Tag Archives: H.G. Wells

Tuesday Poem: “A Traveler Wrecked in Seas of Time” by Zireaux

The Little Prince

'...those secluded asteroid isles / where Saint-Exupéry’s prince is taken'

This post is dedicated to Ms. Daisy Green, whose favorite poem is Longfellow’s “The Village Blacksmith.” She has requested some verses, but unfortunately I haven’t been able to track down the exact stanza — or stanzas — she desires. I offer these as a possibility:

What made my island so unique?

She wasn’t like the others – I mean
those storied isles which through the ages
have charmed lost sailors, thinkers, sages,
attracted whalers, artists, libertines;
imprisoned rebels, convicts, exiles,
and men who crave prohibited sex-styles
(I’m thinking here of one poor Dutchman,
three hundred years ago, who for
that foul offense of being a “touch-man”
was left upon Ascension’s shore
to starve, with just his pen to rise in);
nor like those isles of demons, sirens,
harpies, sea-nymphs, Amazonians,
the ghosts of kings, the Laestrygonians;

or islands in clouds and welkin mists
where fairies live and Peter Pan
and Prospero and Caliban;
those secret realms of scientists,
deranged inventors like Zoreau
(strange typo, that, I meant Moreau!);
or isolated isles where names
find glory in their quarantines,
as Robben spread Mandela’s fame,
or Rikers sold ‘low-riding’ jeans,
or Château d’If changed Dantès to Cristo,
or what’s that island in San Francisco
where tourists flock (just as we know
they’ll one day tour Guantánamo)?

Like none of those my darling was!
Like none of those which constellate
the sphere of books! And oh what great
a sum, what range of islands does
a reader find who journeys far!
What different shapes and styles there are!
How many sea-enveloped lands
have given beds to castaways
and shipwrecked sailors! From ancient sands
which sifted through debris to raise
a slave of Egypt from the surf
and rest him on a verdant turf
all trimmed with grain and incense, lakes
and rivers, ivory, apples, snakes;

to isles of cannibals and skin-mad
colossi who crave that most delicious
cuisine: captive à la carte (Ulysses
blinded the Cyclops; so did Sinbad,
who also met – another chapter
if I recall – an island raptor
who bombed his ship with monstrous stones);
to all those vile-lands that troubled poor Jason,
that isle of rank and murderous crones,
that iceberg isle that nearly encased him;
the isle of Talos, brute of bronze;
the Tohus and Bohus, the Macreons
and all those island beasts that thrive
in Pantegruel, books four and five;

to island-reigning centaurs, dragons,
unicorns, those poor Jurassic
dinosaurs (see Crichton’s classic),
the Liliputians, Brobingnagians,
isles of warring kings and queens
and flying islands rarely seen
against the shimmering azure;
that penguin island France once faked;
ideal, imagined isles, obscure
utopias designed to make
more sense of this, our spinning isle
that hurls each second eighteen miles
around a flaring island sun!

Line none of those she was! Like none

South Pacific

'...sweet Liat on Bali-ha’i / who captivates that Cable guy'

of those secluded asteroid isles
where Saint-Exupéry’s prince is taken,
the isles of Huxley, Lawrence, Bacon,
and countless other islophiles;
Tahitian isles, the warm Marquesas,
or many other South Sea places
where traveling men would sate
there savage needs, and Melville found
his chirping Fay, and Loti’s mate
was courted, bedded, Christian-gowned
and wedded; and countless seraphinas
were inspired – like Wells’s Weena,
that girl who charms (in muted mime)
a traveler wrecked in seas of time;

or what’s her name (she’s also speechless),
oh yes, sweet Liat on Bali-ha’i
who captivates that Cable guy
– and O! Those balmy, palmy beaches!
The coral bays and floral leis,
where hula dancers gaily sway
to songs the ukuleles play…
O how these sumptuous island gardens
are like idyllic fruit buffets
inviting hungry packs of bards in!

