A SEQUELULA TO “THE DYNASTS”

By: Max Beerbohm
November 29, 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).

Image from A beginner’s star-book (1912)

Excerpt from a parody of Thomas Hardy’s The Dynasts, a closet drama in verse and prose. Collected in A Christmas Garland — a 1912 collection of the author’s Xmas-themed parodies.

A SEQUELULA TO “THE DYNASTS”

The Void is disclosed. Our own Solar System is visible, distant by some two million miles.

Enter the Ancient Spirit and Chorus of the Years, the Spirit and Chorus of the Pities, the Spirit Ironic, the Spirit Sinister, Rumours, Spirit-Messengers, and the Recording Angel.

SPIRIT OF THE PITIES.

Yonder, that swarm of things insectual
Wheeling Nowhither in Particular—
What is it?

SPIRIT OF THE YEARS.

That? Oh that is merely one
Of those innumerous congeries
Of parasites by which, since time began,
Space has been interfested.

SPIRIT SINISTER.

What a pity
We have no means of stamping out these
    pests!

SPIRIT IRONIC.

Nay, but I like to watch them buzzing
    round,
Poor little trumpery ephaeonals!

CHORUS OF THE PIETIES (aerial music).

Yes, yes!
What matter a few more or less?
Here and Nowhere plus
Whence and Why makes Thus.
Let these things be.
There’s room in the world for them and us.
Nothing is,
Out in the vast immensities
Where these things flit,
Irrequisite
In a minor key
To the tune of the sempiternal It.

SPIRIT IRONIC.

The curious thing about them is that some
Have lesser parasites adherent to them —
Bipedular and quadrupedular
Infinitesimals. On close survey
You see these movesome. Do you not
    recall,
We once went in a party and beheld
All manner of absurd things happening
On one of those same — planets, don’t you
    call them?

SPIRIT OF THE YEARS (screwing up his eyes at the Solar System).

One of that very swarm it was, if I mistake
    not.
It had a parasite that called itself
Napoléon. And lately, I believe,
Another parasite has had the impudence
To publish an elaborate account
Of our (for so we deemed it) private visit.

SPIRIT SINISTER.

His name?

RECORDING ANGEL.

One moment.

(Turns over leaves.)

Hardy, Mr. Thomas,
Novelist. Author of “The Woodlanders,”
“Far from the Madding Crowd,” “The
    Trumpet Major,”
“Tess of the D’Urbervilles,” etcetera,
Etcetera. In 1895
“Jude the Obscure” was published, and a
    few
Hasty reviewers, having to supply
A column for the day of publication,
Filled out their space by saying that there
    were
Several passages that might have been
Omitted with advantage. Mr. Hardy
Saw that if that was so, well then, of course,
Obviously the only thing to do
Was to write no more novels, and forthwith
Applied himself to drama, and to Us.

SPIRIT IRONIC.

Let us hear what he said about Us.

THE OTHER SPIRITS.

Let’s.

RECORDING ANGEL (raising receiver of aerial telephone).

3 oh 4 oh oh 3 5, Space…. Hulloa.
Is that the Superstellar Library?
I’m the Recording Angel. Kindly send me
By Spirit-Messenger a copy of
“The Dynasts” by T. Hardy. Thank you.

A pause. Enter Spirit-Messenger, with copy of “The Dynasts.”

Thanks.

Exit Spirit-Messenger. The Recording Angel reads “The Dynasts” aloud.

Just as the reading draws to a close, enter the Spirit of Mr. Clement Shorter and Chorus of Subtershorters. They are visible as small grey transparencies swiftly interpenetrating the brains of the spatial Spirits.

SPIRIT OF THE PITIES.

It is a book which, once you take it up,
You cannot readily lay down.

SPIRIT SINISTER.

There is
Not a dull page in it.

SPIRIT OF THE YEARS.

A bold conception
Outcarried with that artistry for which
The author’s name is guarantee. We have
No hesitation in commending to our
    readers
A volume which —

The Spirit of Mr. Clement Shorter and Chorus of Subtershorters are detected and expelled.

— we hasten to denounce
As giving an entirely false account
Of our impressions.

SPIRIT IRONIC.

Hear, hear!

SPIRIT SINISTER.

Hear, hear!

SPIRIT OF THE PITIES.

Hear!

SPIRIT OF THE YEARS.

Intensive vision has this Mr. Hardy,
With a dark skill in weaving word-patterns
Of subtle ideographies that mark him
A man of genius. So am not I,
But a plain Spirit, simple and forthright,
With no damned philosophical fal-lals
About me. When I visited that planet
And watched the animalculae thereon,
I never said they were “automata”
And “jackaclocks,” nor dared describe their
    deeds
As “Life’s impulsion by Incognizance.”
It may be that those mites have no free will,
But how should I know? Nay, how Mr.
    Hardy?
We cannot glimpse the origin of things,
Cannot conceive a Causeless Cause, albeit

Such a Cause must have been, and must be
    greater
Than we whose little wits cannot conceive
    it.
“Incognizance”! Why deem incognizant
An infinitely higher than ourselves?
How dare define its way with us? How
    know
Whether it leaves us free or holds us bond?

SPIRIT OF THE PITIES.

Allow me to associate myself
With every word that’s fallen from your lips.
The author of “The Dynasts” has indeed
Misused his undeniably great gifts
In striving to belittle things that are
Little enough already. I don’t say
That the phrenetical behaviour
Of those aforesaid animalculae
Did, while we watched them, seem to
    indicate
Possession of free-will. But, bear in mind,
We saw them in peculiar circumstances—
At war, blinded with blood and lust and
    fear.
Is it not likely that at other times
They are quite decent midgets, capable
Of thinking for themselves, and also acting
Discreetly on their own initiative,
Not drilled and herded, yet gregarious—
A wise yet frolicsome community?

