A World Made by Four Kinds of Atoms


Sharp atoms make fire2 subtle, quick, and dry;
The long, like shafts still into air do fly;3
The round to water moist (a hollow form),4
The figure square to heavy dull earth turn.5
The atoms sharp hard6 minerals do make;                          5
Soft vegetables of round atoms7 take.
In animals none singly lie alone,
But all8 four atoms9 meet and join as one.
And thus four atoms10 the substance are11 of all,
With their four figures12 make a worldly ball.                  10

Thus the fancy of my atoms is that the four principle figures, as sharp, long, round, and square,13 make the four elements. Not that they are of several matters, but are all14 of one matter,15 only their several figures do give them several properties; so likewise do the mixed figures give them mixed properties, and their several composures give16 them other properties, according to their forms they put themselves into by their several motions. This I do repeat that the ground of my opinion may be understood.

  1. In 1653 this poem is called “A World Made by Four Atoms.”
  2. make fire] Fire 1653
  3. do fly;] fly. 1653
  4. to water moist (a hollow form)] do turn to Water, which is wet 1664, 1668
  5. figure square to heavy dull earth turn.] Square to Earth, a Figure firmly set; 1664; Square, to Earth, a Figure firmly set. 1668
  6. The atoms sharp hard] Sharp Atomes, they hard 1664, 1668
  7. Soft vegetables of round atoms] The Atomes round soft Vegetables 1653
  8. all] the 1653
  9. atoms] sorts do 1664; sorts, do 1668
  10. four atoms] these four 1664; these Four, 1668
  11. are] is 1653
  12. With their four figures] And with their Figures 1664, 1668
  13. and square,] Square, 1653
  14. are all] all 1664, 1668
  15. A marginal note in Cavendish’s 1653 text reads: “The several elements are all but one matter.” In 1664 and 1668, the note reads, “The several elements are all of one matter.”
  16. give] do give 1653