Letters on Happiness

by Peter Saint-Andre

Letter Twenty-Three: Greener Thoughts

Previous: Letter Twenty-Two: Reverence for Life

Hi Paul!

That insight strikes a chord with me, but then I'm a poet at heart. It does seem more emotional or spiritual than Epicurus might have been comfortable with — my impression from his fragments is that he was a bit dry in how he expressed things — but I think it's consistent with his somewhat strange ideas about pleasure and happiness.

I think it might be easier to capture this spiritual aspect of Epicureanism in poetry than in prose. As Lucretius wrote to start Book Five of The Nature of Things:

Who can build a fitting song, who has the strength of heart
To match the Majesty of Things and these truths in his art?

Indeed, throughout the centuries, numerous fine poets — Horace, Catullus, Shelley, Tennyson, Swinburne, Whitman, Dickinson, Pessoa, and of course our friend Lucretius — have been influenced by Epicurus in his emphasis on tranquility, avoiding politics, and enjoying each day. As a matter of fact, I recently noticed that the person who made the Epicurus translation we've been using has rendered some of the more Epicurean poems of Horace into English (see http://www.monadnock.net/horace/). He has also written an original poem entitled "In The Garden", which captures many of the themes we've been discussing all this time. I thought I'd send it along for your enjoyment...

In the garden of my life
I'm done with envy, done with strife.
I cultivate my natural joys
Far from this culture's fearful noise.

Congress hall and marketplace,
Fame's small change and honor's race,
Academe's cold, haughty tower
Have no meaning, hold no power.

Letting go of shoulds and oughts,
I concentrate on greener thoughts
And find as I fulfill my soul
That things spin calmly in control —

That though events conspire still,
They tend to bend toward my will.
No greater cause achieves the measure
Than that of my own reasoned pleasure.

Paul, it's been a true pleasure exploring Epicurus and Lucretius with you, and I hope you've enjoyed it as much as I have!

Your friend,


Next: Letter Twenty-Four: The Four-Fold Cure

Peter Saint-Andre > Writings > Epicurus