By: Robert Graves
April 9, 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.

AI-assisted illustration by HILOBROW

‘But that was nothing to what things came
From the sea-caves of Criccieth yonder.’
‘What were they? Mermaids? Dragons?
‘Nothing at all of any things like that.’
‘What were they, then?’

          ‘All sorts of queer things,
Things never seen or heard or written
Very strange, un-Welsh, utterly peculiar
Things. Oh, solid enough they seemed to
Had anyone dared it. Marvellous creation,
All various shapes and sizes, and no sizes,
All new, each perfectly unlike his
Though all came moving slowly out
‘Describe just one of them.’

          ‘I am unable.’
‘What were their colours?’

          ‘Mostly nameless colours,
Colours you’d like to see; but one was puce
Or perhaps more like crimson, but not
Some had no colour.’

          ‘Tell me, had they legs?’
‘Not a leg or foot among them that I saw.’
‘But did these things come out in any
What o’clock was it? What was the day of
      the week?
Who else was present? How was the
‘I was coming to that. It was half-past three
On Easter Tuesday last. The sun was
The Harlech Silver Band played Marchog
On thirty-seven shimmering instruments
Collecting for Caernarvon’s (Fever) Hospital
The populations of Pwllheli, Criccieth,
Portmadoc, Borth, Tremadoc,
Were all assembled. Criccieth’s mayor
      addressed them
First in good Welsh and then in fluent
Twisting his fingers in his chain of office,
Welcoming the things. They came out on
      the sand,
Not keeping time to the band, moving
Silently at a snail’s pace. But at last
The most odd, indescribable thing of all
Which hardly one man there could see for
Did something recognizably a something.’
‘Well, what?’
‘It made a noise.’
‘A frightening noise?’
‘No, no.’
‘A musical noise? A noise of scuffling?’
‘No, but a very loud, respectable noise —
Like groaning to oneself on Sunday
In Chapel, close before the second psalm.’
‘What did the mayor do?’

‘I was coming to that.’

— “The Welsh Incident” was initially published in Poems (1929) and titled “The Railway Carriage.” It is now better known by the name given to the version in Collected Poems (1975). Graves was born in London but spent his family holidays in Wales; he wrote the poem to be recited/read in a Welsh accent.


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