And these are just in books! The oceans
of print! How many other island notions,
how many castaways, remade
Atlantisis and Robinsonades,

how many pirates and buried medallions
and secret island laboratories,
tribes of children, animal stories,
island dogs and shipwrecked stallions,
how many blessed isles appear
in other seas! In other spheres
of art! Those same nymphets exist
in Gauguin’s isles and slept with Brando
and in some movie version kissed
a stranded World War II commando;
on TV isles the same survivors
are landed to swallow bugs alive, or
meet that pair on Fantasy’s Wharf,
one debonair, the other a dwarf.

Those little humps of sand, the lone
dejected palm in those cartoons;
or groups of Giligans marooned
upon some island twilight zone.
Like none of those, I say! Unique,
I tell you! Barren, black and bleak!
A spec of sand, a bit of grit
within a vault of priceless gems;
that’s all she was – an isle unfit
beside her peers, eclipsed by them.
And yet, O reader, the fact is this:
Her matchless unattractiveness
– a somber rock of few pursuers –
is what most drew your poet to her.

See the works of other poets at Tuesday Poem blog.


Filed under Poetry by Zireaux

The Secret Pilot: H.G. Wells and “The Time Machine”

From the George Pal film of The Time Machine.

From the George Pal film of 'The Time Machine.' Let's erase this from our minds.

Let’s begin by erasing the distracting markings on the blackboard from previous discourses on “The Time Machine” – markings that, like some over-suggestive Rorschach blotch, will only make us think of movies and television portrayals of H.G. Well’s most classic tale. Because contrary to everything you’ve probably heard and seen about “The Time Machine,” it’s not a story about a scientist who travels into the future. It’s a story about a man who claims to know a scientist who may have travelled into the future (although he most probably didn’t) but through masterful wordplay and behavioral trickery attempts to convince his audience – succeeding, in fact, with our narrator — that he most definitely made the journey.

Time travel, of course, does occur in the book, but not in the way most people think. Which direction in time does “The Time Machine” take us — forward or back? Both. The Time Traveler (the real Time Traveler) flies into the future, while we fly into the past.

Is “The Time Machine” science fiction? Absolutely not. It’s not even “scientific romance,” as many critics call it.

It’s pure, unadulterated, romantic literature.

Herbert George Wells, or “Bertie” as his parents called him, was lying on what he thought was his deathbed when he conceived the story that would eventually be called “The Time Machine.” As great ideas were gushing from his mind, blood was gushing from his mouth. He was penniless and suffering from severe consumption. The year was 1888. Our Bertie was 22 years old.

Death, however, usually quite punctual for consumptive clients in those days, missed its appointment; and young Bertie, snubbed by the very thing to which he’d resigned himself, was granted permission to travel further into time. Had he died, he would have died completely, because the upstart biologist hadn’t written anything yet and his grand entrance onto the literary stage was still several years into the future. Had he died, we wouldn’t even know the name H.G. Wells. Just imagine!

Bertie had a rambunctious genitalia, and, as he made clear in several books (including a detailed autobiographical account of his many love affairs), it tormented him terribly. The organ was raised and nourished in the most conducive social climate possible – a time of belching iconoclasm, overwhelming questions about human behavior (not just Marx and Engels, but Thomas Huxley, Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, Henrik Ibsen, Ralph Waldo Emerson), the percolations upward of the shocking yet tantalizing observations recorded from Britain’s most distant colonial outposts (Joseph Conrad in Africa, Rudyard Kipling in India) as well as islands of inhabitation even more remote (Charles Darwin, Captain Cook, Herman Melville).

Only that which was scientifically verified was considered valid, leaving everything else — like legislation after a coup, life in Czechoslovakia after the Russians withdrew — open to experiment. Nor was science the thing of utility it is today. Rather, it was the beat of the new step — what music was to the 1960s. A good example, because as demonstrated by the Eloi people in “The Time Machine,” the concept of free love and flower children did not originate in the 1960s. Bertie was dreaming about it and living it — along with many others — eight decades earlier.

