By: Clark Ashton Smith
February 29, 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.

Giacomo Balla’s Vortice, spazio, forme (1914)

Lo, what are these, the gyres of sun and
         Fulfilled with daylight by each toiling
     sun —
         Lo, what are these but webs of
     radiance spun
Beneath the roof of Night, and torn or
By Night at will? All opposite powers
         Are less than chaff to this imperious
     one —
         As wind-tossed chaff, until its sport be
Scattered, and lifted up, and downward

All gyres are held within the path
         Of Night’s aeonian compass — loosely
         As with the embrace of
     lethal-tightening weight;
All suns are grasped within the hollow
         Of Night, the godhead sole,
         Whose other names are Nemesis and

— First published 1912, one reads here. See the collection The Star-Treader and Other Poems.

This RADIUM AGE POETRY series installment could perhaps just as easily have appeared in the SCHEMATIZING series. In his rather purple style, Clark Ashton Smith is asking us: Why is there something rather than nothing? What overarching force holds together/apart not only our own particular system — whether a solar system or a semiosphere, with their “webs of radiance,” their intra-orbiting “gyres,” and their “opposite powers” (oppositions in dynamic tension) — but all other systems too? From the perspective of this force, which seems terrible in its unknowability, its imperceptibility, and the “lethal-tightening weight” with which it determines the limits of our freedom, our own system — no matter how wondrous — is just so much chaff.


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