By: Karel Čapek
September 18, 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.

Statue of Liberty by Jindrich Styrsky (1934)

When this century collapses, dead at last,
and its sleep within the dark tomb has
come, look down upon us, world, file past
and be ashamed of what our age has done.

Inscribe our stone, that everyone may see
what this dead era valued most and best:
science, progress, work, technology
and death — but death we prized above
      the rest.

We set new records, measuring men and
in terms of greatness; thus we tempted
In keeping with the greatness of our needs,
our heroes and our gangsters, too, were

The 20th century, buried; nonetheless,
world, see what eras yet to come will gain:
Great new records, great inventions.
Dictators. War. A ruined town in Spain.

— From the Czech newspaper Lidové noviny, August 1936

Poem quoted in Ivan Klíma’s Karel Čapek: Life and Work, translated from the Czech by Norma Comrada (2002). Translator & poem title unspecified.


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