SPIRIT IRONIC.

What are these “other times” though? I had
    thought
Those midgets whiled away the vacuous
    hours
After one war in training for the next.
And let me add that my contempt for them
Is not done justice to by Mr. Hardy.

[excerpt ends here]

***

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 | Michael Roberts’s NOTE ON Θ, Φ, and Ψ | D.H. Lawrence’s FUTURE WAR | Laurence Binyon’s NUMBERS | Frederik Pohl’s ELEGY TO A DEAD PLANET: LUNA | F.V. Branford’s FAREWELL TO MATHEMATICS | D.H. Lawrence’s THE EVENING LAND | Carl Sandburg’s MANUAL SYSTEM | Robert Frost’s FIRE AND ICE | D.H. Lawrence’s THE REVOLUTIONARY | Blaise Cendrar’s ORION | Aldous Huxley’s FIFTH PHILOSOPHER’S SONG | Charles Buxton Going’s THE SONG OF STEEL | D.H. Lawrence’s UNDERNEATH | Sara Teasdale’s “THERE WILL COME SOFT RAINS” | Edith Södergran’s ON FOOT I HAD TO… | Louis Untermeyer’s PORTRAIT OF A MACHINE | D.H. Lawrence’s BOMBARDMENT | Robert Graves’s WELSH INCIDENT | D.H. Lawrence’s TO LET GO OR TO HOLD ON —? | Nancy Cunard’s ZEPPELINS | W.J. Turner’s MISS AMERICA | Julian Huxley’s TO A DANCER | W.B. Yeats’s SAILING TO BYZANTIUM | John Collings Squire’s THE SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST | D.H. Lawrence’s WELLSIAN FUTURES | Julian Huxley’s COSMIC DEATH | Robinson Jeffers’s SCIENCE | D.H. Lawrence’s SUBURBS ON A HAZY DAY | A.S. Eddington’s ONE THING IS CERTAIN | Rudyard Kipling’s THE TRADE | Emil Raymond’s TWINKLE, TWINKLE, LITTLE STAR | D.H. Lawrence’s THE TRIUMPH OF THE MACHINE | Marianne Moore’s IN THE DAYS OF PRISMATIC COLOR | Vachel Lindsay’s EUCLID | D.H. Lawrence’s GIVE US GODS | Alfred Noyes’s WATCHERS OF THE SKY | Edna St. Vincent Millay’s EUCLID ALONE | W.J. Turner’s IN TIME LIKE GLASS | Emma Rounds’s PLANE GEOMETRY | Robert Grant’s THE SUPERMAN | D.H. Lawrence’s THE THIRD THING | Ralph Milne Farley’s THE END OF THE WORLD | Robinson Jeffers’s ROAN STALLION | A.S. Eddington’s INFINITY | Karel Čapek’s WHAT OUR AGE HAS DONE | D.H. Lawrence’s ROBOT POEMS | Mina Loy’s LUNAR BAEDEKER | John Lehmann’s THIS EXCELLENT MACHINE | Jean Toomer’s HER LIPS ARE COPPER WIRE | D.H. Lawrence’s RELATIVITY | Clark Ashton Smith’s AFTERWARDS | D.H. Lawrence’s SPACE | Ronald Ross’s THE ANNIVERSARY | Rudyard Kipling’s MACDONOUGH’S SONG | Robert Bridges’ THE TESTAMENT OF BEAUTY | Clark Ashton Smith’s THE STAR-TREADER | Archibald MacLeish’s EPISTLE TO BE LEFT TO THE EARTH | D.H. Lawrence’s LET US BE MEN | Michael Roberts’s MIDNIGHT | William Stanley Braithwaite’s DEL CASCAR | F.V. Branford’s THE MOON | A.S. Eddington’s “THERE ONCE WAS A BREATHY BABOON” | Michael Roberts’s PERSPECTIVE | Arthur Schnitzler’s LEINBACH’S PROOF | Michael Roberts’s ROCKS ARE IMMUTABLE | F.V. Branford’s MASTER CELLS | Clark Ashton Smith’s THE NEMESIS OF SUNS | D.H. Lawrence’s DARK SATANIC MILLS | William Empson’s LETTER I | Amy Lowell’s MIDDAY AND AFTERNOON | D.H. Lawrence’s THE GULF | Wallace Stevens’s FABLIAU OF FLORIDA | Kenneth Rexroth’s “HEAVEN IS FULL OF DEFINITE STARS…” | Leslie Pinckney Hill’s ARMAGEDDON | William Stanley Braithwaite’s DISTANCES | Lucian B. Watkins’s SAN FRANCISCO’S 18th OF APRIL (1906) | D.H. Lawrence’s HOLD BACK! | C. Day Lewis’s TRANSITIONAL POEM | Wallace Stevens’s THE IDEA OF A COLONY | D.H. Lawrence’s MEN LIKE GODS | Valery Bryusov’s THE DAYS SHALL COME OF FINAL DESOLATION | Amy Lowell’s A COMPARISON | D.H. Lawrence’s MEN AND MACHINES | Herbert Read’s MUTATIONS OF THE PHŒNIX | T.E. Hulme’s CINDERS | T.S. Eliot’s THE WASTE LAND | Hugh MacDiarmid’s STONY LIMITS | Herbert Read’s THE RETREAT | D.H. Lawrence’s SOULS TO SAVE | Laurence Binyon’s THE ZEPPELIN.

Categories

Poetry, Radium Age SF