In fact, the origin of this classic tale, first serialized as “The Chronic Argonauts” and then transformed seven years later into “The Time Machine,” corresponds with Bertie’s elopement and co-habitation with a Miss Catherine Anne Robbins, a dainty, delicate young female student of his – almost as dainty and delicate as his character, the Time Traveler’s little playmate, Weena…although apparently not dainty and delicate enough for Bertie, who’d find many more Weenas to woo.

Never mind that at the time of the elopement Bertie was legally married to his cousin, Isabel. When asked whether he intended to divorce his wife before marrying “his little doll” (as the Time Traveler also refers to little Weena), Bertie said he no longer believed in marriage. He preferred loving freely and only wished his new partner in love would demonstrate more of his experimental nature in bed. So for all this talk about H.G. Wells being a scientist, or a brilliant inventor, he was first and foremost a lover, with a powerful, insatiable libido.

With this is mind let’s look then at Bertie’s Time Traveler…

Read the rest of this essay…

“The Time Machine,” by H.G. Wells, is considered a seminal work of science fiction. And yet according to Zireaux, it’s so much more than that. In his highly engaging essay, “The Secret Pilot,” Zireaux makes the case that H.G. Wells’ most famous novel, written when Wells was only 22 years old, is one of the greatest works of literature ever produced. Leading us on a journey from 19th century England to the Pacific Islands, through time travel, love, science and art, Zireaux makes some fascinating insights along the way — including a remarkable revelation (a first-ever discovery?) of what may be the “The Time Machine’s” biggest secret of all.

Related content: The “Leafy Light” of H.G. Wells and an Exchange with Susan Pearce

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“A Certain Tenderness Here”

Statue of the poet, Robert Burns, in the Auckland Domain, New Zealand

Statue of the poet, Robert Burns, in the Auckland Domain, New Zealand

You’ll remember that our beautiful young Imogene was posing naked for her innocent brother and portraitist, Kamal, when suddenly their mother, a faded Hollywood star “whose age now stalks her more than her fans,” bursts into the room (with her toyboy, Ramana Narayanamurthy, a.k.a. Rick, close behind).

Our aging actress, their mother, having learned some minutes before — from Ramana, of course — of her children’s carnal relationship, rather than express dismay at what she’s discovered, presents her daughter with a packet of birth control pills, and says: ‘A month’s supply; / but first take this. Just in case.’

A pill is swallowed [this is important, reader], then from her knees
our girl [Imogene] sees Ramana twirling his keys.
She gasps and tries to curl up more [to hide her nudity].
She asks her mother – ‘Please close the door!’

But Ramana steps inside, and Our Lady, Imogene’s mother, proceeds to reveal a truth her children knew nothing about:

‘The two of you are unrelated.
Imogene is of my womb;
but you, Kamal, were propagated
in Calcutta. Or Khartoum.
Or Egypt – some place where women are hated
unless they smell like prostitutes;
and men are raised as brainless brutes
(though sexy in their churlish way).
Your real parents? Difficult to say.
The agency closed. Legal disputes.’

Kamal is stunned. How much he’s always adored his goddess mother, his gentle father. How much he’s adored their lives together in Bel Air. The paintbrush falls from his hand. And that’s where we pick up our story…

A blue-jay cackles. And through that rush
of words an object falls – a brush.
Kamal, my hero! I remember once,
quite near my home, where one confronts
a bronze of Robert Burns, some vandals
stole his pen and in his fist
inserted – and archly lit – a candle.
Roguish Fate! You terrorist
of hope! Of love’s ambition! No scandal
is enough for you unless
it does some mockery possess!
And so my hero, too, does grip
a foolish flame – in fellowship
with those who’ve born Fate’s wickedness.

