Helplessness of the human infant in 'De rerum natura'  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Helplessness of the human infant in De rerum natura:

The child is like a sailor cast up by the sea,
lying naked on the shore, unable to speak,
helpless, when first it comes to the light of day,
shed from the womb through all the pains of labor,
[1] tr. partly from Sisson and Rouse
Lucr.'s comment on the appropriateness of the newborn baby's crying has been interpreted as pessimistic, but, although it cannot be dismissed as nothing more than a joke (both the crying of newborn babies and the unhappiness of most human beings are facts), account should be taken not only of the polemical nature of the whole passage, but also of an element of playfulness seen also in the remark, which immediately follows the comment about what awaits the baby, that the young of animals do not need rattles or a nurse's prattle to keep them contented. Lucr. was certainly no pessimist, believing as he did that, thanks to Epicurus, we can achieve a happiness comparable to that of the gods. [2]

The passage is imitated by William Wordsworth in "Upon the Birth of her First-Born Child", March 1833

"Like a shipwrecked Sailor tost
By rough waves on a perilous coast,
Lies the Babe, in helplessness
And in tenderest nakedness
Flung by labouring Nature forth
Upon the mercies of the earth.
Can its eyes beseech? no more
Than the hands arc free to implore:
Voice but serves for one brief cry;
Plaint was it? or prophesy
Of sorrow that will surely come?
Omen of man's grievous doom!"

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