By: Charles M. Doughty
October 10, 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.

Berlin balloon race 1908. LOC

Charles M. Doughty’s The Cliffs (1909) and The Clouds (1912) are near-future invasion tales. Below, an excerpt from The Cliffs, Part I.


HOBBE. Ha, what do I hear, this humming in the air?
  (He stands and listens attentively.)
  What see I on height ? and now I hear mens’ voices.
  (An Aerostat is seen descending from the skies.)
  They’re foreign too! O what balloon-like hovering
  Thing is this, that on our sea-cliff lights?
  ’T is likest that those should mean no good by us.
  I’ll, like a skirmisher, shroud me in this briar bush.
  (HOBBE crouches in the bush: voices are heard in the air approaching.)

FIRST VOICE. Herr Baron, right beneath us wide cliff lies!

SECOND VOICE. Cliff-brow of perfide Albion! so alight.

FIRST VOICE. Avast, Hans! let down anchor on the grass.
  (The balloon is brought down. Two foreign
  militaires, with their mechanician, circumspectly alight. He
  beats in pickets, whilst they hold down the airship. They bind her
  thereto, and make all fast with ropes.)

BARON. Herr Ingenieur, we sooner than we looked for,
  Here touch to shore. I like well this first luck;
  Sailing by only compass, in the dark.

INGENIEUR. The airship, as her builder her designed,
  Flies true, though light and staunchly rides the wind.
  Not without life’s fear, was at first her course;
  Whilst low and thwart land currents hindered us;
  And somewhiles tossed.

BAR. So covert is the night,
  There’s not moonlight enough, to view this coast;
  Where our descent, which shall confound the World,
  Determined is to-morrow, to begin.

ING. (looking upon an open sheet in his hands.) This
  Staff-Karte shows, here lies much open heath.

BAR. Where stirs not even a mus ridiculus.
  Well, we must patient time: there’s naught for us,
  But sitting down, to watch the labouring moon,
  That wades this scudding wrack. We may not even
  Light strike to our Zigarren here, to refresh us.

ING. That were gainst regulations for night service.

BAR. To drive the nightlong hours we may discourse,
  At our belle aise.

ING. Shall we sit on this grass?

BAR. ’T is well enough.

  (They sit down.)

AI-assisted illustration by HILOBROW


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