Metaphysics in Verse

by Peter Saint-Andre


One of the things I do to avoid exposure to the news is immerse myself in poetry. Most recently I've been reading English and American poets from the 1500s and 1600s, such as Anne Bradstreet, Samuel Daniel, and Thomas Traherne. At the same time, I've started an intensive re-reading of Aristotelian texts and commentary in preparation for writing an epitome of Aristotle's views on human flourishing. Putting the two together can yield some intriguing combinations!

For instance, I've been pondering the very beginning of Aristotle's Metaphysics, which in the classic translation by W.D. Ross is rendered as follows:

All men by nature desire to know. An indication of this is the delight we take in our senses; for even apart from their usefulness they are loved for themselves; and above all others the sense of sight. For not only with a view to action, but even when we are not going to do anything, we prefer seeing (one might say) to everything else. The reason is that this, most of all the senses, makes us know and brings to light many differences between things.

To make it more memorable, I decided to cast it into old-style verse, and here's what came out:

All human beings yearn to know;
'Tis nature that doth make it so:
Our mind and soul are such that hence
We joy in each and various sense.
But most of all we truly prize
The evidence that, through our eyes,
Doth never cease us to amaze
And ever draws our loving gaze.

Although I'm no Lucretius, these lines were fun to play with.

(Cross-posted at

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