By: W.J. Turner
August 2, 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.

From the New York Public Library’s BUTTERFLIES collection of cigarette cards, c. 1920s.

In Time like glass the stars are set,
And seeming-fluttering butterflies
Are fixed fast in time’s glass net
With mountains and with maids’ bright

Above the cold Cordilleras hung
The winged eagle and the Moon:
The gold, snow-throated orchid sprung
From gloom where peers the dark baboon:

The Himalayas’ white, rapt brown;
The jewel-eyed bear that threads their
The lush plains’ lowing herds of cows;
The Shadow entering human graves:

All these like stars in Time are set,
They vanish but can never pass;
The sun that with them fades is yet
Fast-fixed as they in Time like glass.

— W.J. Turner’s “In Time Like Glass” (c.1921) is one of the earliest poems to take as its theme the notion that because light takes time to travel, cognition cannot keep pace with perception.


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