By: D.H. Lawrence
March 7, 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.

Fernand Léger’s “The Builders”

The dark, satanic mills of Blake
how much more darker and more satanic
     they are now!
But oh, the streams that stream
     white-faced, in and out,
in and out when the hooter hoots,
     white-faced, with a dreadful gush
of multitudinous ignominy,
what shall we think of these?
They are millions to my one!

They are millions to my one! But oh
what have they done to you, white-faced
mewed and mangled in the mills of man?
What have they done to you, what have
     they done to you,
what is this awful aspect of man?

Oh Jesus, didn’t you see, when you talked
     of service
this would be the result!
When you said: Retro me, Satanas!
this is what you gave him leave to do
behind your back!

And now, the iron has entered into the soul
and the machine has entangled the brain,
     and got it fast,
and steel has twisted the loins of man,
     electricity has exploded the heart
and out of the lips of people jerk strange
     mechanical noises in place of speech.

What is man, that thou art no longer
     mindful of him?
and the son of man, that thou pitiest him
Are these no longer men, these millions,
What are they then?

— From More Pansies (1932), published posthumously.

Note on the artwork.

“Featuring workers whose bodies appear to be assembled from standardized industrial parts, The Builders exemplifies the style that Léger developed after the war to convey his belief that all of modern life was succumbing to the machine. He wrote in a letter in 1922, ‘The contemporary environment is clearly the manufactured and ‘mechanical’ object; this is slowly subjugating the breasts and curves of women, fruit, the soft landscape.'” — from the Met’s website.


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