By: D.H. Lawrence
June 24, 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.

They talk of the triumph of the machine,
but the machine will never triumph.

Out of the thousands and thousands of
     centuries of man
the unrolling of ferns, white tongues of the
     acanthus lapping at the sun,
for one sad century
machines have triumphed, rolled us hither
     and thither,
shaking the lark’s nest till the eggs have

Shaken the marshes, till the geese have
and the wild swans flown away singing the
     swan-song at us.

Hard, hard on the earth the machines are
but through some hearts they will never

The lark nests in his heart
and the white swan swims in the marshes
     of his loins,
and through the wide prairies of his breast
     a young bull herds his cows,
lambs frisk among the daisies of his brain.

And at last
all these creatures that cannot die, driven
into the uttermost corners of the soul,
will send up the wild cry of despair.

The thrilling lark in a wild despair will trill
     down arrows from the sky,
the swan will beat the waters in rage, white
     rage of an enraged swan,
even the lambs will stretch forth their
     necks like serpents,
like snakes of hate, against the man in the
even the shaking white poplar will dazzle
     like splinters of glass against him.

And against this inward revolt of the native
     creatures of the soul
mechanical man, in triumph seated upon
     the seat of his machine,
will be powerless, for no engine can reach
     into the marshes and depths of a man.

So mechanical man in triumph seated upon
     the seat of his machine
will be driven mad from within himself, and
     sightless, and on that day
the machines will turn to run into one
traffic will tangle up in a long-drawn-out
     crash of collision
and engines will rush at the solid houses,
     the edifice of our life
will rock in the shock of the mad machine,
     and the house will come down.

Then, far beyond the ruin, in the far, in the
     ultimate, remote places
the swan will lift up again his flattened,
     smitten head
and look round, and rise, and on the great
     vaults of his wings
will sweep round and up to greet the sun
     with a silky glitter of a new day
and the lark will follow trilling, angerless
and the lambs will bite off the heads of the
     daisies for very friskiness.
But over the middle of the earth will be the
     smoky ruin of iron,
the triumph of the machine.

— From More Pansies (1932), published posthumously.


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