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). Research and selection by Joshua Glenn.

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: Stephen Spender’s THE PYLONS | George Sterling’s THE TESTIMONY OF THE SUNS | Archibald MacLeish’s EINSTEIN | Thomas Thornely’s THE ATOM | C.S. Lewis’s DYMER | Stephen Vincent Benét’s METROPOLITAN NIGHTMARE | Robert Frost’s FIRE AND ICE | Aldous Huxley’s FIFTH PHILOSOPHER’S SONG | Sara Teasdale’s “THERE WILL COME SOFT RAINS” | Edith Södergran’s ON FOOT I HAD TO… | Robert Graves’s WELSH INCIDENT | Nancy Cunard’s ZEPPELINS | D.H. Lawrence’s WELLSIAN FUTURES | & many more.


Poetry, Radium Age SF