What was it? What prankish joke now burned
amidst these revelations learned?
What leaves our hero standing, chilled,
brush– and breath-less, but standing still!
Neither fallen nor weeping; nor for a better
explanation begging his mother?
First, his nature was to let her
chide – but not to pity – another.
In dialogue, he was the debtor;
He only spoke to please his speaker;
now he feared that looking weaker
could release, in her, a wound
more grievous than his! Kamal! Attuned
to other’s pains, your own grow meeker!

The Invisible Man, by H.G. Wells

The Invisible Man, by H.G. Wells

And second, and even more inspiring,
– a soldier discharged, yet now desiring
to conquer uncontested land! –
Kamal was like that see-through man
of H.G. Wells, repulsed yet livened
by his fate, the freedoms granted:
banks to rob, bedrooms to spy in.

‘Just think, Kamal! Life’s sentence recanted!
A legal love for us to thrive in!’

These thoughts are whispered by Imogene,
who’s felt compelled to choose between
her modest tendency to hide,
or rushing to her lover’s side.
What’s naked flesh to feelings seen?

She hugs him tight. ‘What luck we’re gifted!
What bliss beneath our burden lifted!
Kamal, my love, my darling! Together
we’ll embrace your past, whether
Rome or Carthage be its home;
and bear whatever fortunes chafe
from culture’s chronic chromosome!
But your future, Kamal . . . it’s safe
in me! Although it hasn’t shown
on me (no bulge, you see?) I’ve read
about it carefully; I haven’t bled.
The nausea’s not at all severe;
but there’s a certain tenderness here.
And O! Kamal! The tears I’ve shed!

How much I’ve yearned to tell you, dear!
But I was afraid –’ she stifles that fear;
leaves it unsaid; but not the sobs,
which clamor ’gainst the violent throbs
of Kamal’s heart. He kisses her head
and shares her surge of joy.
                                                         ‘To think,’
he says, ‘such bitter news has bred
such blessedness! Our broken link
so fast repaired! And once we’ve wed –
O mother! I’m twice your son!’ He squeezes
his former sister tighter, which eases
the last of any worries she had.
And even Rick is feeling glad.
A happy ending. How much it pleases!

But Time is such a crafty salesman.
He shows his catalog, then fails when
having to deliver. The date
for New Beginnings comes too late;
and Happy Ends evaporate
the moment we lay hands on them.
And yet – such is his coaxing trait –
we buy them still! We’re sold a gem;
then hold a rock. Why even fate
on which a suicide insists
is bought for dreams that don’t exist.
O why must poets always veer
toward lofty abstract supra-spheres
whenever there’s a plot to twist?

A poet’s lines help keep him young.
The opposite is true among
Our Lady’s class. No lines infest
the face in which her fortunes rest.
Exquisite! Indeed, you’d likely find
more wrinkles in her rhinestone denim
mini skirt – and yet, behind
her glossy lips, an unseen venom
seethes. Her eyes, so well-defined
by make-up (even slightly overfed
with Clarin’s ‘Midnight Plum’), first spread,
then narrow; and see the way her cheek
is twitching as she tries to speak?
The word she wants to say is –

                                                                    ‘ “Wed”?

As in – “marry”? Imogene
and you? Is that what you mean?
Pregnant – okay. I’ll handle that.
But marriage can’t be un-begat
as easy as a fetus! That look
on you, Kamal, it lacks protection.
No pill (like that which she just took)
exists to thwart a heart’s ejection,
that bunch of prattling gobbledygook
we call “affection.” Oh you can sleep
together, that’s fine. But can you keep
an abstinence of feeling? No?
I thought as much. Then you must go.
This house is not for love so deep.’

…to be continued.

See the complete index of episodes from Kamal, Book One


Filed under Kamal, Book One, Poetry by Zireaux

Tuesday Poem: “Dreams” by Edgar Allan Poe

Thomas Stothard's Tempest, c 1799

Thomas Stothard's 'Tempest' (c 1799). Says Prospero: "We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep."

