By: F.V. Branford
January 31, 2023

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.

Thomas Wright’s celestial map of the universe (1742)


I laboured on the anvil of my brain
And beat a metal out of pageantry.
Figure and form I carry in my train
To load the scaffolds of Eternity.
  Where the masters are
  Building star on star;
  Where, in solemn ritual,
  The great Dead Mathematical
  Wait and wait and wait for me.

To the deliberate presence of the Sun
(Bright cynosure of every darkling sign,
Wherein all numbers consummate in One,)
Poised on the bolt of an Un-finite line,
  As one whose spirit’s state,
  Is unafraid but desperate,
  Through far unfathomed fears,
  Through Time to timeless years,
  I soar, through Shade to Shine.

They say that on a night there came to
As eager-eyed he stared upon a star,
And fought the far infinitude, a toiler
Like to himself and me, for things that are
  Buried from the eyes alone
  Of men whose sight is made of stone,
  And led him out in ecstasy,
  Over the dim boundary
  By the pale gleam of a scimitar.

Then Euler, mindful of thy lesser need,
Be thou my pilot in this treacherous hour,
That I be less unworth thy greater meed,
O my strong brother in the halls of power;
  For here and hence I sail
  Alone beyond the pale.
  Where square and circle coincide,
  And the parallels collide,
  And perfect pyramids flower.

— F.V. Branford, “Farewell to Mathematics,” found in the multi-author collection Miscellany of Poetry (1919), ed. W. Kean Seymour. Also collected in Branford’s Titans and Gods (1922).


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