THE SONG OF STEEL
March 12, 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.
Yea, art thou lord, O Man, since Tubal Cain
Brought me into being, white and torn with
Wrung me, in fierce, hot agony of birth,
Writhing from out of the womb of mother
Art thou, then, king, and did I make thee
Clothe thee in mail and gird thee with the
Give thee the plough, the ax, the whirring
To every subtle craft its tools of steel?
Look! We have slain the forests, thou
and I —
Soiled the bright streams and murked the
Crushed the glad hills and shocked the
With roaring factories and clanging cars!
Thou builder of machines, who dost not
That which thou mad’st to drive, is driving
Ravening, tireless, pitiless its strain
For thy last ounce of work from hand and
Are thy sons princes? Hard-wrung serfs!
Toil’s utmost dregs for the bare chance to
They dig and delve and strive with
In forge and shop. Master? Nay! Thrall art
Fool! Serving, I have slaved thee. Master
To forge the sword, nor know the sword
To make the engine, blind that it must lead
Fast and yet faster on the race of greed.
I, Steel, am King — thy king in more than
Lo, I am Moloch, crowned and throned in
Holding thee slave by lust of thy desire —
Calling thy first-born to me through the
— Charles Buxton Going, “The Song of Steel” (1907), and in his 1909 collection Star-glow and Song.
Harper’s Monthly (November 1907)
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.