“Dreams” was selected for Immortal Muse by Zireaux (read Zireaux’s comments on this poem).

Zireaux is also this week’s editor of the Tuesday Poem blog, on which he discusses the poetry of “Kath and Kim” (Jane Turner and Gina Riley).

Edgar Allan Poe

Oh! that my young life were a lasting dream!
My spirit not awak’ning, till the beam
Of an Eternity should bring the morrow.
Yes! tho’ that long dream were of hopeless sorrow.
‘Twere better than the cold reality
Of waking life, to him whose heart must be,
And hath been still, upon the lovely earth,
A chaos of deep passion, from his birth.
But should it be — that dream eternally
Continuing — as dreams have been to me
In my young boyhood — should it thus be giv’n
‘Twere folly still to hope for higher Heav’n.
For I have revell’d when the sun was bright
In the summer sky, in dreams of living light.
And loveliness, — have left my very heart
In climes of my imaginings apart
From mine own home, with beings that have been
Of mine own thought — what more could I have seen?

‘Twas once — and only once — and the wild hour
From my remembrance shall not pass — some pow’r
Or spell had bound me — ‘twas the chilly wind
Came o’er me in the night, and left behind
Its image on my spirit — or the moon
Shone on my slumbers in her lofty noon
Too coldly — or the stars — howe’er it was
That dream was as that night-wind — let it pass.
I have been happy, tho’ in a dream.
I have been happy — and I love the theme:
Dreams! in their vivid colouring of life
As in that fleeting, shadowy, misty strife
Of semblance with reality which brings
To the delirious eye, more lovely things
Of Paradise and Love — and all our own!
Than young Hope in his sunniest hour hath known.


Edgar Allan Poe

A Chaos of Passions: Edgar Allan Poe. Portrait by Oscar Halling, c 1860s, after an 1849 daguerreotype.

Zireaux’s comments on this poem
“Is it true what Robert Graves once said / that every poet over thirty’s dead?”

Any work by Poe deserves a careful handling (snap and snap of the blue nitrile gloves), but especially this poem, a piece of juvenilia, composed with all the flexible fancies and daring dismounts of a lithe and limber brain.

Edgar was 18 when he wrote it.

Many more times he’d attempt to capture this unique species of dream, in essays, poetry, short stories: Not sleeping dreams, not Freudian dreams, or Proustian time-traveling remembrances; not hallucinations of hope, or preacher visions sung from the Capitol’s Mall; or Disney dreams, or the fantasies of aspiring pop-stars; not pipe-dreams, prophecies, visions, trances, mirages, hypnotic dreams, psychedelic dreams, laudenum-induced comas, the Dreamtimes of prehistory, visitations from Morpheus or Sibyl, glossolalia, or a hello from a hologrammic TuPoe with a trillion views on YouTube (“Yo whassup Tuesday Poets!”).

Fancies, daydreams, reveries — Poe would settle, at last, on “fancies,” but even that, he insists, was just a word plucked at random to capture a “shadow of a shadow.” (“A dream itself is but a shadow,” says Hamlet).

“Dreams” is often dismissed as an immature work, and it’s true, the poem is no “Raven”, no “Ulalume” (see my comments on “Ulalume”), no “Bells” or “Annabel Lee.” But when we gently cut through the poem’s husk (Eternity, Paradise, Love, Hope, High Heaven), peel back the fleshy endosperm (all that “living light” and “loveliness”), we not only find the germ of poetic genius, but one of the most important discoveries ever made by an English language poet.

I don’t just mean the fine observation — see it there, in lines 4 through 8 — that for a person of passion, even the saddest dreams are more pleasurable than waking life. Enchanting, yes, but Coleridge had distilled the same elixir 40 years earlier (notice, by the way, the Coleridgian cast of moonlight that shimmers across lines 23-24).

