The Four Principle Figured Atoms Make the Four Elements, as Square, Round, Long, and Sharp.


The square flat atoms as dull earth appear;
The atoms round do make the water clear.
The long straight atoms like to2 arrows fly,
Mount next the sharp3 and make the airy sky.
The sharpest atoms into fire do turn,4                            5
And5 by their piercing quality do6 burn:
That figure makes them active, active light,
Which makes them get above the rest in flight.
And by this figure they stick fast, and draw
Up other atoms, which are round and raw.                 10
But water is7 round drops, though ne’er so small,
Which shows8 its figure to be9 spherical.
That figure makes it spongy, spongy wet,
And10 being hollow, softness doth beget.
And being soft, that11 makes it run about;                   15
More solid atoms thrust it in, or out.
But sharpest atoms have most power thereon,12
For cold doth nip it, and heat makes it run.13
But atoms flat,14 are heavy, dull, and slow,
And sinking downward15 to the bottom go.                 20
These16 figured atoms are not active, light,
Whereas the long are like the sharp in flight.
For as the sharp do pierce and get on high,
So do the long shoot straight and evenly.
The round are next the flat, the long next round;        25
Those which are sharp are still the highest found.
The flat turn all to earth and17 lie most low,
The round to water clear, which18 liquid flow.
The long to air, from whence the clouds do grow;19
The sharp to fire do turn20, which hot doth glow.        30
Thus these four figures th’elements21 do make,
And as their figures do incline, they take.
For they22 are perfect in themselves alone,
Not taking any shape, but what’s their own.
And whatsoever form is elsewhere found,23                35
Must take from long or square or sharp or round.24
For25 those that are like to triangles26 cut,
Part of three figures in one form is put.
And those that bow and bend like to a bow
Like to the round, and jointed atoms27 show.               40
In those that28 branched, or those which crooked be,
You may both the long and29 sharp figures see.
Thus several figures several tempers make,
But what is mixed doth of the four partake.

Of Airy Atoms

Long atoms, which the streaming air do make,1
Are hollow, from which form air softness takes.2
This makes that air and water ne’er agree,
Because in hollowness alike they be.
For airy atoms made are like a pipe,3                        5
And wat’ry atoms, round and cymbal-like.4
Although the one is long, and th’other5 round,
Yet in the midst a hollowness is found.
This makes us think that water turns to6 air,
And air runs often7 into water fair.                           10
And like two twins they are mistaken8 oft,
Because their hollowness makes both them soft.

Of Air

The reason why air is1 so equal spread,
Is atoms long, at each end balancèd.
For being long, and each end both alike,2
Are like to weights, which keep it steady, right.3
For howsoe’er it moves,4 join to what form it will,5       5
Yet lies in every line that figure still.6
For atoms long, their forms as thread are spun,7
And like a cobweb interwoven run;8
And thus air, being thin, so9 subtle grows,
That into every empty place it goes.                                 10

Of Earth

Why’s earth1 not apt to move, but slow and dull?
Flat atoms have no vacuum, but are2 full.
That form admits no empty place to bide;
All parts are filled, having no hollow side.3
And where no vacuum is, motion is4 slow,                   5
Having no empty places for to go.
Though atomes all are small, as small may be,
Yet by their forms doth motion5 disagree.
For atoms sharp do make themselves a way,6
Cutting through other atoms as they stray.                 10
But atoms flat will dull and lazy lie,7
Having no edge or point to make a way.8

The Bigness of Atoms


When I say1 atoms small as small can be,
I mean quantity, quality, and weight agree.2
Not in the3 figure, for some may show4
Much bigger, and some lesser: so5
Take water fluid and ice, and you will see,6                            5
They do in weight but not in bulk agree.7
So atoms: some are8 soft, others more knit,
According as each atom’s figurèd.9
Atoms whose forms are hollow, long, and round10
Bend more than flat11 or sharp, which close are bound.12  10
And being hollow, they are spread more thin
Than other atoms which are close within.
And atoms which are thin are softer much,13
When atoms close are of a harder touch.14

Of Fire and Flame


Although we at a distance stand, if great
A fire be, the body through1 will heat.
Yet those sharp atomes we do not perceive,
How they fly out, nor how to us they cleave.2
Nor do they3 flame, nor shine they clear and bright       5
When they fly out and on our bodies strike.4
The reason is they loose and scattered fly,
And not in troops, nor do they on heaps lie.
Like small dust rais’d, which,5 scatter’d all about,
We see it not, nor doth it light keep6 out.                         10
But gathered up thick7 to a mountain high,
We then see they in solid earth do8 lie.
Just so do atoms sharp look, clear and bright,
When in heaps lie,9 or in a streaming flight.

Of Fire in the Flint

The reason fire lies1 in flint unseen
Is other figured atoms lie2 between.
For being bound and overpowered by
A multitude, they do in prison lie.
Unless motion do come and let3 them out                           5
With a strong power, which make them4 fly about.
But if that flint be beat to powder small,
To separate the grossest,5 released are all.
And6 when they once are out, they ne’er come back,7
But seek about another form to make.8                               10

What Atoms Make Fire Burn, and What Flame


What makes a spark of fire to burn more quick
Than a great flame? Because ’tis small to stick.
For fire itself is in its nature dry,2
Falls into parts as crowds of atoms lie.
The sharpest atoms keep the body hot;                                 5
To give out heat some atoms forth are shot.
Sometimes the sparks for anger fly about,3
Or, wanting room, do thrust the weakest4out.
They are so sharp, that what they meet, devour56
If other atoms them not overpower:7                                    10
As ants, though8 small, will eat up a dead horse,
So atoms sharp use9 bodies of less force.
Thus atoms sharp grow10 sharper by degrees,
As stings in flies are not so sharp as bees’.
And when they meet a body solid, flat,                                 15
The weakest fly; the sharpest work on that.
Those that are not so sharp do fly about
To seek some lighter matter to eat11 out.
Thus12 lighter atoms do turn air13 to flame,
Because more thin and porous is the same.                         20
Thus flame is not so hot as burning coal:14
The atoms are too weak to take fast hold.15
The sharpest into firmest bodies fly,
But if their strength be small, they quickly die.
Or if their number be not great, but small,                          25
The blunter atoms beat and quench out all.