Of Burning, Why It Causes Pain


The reason why fire burns,2 and burning smarts,
Is that it hath so many3 little parts—
Which parts are atoms sharp, and wound more fierce4
If they so far into our skins do pierce—5
And like an angry porcupine, doth shoot6                             5
His7 fiery quills, if nothing quench them out.
Their figure makes their motion nimble, quick,8
And being sharp, they do like9 needles prick.
If they do pierce too deep,10 our flesh will11 ache;
If they but12 touch the skin,13 we pleasure take;                 10
That kind of pain we do14 a “burning” call.
These atoms numerous are,15 and very small,
And make from needles’ points16 a different touch,
Whose17 points are gross, and numbers not so much,
And18 cannot lie so close, nor19 spread so thin,                   15
All at one time to enter through our skin.20

  1. In 1653 this poem is called “Of Burning”
  2. The reason why fire burns,] The cause why Fire doth burne, 1653
  3. Is that it hath so many] The reason is of Numerous 1653
  4. and wound more fierce] that wound like Stings, 1653
  5. into our skins do pierce—] do peirce into our Skynes; 1653
  6. like an angry porcupine, doth shoot] like a Porcupine, do shoot about 1664, 1668
  7. His] Their 1664, 1668
  8. nimble, quick,] sudden, quicke, 1653; nimble & quick, 1664
  9. do like] like to 1668
  10. do pierce too deep, our flesh will] peirce deep, do make our flesh to 1653
  11. A marginal note in Cavendish’s 1653 text reads: “When it burns.”
  12. they but] only 1653
  13. A marginal note in Cavendish’s 1653 text reads: “Warmth.” In 1664 and 1668 it reads, “When it warms.”
  14. we do] do we 1653
  15. These atoms numerous are,] For Atomes numerous, 1653
  16. And make from needles’ points] Do make from Needles point 1653
  17. Whose] Which 1664, 1668
  18. And] Which 1653
  19. nor] and 1653
  20. to enter through our skin.] our Pores to enter in. 1653