By: Rudyard Kipling
June 19, 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.

England’s R3 at sea, c. 1910


They bear, in place of classic names,
Letters and numbers on their skin.
They play their grisly blindfold games
In little boxes made of tin.
Sometimes they stalk the Zeppelin
Sometimes they learn where mines are laid
Or where the Baltic ice is thin.
That is the custom of “The Trade”.

Few prize-courts sit upon their claims.
They seldom tow their targets in.
They follow certain secret aims
Down under, far from strife or din.
When they are ready to begin,
No flag is flown, no fuss is made
More than the shearing of a pin.
That is the custom of “The Trade”.

The scout’s quadruple funnel flames
A mark from Sweden to the Swin
The cruiser’s thund’rous screw proclaims
Her comings out and goings in:
But only whiffs of paraffin
Or creamy rings that fizz and fade
Show where the one-eyed death has been.
That is the custom of “The Trade”.

Their feats, their fortunes and their fames
Are hidden from their nearest kin.
No eager public backs or blames
No journal prints the yarn they spin
(the censor would not let it in!)
When they return from run or raid
Unheard they work, unseen they win.
That is the custom of “The Trade”.

— A poem about submarines, from Kipling’s book Sea Warfare (1916). The Victorian snobbery of looking down on “trade” extended to submariners, who were considered not proper sailors or soldiers but little more than competent engineers.


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