By: D.H. Lawrence
February 24, 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.


Look at them standing there in authority
The pale-faces,
As if it could have any effect any more.

Pale-face authority,
Pillars of white bronze standing rigid, lest
     the skies fall.

What a job they’ve got to keep it up.
Their poor, idealist foreheads naked
To the entablature of clouded heaven.

When the skies are going to fall, fall they
In a great chute and rush of débâcle

Oh and I wish the high and super-gothic
     heavens would come down now,
The heavens above, that we yearn to and
     aspire to.

I do not yearn, nor aspire, for I am a blind
And what is daylight to me that I should
     look skyward?
Only I grope among you, pale-faces,
     caryatids, as among a forest of pillars
     that hold up the dome of high ideal
Which is my prison,
And all these human pillars of loftiness,
     going stiff, metallic-stunned with the
     weight of their responsibility
I stumble against them.
Stumbling-blocks, painful ones.

To keep on holding up this ideal civilisation
Must be excruciating: unless you stiffen
     into metal, when it is easier to stand
     stock rigid than to move.

This is why I tug at them, individually, with
     my arm round their waist
The human pillars.
They are not stronger than I am, blind
The house sways.

I shall be so glad when it comes down.
I am so tired of the limitations of their
I am so sick of the pretensions of the Spirit.
I am so weary of pale-face importance.

Am I not blind, at the round-turning mill?
Then why should I fear their pale faces?
Or love the effulgence of their holy light,
The sun of their righteousness?

To me, all faces are dark,
All lips are dusky and valved.

Save your lips, O pale-faces,
Which are slips of metal,
Like slits in an automatic-machine, you
     columns of give-and-take.

To me, the earth rolls ponderously,
Coming my way without forethought or
To me, men’s footfalls fall with a dull, soft
     rumble, ominous and lovely,
Coming my way.

But not your foot-falls, pale-faces,
They are a clicketing of bits of disjointed
Working in motion.

To me, men are palpable, invisible
     nearnesses in the dark
Sending out magnetic vibrations of
     warning, pitch-dark throbs of invitation.

But you, pale-faces,
You are painful, harsh-surfaced pillars that
     give off nothing except rigidity,
And I jut against you if I try to move, for you
     are everywhere, and I am blind,
Sightless among all your visuality,
You staring caryatids.

See if I don’t bring you down, and all your
     high opinion
And all your ponderous roofed-in erection
     of right and wrong
Your particular heavens,
With a smash.

See if your skies aren’t falling!
And my head, at least, is thick enough to
     stand it, the smash.

See if I don’t move under a dark and nude,
     vast heaven
When your world is in ruins, under your
     fallen skies.
Caryatids, pale-faces.
See if I am not Lord of the dark and moving
Before I die.


— found in Birds, Beasts and Flowers: Poems (1923). First published in New Republic (Jan 19, 1921).


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