A SONG OF SPEED

By: William E. Henley
July 6, 2022

A (pro- or anti-) science-, mathematics-, technology-, space-, apocalypse-, dehumanization-, disenchantment-, and/or future-oriented poem published during sf’s emergent Radium Age (c. 1900–1935).

Mercedes-Simplex 60 hp racing car, 1903

Or the Inventor:
Artist in elements,
Expert in substances,
Strengths, frangibilities,
Points of combustion,
Points of resistance:
These, and an hundred,
A thousand besides
Of the right, the authentic
Talon and pinion,
Snapping up in a flash
After years of endeavour
One of God’s messages,
Do to Man’s solacing,
Pride, and magnificence,
Under the Feet of the Lord.

Hence the Mercédes
Look at her. Shapeless?
Unhandsome? Unpaintable?
Yes; but the strength
Of some seventy-five horses:
Seventy-five puissant,
Superb fellow-creatures:
Is summed and contained
In her pipes and her cylinders.
Mind after mind,
On fire with discovery,
Filled full with the fruits
Of an hundred fat years,
And mad with the dreams
And desires of To-Day
Have toiled themselves dull
To achieve her components.
She can stop in a foot’s length;
She steers as it were
With a hair you might pluck
From your Mistress’s nape;
She crawls, if you please
So to lightly her virtue,
At your Mistress’s pace
When she goes for a stroll,
Which is partly on Earth
And partly, She dreaming
Of You, in broad Heaven.
Yet ask but a sign,
But a proof of her quality,
Handle her valves,
Her essentials, her secrets,
And she runs down the birds
(You can catch them like flies
As, poor wretches, they race from
      you!) ;
Ay, and becomes,
As the Spirit and Mind
Of God’s nearest approach
To Himself hath so willed it,
The Angel of Speed —
Speed in the Laugh of the Lord.

— Excerpt from A Song of Speed (1903).

