By: Michael Roberts
January 30, 2024

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.

Picabia’s Machine tournez vite (Machine Turn Quickly), 1916/1918.



The music of no temporal ear
Is Euclid’s world invisible,
In calm, pellucid, liquid air
The mental mode is sculptural.

spring is bursting bud and bole
Osmotic climbs delightful sap,
But we have impulse uncontrolled
And joy not marked on causal map.
And vision is a torment. Love
and blacken as the sun,
See nothing, laugh and slowly laugh
In withered dark to silence

But mind in action is machine
Quarrying stern and stubborn fact;
In rhythmic pulse and discipline
It shapes the firm and final act.
Perspective through the Gothic dark
The range of arch and column moves;
And vistas multiply and march
Unchanging to infinitude.

And music of no temporal ear
Is all that world invisible;
In bright and frigid crystal air
The mental mode is sculptural.

— First published in Poetry Review (Jan–Feb 1930). Roberts (1902–1948) was an English poet, writer, scientist, mathematician, critic and broadcaster, a polymath who made his living as a teacher.

Roberts would edit the collection New Signatures for the Woolfs’ Hogarth Press. In his polemical introduction, he asserts that the modern poet could no longer write like Keats, rather he must take his imagery from urban and industrial civilization and “be abreast of his own times.” This would lead Eliot to commission one of the most influential poetry anthologies of the twentieth century from Roberts: The Faber Book of Modern Verse.


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