Poe’s vision is much more radical than that. As his dreamer marvels in line 18, the most critical element of such dreams, it turns out, is that they are “of mine own thought.” They are “all our own!”

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

A pilot dreamer: Antoine de Saint-Exupery (1900-1944)

The dreamer, then, isn’t possessed. The dreamer possesses. The Raven on which the dreamer flies, flapping its black wings of Time (same dark wings that swoop through H.G. Wells‘s phantasm), belongs to its rider. A pilot, then, is this dreamer, with compass to consult, instruments of accuracy — airspeed, altitude, pitch — and there’s Saint-Exupery buzzing over the Sahara in his Brueget biplane (oneiric angels splattering against his windscreen).

Freedom through form, fancy as precision, music as mathematical formula, mutation through logic, a brilliantly bridled madness — this is Poe. And this was young Edger, his “chaos of passions” expressed in rhyme, carefully constructed meter (note the mimicking meter of lines one and four in “Dreams”), his “wild hour,” his being “bound” in a spell, a vivid colouring in a moonlit slumber for a delirious eye.

This, to me (slap and slap, gloves removed, flourished, tossed in bin), is the miracle of all great poetry. Not the passion alone, but the structure, the precision, the dreamy chaos held in absolute control.
Published as part of the Tuesday Poetry group.

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The “Leafy Light” of H.G. Wells and an Exchange with Susan Pearce

From the George Pal film of The Time Machine.

From the George Pal film of The Time Machine.

Thanks to J.G. Hammond, author of H.G Wells and Rebecca West, I’m able to offer another specimen of what I’ve been seeking, casually, over the last year or so — examples of H.G. Wells’s poetry.

The following poem by Wells appeared in the Pall Mall Gazette on 13 March, 1894:


A meeting under the greenwood tree
In a soft, leaf-filtered light;
A meeting or so, and a passion to know
If I read your eyes aright.

A parting under the greenwood tree
A delicate passion of pain
And soberly I return to my
Mature and elegant Jane.

Some comments on these lines in a moment…but first, the subject of Wells’s poetry arose in an on-line exchange with Susan Pearce, author of Acts of Love (University of Victoria Press), over her stimulating blog post, Where do ideas come from?

In the post she discusses some musings about inspiration by the literary slapstick artist, Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Cheat, Pray, Love), and the strange disparity between a writer’s personal vision of the world and the vision presented by his or her art. Susan mentions an article by John Gray, a professor of European thought at the London School of Economics, which points to H.G. Wells as just such a case of a bifurcated personality — a man who professed a faith in the world-saving potential of science even as his art (a la The Time Machine and The Island of Doctor Zireaux) spoke otherwise.

Here is our exchange:

Zireaux: I appreciate your thoughts here, Susan. This strikes me, however, as a misreading of Wells. He was a very young Herbert when he wrote his great romantic novel, The Time Machine; and a very mature Herbert when he embraced — or I would say, was embraced by — the political snake of Bolshevism. Something tells me this talk of the writing process, of the sub-conscious, of “characters coming alive on the page, telling me what to do etc” (a modern banality, let’s be honest) is something the Bolshevik writers of today would call refreshing. For a comedian like Gilbert, and for her flock, I find myself compelled to buff the gold-plated sign beneath a genius like Wells: “Please do not touch.”

Can I recommend you have a look at my comments on “The Poet as Absent-Minded Neuroscientist“? This is as far as I go on the topic of a “writing process,” and it’s perhaps too pseudo-scientific for my taste (in retrospect); but you may find it relevant to your post.

Susan Pearce: Your insight on Wells is interesting. Not being an expert on the man or his writings, I’ve taken John Gray at his word. Maybe he has conflated Wells’ career to make a point. Neither do I know enough about the details of Bolshevism to be able to grasp exactly why current Bolshevik writers (who are they?) would be keen on ‘talk of the writing process, of the subconscious [etc]‘. Would you enlighten me?

