By: Leslie Pinckney Hill
April 6, 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.

Marsden Hartley’s Berlin Series No 1 (1913)

When through my being, like a lyre strung,
These winds of temporal occurrence
I hear a kind of music, high and low,
And ranging from the tortured earth to
Throbbing with tragic cadence to express
The passing and the coming life of man.
And though the tempests rage and earth
     be stirred
To her foundations, though the lucid air
Become a menace, and the beauteous
Be bathed in fire, I am undismayed.
The cataclysmic travail prophecies
The dawn of one world-conscience for all
The breaking up of caste and race and
The warfare of all war against itself.
And hence in my low place this living peace
That grows and deepens, while the
     staggered frames
Of ancient kingdoms reel beneath a weight
Of crimes so vast that genius strives in vain
To compass them in thought: for out of
The spirit saith, shall issue other breeds
Soul-burdened like my brothers, and like
Despised and trammeled, but sent forth to
That nothing in the changing world
But truth and love and brotherhood and

— From a long poem, “Armageddon,” originally published in The Crisis (as “Die Zeitgeist”) in 1915 — an epic, anguished response to the advent of World War I from the point of view of the African American community, which continued to suffer the effects of racialized violence and institutionalized discrimination even as it was being asked to contribute to the war effort in the name of patriotism. (It is in a sense a response to President Wilson’s appeal to the country for a “poise of undisturbed judgment.”) See African American Poetry (1870-1926), a digital anthology by Amardeep Singh.


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