***

RADIUM AGE PROTO-SF POETRY: H.D.’s STARS WHEEL IN PURPLE | Clark Ashton Smith’s FROM PLANET UNTO PLANET WHIRLED | Anonymous’s ASTRONOMIC JOSH | Rudyard Kipling’s THE SECRET OF THE MACHINES | Randolph Bourne’s SABOTAGE | Stephen Spender’s THE PYLONS | Ford Madox Ford’s GREY MATTER | W.E. Henley’s A SONG OF SPEED | H.L. Mencken’s A BALLAD OF LOOKING | George Sterling’s THE TESTIMONY OF THE SUNS | Vachel Lindsay’s THE SCIENTIFIC ASPIRATION | Thomas Hardy’s EPITAPH FOR G.K. CHESTERTON | Archibald MacLeish’s EINSTEIN | Thomas Thornely’s THE ATOM | Charles M. Doughty’s THE CLIFFS | William Butler Yeats’s THE SECOND COMING | Guillaume Apollinaire’s THE LITTLE CAR | Archibald MacLeish’s MAN! | Max Beerbohm’s A SEQUELULA TO “THE DYNASTS” | C.S. Lewis’s DYMER | Stephen Vincent Benét’s METROPOLITAN NIGHTMARE | Michael Roberts’s NOTE ON Θ, Φ, and Ψ | D.H. Lawrence’s FUTURE WAR | Laurence Binyon’s NUMBERS | Frederik Pohl’s ELEGY TO A DEAD PLANET: LUNA | F.V. Branford’s FAREWELL TO MATHEMATICS | D.H. Lawrence’s THE EVENING LAND | Carl Sandburg’s MANUAL SYSTEM | Robert Frost’s FIRE AND ICE | D.H. Lawrence’s THE REVOLUTIONARY | Blaise Cendrar’s ORION | Aldous Huxley’s FIFTH PHILOSOPHER’S SONG | Charles Buxton Going’s THE SONG OF STEEL | D.H. Lawrence’s UNDERNEATH | Sara Teasdale’s “THERE WILL COME SOFT RAINS” | Edith Södergran’s ON FOOT I HAD TO… | Louis Untermeyer’s PORTRAIT OF A MACHINE | D.H. Lawrence’s BOMBARDMENT | Robert Graves’s WELSH INCIDENT | D.H. Lawrence’s TO LET GO OR TO HOLD ON —? | Nancy Cunard’s ZEPPELINS | W.J. Turner’s MISS AMERICA | Julian Huxley’s TO A DANCER | W.B. Yeats’s SAILING TO BYZANTIUM | John Collings Squire’s THE SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST | D.H. Lawrence’s WELLSIAN FUTURES | Julian Huxley’s COSMIC DEATH | Robinson Jeffers’s SCIENCE | D.H. Lawrence’s SUBURBS ON A HAZY DAY | A.S. Eddington’s ONE THING IS CERTAIN | Rudyard Kipling’s THE TRADE | Emil Raymond’s TWINKLE, TWINKLE, LITTLE STAR | D.H. Lawrence’s THE TRIUMPH OF THE MACHINE | Marianne Moore’s IN THE DAYS OF PRISMATIC COLOR | Vachel Lindsay’s EUCLID | D.H. Lawrence’s GIVE US GODS | Alfred Noyes’s WATCHERS OF THE SKY | Edna St. Vincent Millay’s EUCLID ALONE | W.J. Turner’s IN TIME LIKE GLASS | Emma Rounds’s PLANE GEOMETRY | Robert Grant’s THE SUPERMAN | D.H. Lawrence’s THE THIRD THING | Ralph Milne Farley’s THE END OF THE WORLD | Robinson Jeffers’s ROAN STALLION | A.S. Eddington’s INFINITY | Karel Čapek’s WHAT OUR AGE HAS DONE | D.H. Lawrence’s ROBOT POEMS | Mina Loy’s LUNAR BAEDEKER | John Lehmann’s THIS EXCELLENT MACHINE | Jean Toomer’s HER LIPS ARE COPPER WIRE | D.H. Lawrence’s RELATIVITY | Clark Ashton Smith’s AFTERWARDS | D.H. Lawrence’s SPACE | Ronald Ross’s THE ANNIVERSARY | Rudyard Kipling’s MACDONOUGH’S SONG | Robert Bridges’ THE TESTAMENT OF BEAUTY | Clark Ashton Smith’s THE STAR-TREADER | Archibald MacLeish’s EPISTLE TO BE LEFT TO THE EARTH | D.H. Lawrence’s LET US BE MEN | Michael Roberts’s MIDNIGHT | William Stanley Braithwaite’s DEL CASCAR | F.V. Branford’s THE MOON | A.S. Eddington’s “THERE ONCE WAS A BREATHY BABOON” | Michael Roberts’s PERSPECTIVE | Arthur Schnitzler’s LEINBACH’S PROOF | Michael Roberts’s ROCKS ARE IMMUTABLE | F.V. Branford’s MASTER CELLS | Clark Ashton Smith’s THE NEMESIS OF SUNS | D.H. Lawrence’s DARK SATANIC MILLS | William Empson’s LETTER I | Amy Lowell’s MIDDAY AND AFTERNOON | D.H. Lawrence’s THE GULF | Wallace Stevens’s FABLIAU OF FLORIDA | Kenneth Rexroth’s “HEAVEN IS FULL OF DEFINITE STARS…” | Leslie Pinckney Hill’s ARMAGEDDON | William Stanley Braithwaite’s DISTANCES | Lucian B. Watkins’s SAN FRANCISCO’S 18th OF APRIL (1906) | D.H. Lawrence’s HOLD BACK! | C. Day Lewis’s TRANSITIONAL POEM | Wallace Stevens’s THE IDEA OF A COLONY | D.H. Lawrence’s MEN LIKE GODS | Valery Bryusov’s THE DAYS SHALL COME OF FINAL DESOLATION | Amy Lowell’s A COMPARISON | D.H. Lawrence’s MEN AND MACHINES | Herbert Read’s MUTATIONS OF THE PHŒNIX | T.E. Hulme’s CINDERS | T.S. Eliot’s THE WASTE LAND | Hugh MacDiarmid’s STONY LIMITS | Herbert Read’s THE RETREAT | D.H. Lawrence’s SOULS TO SAVE | Laurence Binyon’s THE ZEPPELIN.

Categories

Poetry, Radium Age SF