By: Nancy Cunard
April 18, 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.

First trial flight of zeppelin — 1900

I saw the people climbing up the street
Maddened with war and strength and
     thoughts to kill;
And after followed Death, who held with
His torn rags royally, and stamped his feet.

The fires flamed up and burnt the serried
Most where the sadder, poorer houses
Death followed with proud feet and smiling
And the mad crowds ran madly up and

And many died and hid in unfounded
In the black ruins of the frenzied night;
And death still followed in his surplice,
And streaked in imitation of their faces.


But in the morning men began again
To mock Death following in bitter pain.

— In 1914 Cunard was 18. As the Zeppelins flew over London, she witnessed the bombing of the city. Late at night during the air raids, searchlights would light up the sky and the crump of bombs could be heard across the town. This poem was written in 1918; it’s in her 1921 collection Outlaws. PS: In the first stanza, “thoughts” is “thought” in the 1921 collection.

In the Sitwells’ 1917 Wheels anthology, this poem appears under the title “Destruction.”


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