By: Thomas Thornely
September 30, 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.

Structure of the Radium Atom, from Kramers-Holst (1922)

“We do not in the least know how to harness the energy locked up in the atoms of matter. If it could be liberated at will, we should experience a violence besides which the suddenness of high explosive is gentle and leisurely.” — Sir O. LODGE.

Wake not the imprisoned power that
Unknown, or dimly guessed, in thee!
Thine awful secret Nature keeps,
And pales, when stealthy science creeps
Towards that beleaguered mystery.

Well may she start and desperate strain,
To thrust the bold besiegers back;
If they that citadel should gain,
What grisly shapes of death and pain
May rise and follow in their track!

The power that warring atoms yield,
Man has to guiltiest purpose turned.
Too soon the wonder was revealed,
Earth flames in one red battle-field,
Could but that lesson be unlearned!

Thy last dread secret, Nature! keep;
Add not to man’s tumultuous woes;
Till war and hate are laid to sleep,
Keep those grim forces buried deep,
That in thine atoms still repose.

— from Verses From Fen And Fell (1921)


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