By: George Sterling
July 27, 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.

How oft, O Life, on worlds forgot,
  Hast thou, in thine unnumbered forms,
  Gone forth to Time’s transmuting storms,
And fought till storm and stress were not!

How oft hast striven, hoped, and died,
  And dying, fared to gracious rest,
  The Night’s inevitable guest,
In alien realms unverified!

How oft to Mystery and Time
  Returned, their ancient ways to hold,
  With lips that never yet have told
The tidings of that distant clime —

With little hands that could not keep
  The mighty message of the Night,
  Nor bare to Day’s appealing sight
The hidden annals of thy sleep.

Dost deem the eternity to come
  The secret will disclose at last
  Whereunto an eternal past
Held lips to revelation dumb?

How vast the gulfs of man’s desire!
  Children of Change, we dream to share
  The battle-vigil of Altair,
And watch great Fomalhaut expire;

To live, where darkened suns relume
  Their kingdoms in the abysmal haze —
  Where nearing Night attends the blaze
Of high Antares red with doom;

To hear within the deep of Law
  The Word that moves her causal tides;
  To know what Permanence abides
Beyond the veil the senses draw.

And such the hope that fills thy heart,
  O Life! on some allegiant world
  Round Procyon’s throne of thunder whirled
Or poised in Spica’s gulf apart.

So dreamt thy sons on worlds destroyed
  Whose dust allures our careless eyes,
  As, lit at last on alien skies,
The meteor melts athwart the void.

So shall thy seed on worlds to be,
  At altars built to suns afar,
  Crave from the silence of the star
Solution of thy mystery;

And crave unanswered, till, denied
  By cosmic gloom and stellar glare,
  The brains are dust that bore the pray’r,
And dust the yearning lips that cried.

— from The Testimony of the Suns and Other Poems (1903). The collection’s title poem, “The Testimony of the Suns,” is dated February 1902.


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