NOTE ON Θ, Φ, and Ψ

By: Michael Roberts
December 26, 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.



Whereas my lady loves to look
On learned manuscript and book,
Still must she scorn, and scorning sigh,
To think of those I profit by.

Plotinus now, or Plutarch is
A prey to her exegesis,
And while she labours to collate
A page, I grasp a postulate,

And find for one small world of fact
Invariant matrices, compact
Within the dark and igneous rock
Of Comptes Rendus or Proc. Roy. Soc.

She’ll pause a learned hour, and then
Pounce with a bird-like acumen
Neatly to annotate the dark
Of halting sense with one remark;

While I, maybe, precisely seize
The elusive photon’s properties
In α’s and δ’s, set in bronze-
bright vectors, grim quaternions.

Silent we’ll sit. We’ll not equate
Symbols too plainly disparate,
But hand goes out to friendly hand
That mind and mind may understand

How one same passion burned within
Each learned peer and paladin,
Her Bentley and her Scaliger,
My Heisenberg and Schrödinger.

— Found in Roberts’s Collected Poems (1958), where it is grouped with “Early Poems” — mostly from the 1930 collection These Our Matins. However, this poem is not included in These Our Matins; it may have first appeared earlier.


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