By: Velimir Khlebnikov
September 10, 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.

Ivan Kudriashev’s Construction of a Rectilinear Motion (1925)


There is that smell of honey-clover flowers
Among the forget-me-nots
In which I am
My distracted strict intelligence
The square root of negative one
Melts the division’s dots
Relating that which was
Toward what will be.
At stake.

— 1922

Best known for the part he played in the Russian Futurist movement, Velimir Khlebnikov was working toward a degree in mathematics when he was arrested at a student demonstration and spent a month in jail. He did not finish his education. In 1908, he left Kazan for St Petersburg — where he’d take an active part in the city’s literary and bohemian life.

Khlebnikov was a co-originator of zaum, a Futurist language defying translation. He also wrote futurological essays about: the possible evolution of mass communication (“The Radio of the Future”), and transportation and housing (“Ourselves and Our Buildings”). He described a world in which people would live and travel about in mobile glass cubicles that could attach themselves to skyscraper-like frameworks… and in which all human knowledge could be disseminated by radio and displayed on giant book-like displays on street corners.

Khlebnikov was not a prolific writer, producing only a handful of poems and plays during his time. He published Selected Poems with Postscript, 1907–1914 circa 1914. Note that the linguist/semiotician Roman Jakobson would hail Khlebnikov as “the greatest world poet of our century.”

Fun fact: He is the only Russian poet to have a minor planet named after him.


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