I gather that you don’t like ‘talk of the writing process’: it’s something I like to think about, because it hasn’t been a straightforward path for me, though is becoming more so. I use ‘sub-conscious’ pretty loosely, and mean by it ‘what we don’t know we know’. As far as the modern banality, I’d hoped to make clear in the post that like Nabokov (‘my characters are galley slaves’), I too dislike the notion that the character can take over from the writer like some external spirit.

I’m amused that you recommend I look at comments that you now find beneath you. I enjoyed your discussion of Larkin and Nabokov. ‘Pseudo-science’: the word comes in useful to describe quacks or the over-enthusiastic of any description using mock-science to try to market unproven theories. However, it’s inevitable that those of us who are fascinated by what neurology, quantum physics, cosmology etc tell us (insofar as we understand it) will try to draw some parallels with what we do know. If we’re not to become quacks ourselves, we have to be aware of the biases of the ‘science writers’ we read or listen to, and of when the scientists themselves correct us. Those conditions set in place, I think it’s misleading to call those discussions ‘pseudo-science’.

Mark Twain on his world tour.

Mark Twain on his world tour.

Zireaux: I suppose every era has its Bolsheviks, its philistines, its Oprahs and Chopras, its creative writing schools, Red Books and Facebooks, gurus and Gilrus, Rasputins and RasPalins.

Interesting if we compare three of the English literary sensations of the fin de siècle period — Twain, Kipling, Wells. International luminaries, all three. Sought after world-wide for their views on politics, science, futurism.

Twain, bankrupt Twain, having toured the globe, comes away least scathed by such mundanities, his artistic heart still beating strong (real heart flagging). Kipling grabs politics by the horns — a mistake, no doubt, impaled as he was — but at least in my mind he chose the most honorable fight. I’d let Kipling cast my vote on just about any issue, any day.

Wells, however, Wells is a tragic case. To me the secret to John Gray’s article lies in Wells’s “flash of passion” for Gorky’s partner and Soviet spy, Moura Budberg. Wells lacked the word-love of Twain and Kipling. His verse — the few lines of it I’ve been able to locate (not including the doggerel of Ann Veronica) is badly tuned. His art, it seems to me, relies primarily on the strength of his loins. Gray calls Wells’s works “Scientific Romances.” I call them “Romances,” but anything is better than “Science Fiction,” which, although it might apply to someone like Verne, is a travesty for the genius Wells possessed.

If you enjoy the stark asphalt-and-plastic pathway from Nabokov to neuroscience, you might want to read Brian Boyd’s book — The Origin of Stories. For my part, however, I find little of interest in such works.

Susan Pearce: Zireaux, thank you for that comparison of Twain, Kipling and Wells. The example of some contemporary writers (e.g. McEwan & Amis) would reinforce your point that it is indeed dangerous for writers to venture into commentary on politics, etc: that it does result, as you say, in mundanities.

I do reflect on how to get myself sitting at the desk (no podium here) when there’s the opportunity. And I like to think about how to generate more ideas and get over that block where you just don’t know where the story’s going. Thus my posts on the writing process.

However, although I appreciate your book recommendation, I don’t think I’ll get to it. What keeps me listening to science podcasts etc is not that I want to know the scientific detail of how the ‘creative mind’ works. It’s simply that I love the weird ideas which speak to us about a possible reality we can only begin to imagine. I don’t *think* I want to write science fiction, but it seems to me that even if our narratives describe events as we know them in this mechanical world, our narrative structures must begin to reflect the strain that this new knowledge places on us. Don’t ask me what I mean by that: I’m just beginning to figure it out.


H.G. Wells in 1907 at the door of his house at Sandgate

H.G. Wells in 1907 at the door of his house at Sandgate

And that was the end of my exchange with Ms. Pearce. Now let’s return to Wells’s leafy little poem, the revealing (yet, alas, badly tuned) “Episodes.”

