By: F.V. Branford
February 20, 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.

Marcel Duchamp’s Disks Bearing Spirals (1923)

Man is not stone, nor is Man’s monument
Built in the hungry stomach of the sea.
Though Time have a tomb, and Space a
Though rock with wind be burst and burnt
     and blent,
Bright rolling organs of the firmament
Hang dulled and speechless in black
     Heaven’s cone
When down the night the dark dead sun is

Yet, in the virtue of a magnitude
Or of a cask of steel, in fire secure,
Or of a microbe, scathless in a storm,
Minute and massive, garmented and nude,
From Time concealed, insensible to form,
Ageless and spaceless the Master Cells

— Collected in Branford’s Titans and Gods (1922). Branford stopped writing poetry in 1923.

There was an idea floating around at the time, of “master cells” in the human brain and nervous system: the “home of the self,” determining one’s mental capacity and moral character. One also finds this phrase used in reference to esoteric teachings?


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