April 25, 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.
For those who criticize are always active
They thrive in business and in sport like
They spawn like flies, a standardized
Their silly fussiness is radio active;
Let bio-chemists speculate why no duct
Is missing in them; they can criticize
Make love, beget and yet it is all lies.
Never before on earth was so much fiction,
The whole of modern life is pure invention,
Soon babies by test-tube manipulation
To wireless music* and a doctor’s friction
Shall watch themselves being born. And
Will be another lost art whose intention
Babies themselves will then not blush to
There’s nothing purer, nobler than a baby;
It would be perfect if ’twere not so feeble;
It cannot swim, play baseball, jump or
But happily in time an adult gaby
With mind and soul experience cannot
Pure-baby-man will be evolved. I trust
My country to make true this dream or
* Tristan und Isolde.
— an excerpt from Miss America: Altiora in the Sierra Nevada (1930), a book-length poem by W.J. Turner. A mild satire of the modern world narrated by a woman who is explicitly depicted as the Statue of Liberty come to life, and who is unusually frank (for the time) about sex. The Australian-born poet, music critic, playwright and author is of some sf interest for his Jack and Jill (1934), an ethereal allegorization of the story of an Adam and Eve facing and defeating a mechanized dystopian future.
PS: “gaby” is British dialect for “fool”
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.