By: C.S. Lewis
December 12, 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.

AI-assisted illustration by HILOBROW

“There is a City which men call in scorn
The Perfect City ⁠— eastward of this wood⁠—
You’ve heard about the place. There I was
I’m one of them, their work. Their sober
The ordered life, the laws, are in my blood
—A life⁠⁠… well, less than happy, something
Than the red greed and lusts that went

“All in one day, one man and at one blow
Brought ruin on us all. There was a boy
—Blue eyes, large limbs, were all he had to
You need no greater prophets to destroy.
He seemed a man asleep. Sorrow and joy
Had passed him by⁠—the dreamiest, safest
The most obscure, until this curse began.

“Then ⁠— how or why it was, I cannot say⁠—
This Dymer, this fool baby pink-and-white,
Went mad beneath his quiet face. One day,
With nothing said, he rose and laughed
Before his master: then, in all our sight,
Even where we sat to watch, he struck him
And screamed with laughter once again
     and fled.

“Lord! how it all comes back. How still the
     place is,
And he there lying dead⁠⁠… only the sound
Of a bluebottle buzzing⁠⁠… sharpened faces
Strained, gaping from the benches all
The dead man hunched and quiet with no
And minute after minute terror creeping
With dreadful hopes to set the wild heart

“Then one by one at random (no word
We slipt out to the sunlight and away.
We felt the empty sense of something
And comfortless adventure all that day.
Men loitered at their work and could not
What trembled at their lips or what new
Was in girls’ eyes. Yet we endured till night.

“Then⁠⁠… I was lying awake in bed,
Shot through with tremulous thought, lame
     hopes, and sweet
Desire of reckless days ⁠— with burning
And then there came a clamour from the
Came nearer, nearer, nearer⁠ — stamping
And screaming song and curses and a
Of ‘Who’s for Dymer, Dymer?⁠ — Up and

“We looked out from our window.
     Thronging there
A thousand of our people, girls and men,
Raved and reviled and shouted by the glare
Of torches and bonfire blaze. And then
Came tumult from the street beyond: again
‘Dymer!’ they cried. And farther off there
The sound of gun-fire and the gleam of

“I rushed down with the rest. Oh, we were
After this, it’s all nightmare. The black sky
Between the housetops framed was all we
To tell us that the old world could not die
And that we were no gods. The flood ran
When first I came, but after was the worse,
Oh, to recall⁠…! On Dymer rest the curse!

“Our leader was a hunchback with red hair
—Bran was his name. He had that kind of
About him that will hold your eyes fast
As in ten miles of green one patch of gorse
Will hold them⁠ — do you know? His lips
     were coarse,
But his eyes like a prophet’s⁠ — seemed to
The whole face. And his tongue was never

“He cried: ‘As Dymer broke, we’ll break the
The world is free. They taught you to be
And labour and bear orders and refrain.
Refrain? From what? All’s good enough.
     We’ll taste
Whatever is. Life murmurs from the waste
Beneath the mind⁠⁠… who made the
     reasoning part
The jailer of the wild gods in the heart?’

“We were a ragtail crew⁠ — wild-haired,
All shouting, ‘Up, for Dymer! Up away!’
Yet each one always watching all the rest
And looking to his back. And some were
Like drunk man, some were cringing,
     pinched and grey
With terror dry on the lip. (The older ones
Had had the sense enough to bring their

“The wave where I was swallowed swelled
     and broke,
After long surge, into the open square.
And here there was more light: new
     clamour woke.
Here first I heard the bullets sting the air
And went hot round the heart. Our lords
     were there
In barricade with all their loyal men.
For every one man loyal Bran led ten.

“Then charge and cheer and bubbling sobs
     of death,
We hovered on their front. Like swarming
Their spraying bullets came ⁠— no time for
I saw men’s stomachs fall out on their
And shouting faces, while they shouted,
Into black, bony masks. Before we knew
We’re into them⁠⁠… ‘Swine!’ ⁠— ‘Die, then’ ⁠—
     ‘That’s for you.’

“The next that I remember was a lull
And sated pause. I saw an old, old man
Lying before my feet with shattered skull,
And both my arms dripped red. And then
     came Bran
And at his heels a hundred murderers ran,
With prisoners now, clamouring to take
     and try them
And burn them, wedge their nails up,
     crucify them.

“God!⁠⁠… Once the lying spirit of a cause
With maddening words dethrones the
     mind of men,
They’re past the reach of prayer. The
     eternal laws
Hate them. Their eyes will not come clean
But doom and strong delusion drive them
Without ruth, without rest⁠… the iron
Of the immortal mouths goes hooting

“And we had firebrands too. Tower after
Fell sheathed in thundering flame. The
     street was like
A furnace mouth. We had them in our
Then was the time to mock them and to
To flay men and spit women on the pike,
Bidding them dance. Wherever the most
Was done the doer called on Dymer’s

“Faces of men in torture⁠⁠… from my mind
They will not go away. The East lay still
In darkness when we left the town behind
Flaming to light the fields. We’d had our
We sang, ‘Oh, we will make the frost distil
From Time’s grey forehead into living dew
And break whatever has been and build

— Excerpt from C.S. Lewis’s Dymer, a narrative poem published pseudonymously in 1926.


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