By: William E. Henley
July 6, 2022

A Radium Age sf poem.

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 | Laurence Binyon’s NUMBERS | F.V. Branford’s A FAREWELL TO MATHEMATICS | Carl Sandburg’s MANUAL SYSTEM | Robert W. Service’s THE GRAMOPHONE AT FOND-DU-LAC | Charles Buxton Going’s THE SONG OF STEEL.


Poetry, Radium Age SF