The four texts in this cycle are excerpts from a very long six-volume poem by Lucretius (ca. 99- 55 BCE) in which he describes the details of Epicurean philosophy. In simple terms, this is a philosophy of the physical world, one in which all things are made up of tiny bits of matter (primordials, atoms, etc.), where one should pursue happiness but not to the detriment of others, where the soul is made of the same physical matter as the body, where death is final and therefore not to be feared.
The first song, “Every Color Changes”, explains that atoms themselves have no color, and that to assume (for example) a red object is made of red atoms is to rob the atom of its ability to change appearance in different environments. “Mind and Soul” is part of an argument in which Lucretius identifies the “mind” as a physical part of the body, like a limb or an eye—all of which are connected to the mortal soul. “Look Back” is the summary of a long passage on death. The final song, “So Big the Rains”, talks about the nature of thunder and lightning, in which lightning is the result of a kind of friction between a cloud and the wind.
While much of the scientific basis upon which Lucretius’s proofs are based is faulty, it is nonetheless astonishing how close some of it is to our modern day understanding of the physical world. His desire to explain very complex things with basic fundamental elements is one of the things that first attracted me to the text, and what then inspired me to set the text to music. The English versions used here are adapted from American poet William Ellery Leonard’s (1876-1944) translation, and thus the rhythm and musicality of the texts are distinctly his.