By: Robert Bridges
December 12, 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 Hilma af Klint’s “The Atom Series” from 1917.

Yea: and how delicat! Life’s mighty mystery
sprang from eternal seeds in the elemental
self-animat in forms that fire annihilates:
all its selfpropagating organisms exist
only within a few degrees of the long scale
rangeing from measured zero to
     unimagin’d heat,
a little oasis of Life in Nature’s desert;
and ev’n therein are our soft bodies vext
     and harm’d
by their own small distemperature, nor
     could they endure
wer’t not that by a secret miracle of
they hold internal poise upon a razor-edge
that may not ev’n be blunted, lest we sicken
     and die.

— Robert Bridges (1844–1930) was Great Britain’s Poet Laureate from 1913–1930. This is an excerpt from the long philosophical poem The Testament of Beauty (1929), which — like all of his work — reflects his classicism and Christian faith. The Testament of Beauty, Bridges’ last great work, is generally regarded as his finest. It sets out his understanding of man’s nature, interspersed with his own experiences. Unlike his previous writing, it expresses Bridges’ “vision of experience ordered and so estranged by beauty,” as Elizabeth Cox Wright would put it in her 1951 book about the poem, “that he scarcely recognized it.” It was unusual, at the time, for a poem about one’s extravagant joy in natural beauty to include scientific information — including physics, chemistry, biology, and genetics. In Bridges’ personal philosophy, science is a wondrous miracle.

Here’s another section:

Reality appeareth in forms to man’s
as several links interdependent of a chain
that circling returneth upon itself, as doth
the coil’d snake that in art figureth eternity.
   From Universal Mind the first-born atoms
their function, whose rich Chemistry the
     plants transmute
to make organic life, whereon animals feed
to fashion sight and sense and give service
     to man,
who sprung from them is conscient in his
     last degree
of ministry unto God, the Universal Mind.
whither all effect returneth whence it first


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