be voiced; and here they’ve gone
Astray. They judged two masses opposite
In strength, and laid down signs to seal the split.

Of these, the first fires forth ethereal flame,
So gentle and smooth, in all directions same
Unto itself; the other, not a whit
The same, but in itself its opposite
— Dark Night, a dense and weighty mass.

To you I voice whole worlds of seeming things untrue.

Lest any mortal judgment should surpass
You unawares. But since all things alas

Are named for Light and Night, and since both powers
Have been assigned to these and those, there flowers
Full in all both Light and darkening Night
In equal quantities, for none in sight
Has share of one exclusively its own.”

“The aether you shall know, and all which sown
Therein did grow, both constellations far
And wide, and Sun’s destructive deeds, which scar
The earth with rays hot blazing torches burn,

And whence these came to be. I bid you learn
The wandering works and nature of the Moon,
Our spotted sphere. You’ll even know the swoon

And sway of Heaven’s vaulting love embrace;
Both whence he grew, and how, in shamed disgrace,
Necessity once dragged him off to hold
The limits of the stars; and how, it’s told,

The Earth, and Sun, and Moon, with aether round
Them drawn; our Heaven’s scattered milky fount,
Olympian heights, and thermal forces from
The stars awakened to their being. Benumb

With night, while circling earth, there shimmers strange
A borrowed light, which searches in its range
The blinding rays of Sun. The starry wreaths
Of thinner breadth bring forth a fire that breathes

And blasts full force; the ones beyond cloud black
With darkest Night, but still afar shine back
Their share of shimmering light. And in their midst
There lives the goddess Destiny, who sits

In queenship over all. For intercourse
Of lovers mixed, and loathsome pangs which course
The womb she rules over all. She sent
The woman off to mate with man, and bent

It back for man with woman to mate again.
And Eros first she destined to begin
The lineage of the Gods. And when a man
And woman intertwine to seal the plan

Of Passion’s love-affair, a life-force forms
From blood diverse, which courses thick and swarms
The veins to fashion bodies well-produced,
Of tempered forces born. For when, once loosed,

Life’s forces clash in strife upon the sown
Seed, no unity will they have grown
Within the body mixed, and curses shall vex
The growing child with indeterminate sex.

But when Love’s seeds implant themselves upon
The right side of the mother’s womb, they spawn
New baby boys, but on the left they yield
Girls. For just as each one holds, concealed

Within, some mix of Light with darkest Night,
Which rushes through their wandering limbs, so might
Exist the mind of man. For wisdom’s seat
Persists the same for everyone you meet:

A nature growing in the limbs; since Thought
Is marked by greater growth. And so the lot
Of all there is or ever was I’ve shown
To you according to opinions known.

But, after they’ve grown, they’ll cease to be.
Their names but signs affixed by man’s decree.

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