August 21, 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.
The horror-haunted Belgian plains riven by
shot and shell
Are strewn with her undaunted sons who
stayed the jaws of hell.
In every sunny vale of France death is the
The purest blood in Britain’s veins is being
poured like wine.
Far, far across the crimsoned map the
impassioned armies sweep.
Destruction flashes down the sky and
penetrates the deep.
The Dreadnought knows the silent dread,
and seas incarnadine
Attest the carnival of strife, the madman’s
Relentless, savage, hot, and grim the
infuriate columns press
Where terror simulates disdain and danger
Where greedy youth claims death for bride
and agony seems bliss.
It is the cause, the cause, my soul! which
sanctifies all this.
Ride, Cossacks, ride! Charge, Turcos,
charge! The fateful hour has come.
Let all the guns of Britain roar or be forever
The Superman has burst his bonds. With
And prayer on lip he runs amuck,
imperilling the world.
The impious creed that might is right in him
Bids all creation bend before the insatiate
Which, nourished on Valhalla dreams of
Would make the cannon and the sword the
despots of mankind.
Efficient, thorough, strong, and brave — his
vision is to kill.
Force is the hearthstone of his might, the
pole-star of his will.
His forges glow malevolent: their minions
To deck the goddess of his lust whose twins
are blood and fire.
O world grown sick with butchery and
O broken Belgium robbed of all save grief
Should Prussian power enslave the world
and arrogance prevail,
Let chaos come, let Moloch rule, and Christ
give place to Baal.
— published in The Nation (New York) and collected in A Treasury of War Poetry (1917).
A passage from a 1916 essay (“Bergson’s View of the Issue,” the issue being the meaning of the war), by H. Wildon Carr, in the quarterly journal The Quest, edited by G.R.S. Mead, contains the following passage that helps us understand this poem.
What is the doctrine which forms for Germany the philosophical justification of this war? It may be summed up in one word,— it is the doctrine of the superman. Germany regards herself as the superman among nations. The doctrine of the superman has been expressed most explicitly by Nietzsche, but for the application of the doctrine, or rather for the adoption of the role by modern Germany, Nietzsche is not responsible.
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.