Try to imagine Newt Gingrich writing (and publishing for all to see) a poem like “Episodes” — a candid, artful ditty to adultery. Unlike Gingrich, Wells, the artist, could perceive the “Lover-Shadow,” as he called it, that part of his consciousness which lived “under the greenwood tree / in a soft, leaf-filtered light.” And Wells wrote honestly, unashamedly, about these shadowy passions, an approach which many readers at the time — be it out of fear, reserve, or simply an overabundance of commonness — found difficult to digest.

Wells was never asked to write about his passions. They leaked unbidden from his aesthetic glands while he busied himself for the Gazette with what were called “single-sitting” tales of science. Perhaps he wrote so little poetry because, in his mind, passion itself — the song of the mermaids — was never subject enough for an audience. Certainly not a paying subject. For Wells there was always a mysterious door between the city and the garden, the career and the caress, the “mature and elegant Jane” (his wife) and the “leaf-filtered light,” the industrial cauldrons of science and the fires raging in his heart.

I’m inclined to think that although Wells could feel the soft light of genius which shone upon him, he couldn’t possibly perceive the unfathomable fusion behind it. The sheer immensity of this genius (and I’m not talking about his visions of the future, which are actually quite trivial) produced artistic decisions in The Time Machine which seem to me far too brilliant for the person Wells was when he wrote it.

How can this be?

One finds this with other artists — Melville, Poe, Keats, Audobon (the ornithological painter) — as if these poor souls were the victims of a parasite, an artistic genius hatched within them, forcing them to act according to its whims. An illusion, I think, but a convincing one. In fact, Wells wrote his Time Machine again and again, draft after draft, and out of the over 100 books he produced in his lifetime, the quality of each corresponds, more or less, to the number of re-writes he ministered to their creation.

The miracle of Wells is not the divergence of his futuristic visions — between a curative science and a corrupting one. Rather it’s the ability to climb so completely into the machinery of his epoch — buttoned-up, in waistcoat and patent-leather shoes — while, at the same time, letting his passions transport him wherever they pleased.


Filed under Poetry Reviews

“A Weirdly Whispering Wind” — Stanzas 227 to 234

Res Publica, Book One, Canto the Third

How our narrator, waking safely on his island, celebrates his survival – but then, to his despair, discovers an unexpected hatchling . . .

Form All Black rugby star, Marc Ellis, streaking at a provincial rugby match in 2007.

Marc Ellis, former New Zealand rugby star and founder of Charlie's Juice company, streaking at a provincial rugby match in 2007.


Delirious dreams. A raw and painful
sun aroused me. I do not mean
the sun itself was shining; the scene
to which my sore – but proud, disdainful –
body now awoke was shadow-less;
the sky in pure white doctor’s dress,
the sun a stethoscopic metal
on a ghastly patient pressed.
So has his heartbeat finally settled?
Is the air back in his chest?
And still those taunting words – raw
and pain and sun. And kelp. I saw
no kelp, yet seemed to feel it round me.
How strange such words should so confound me.


Where were they coming from? I wrestled
free of that well-fettered spot
– for seeking warmth, my legs were caught
by several nets in which they’d nestled.
I staggered up and looked around.
Tug’s twisted crane, like sniffing hound
in stiffened point, had found the very
spot where once the albatross
had looked at me with dark and wary
eyes. And there ol’ Tug had tossed
her smokestack pipe, which looked just like
a great harpooner’s skillful strike.
(What jokester muse to blame, that whaling
spawns the double-rhyme – impaling?)


And there – untouched, untroubled – my planted
flag, all droop and drag, still stood
amongst the scraps of splintered wood
and strewn debris of disenchanted
dunnage. A truant, upturned drawer
of knives. And scattered on the shore
some tanks of water. A book (which heartened,
for it had landed someplace dry):
Melville’s Typee. A Charlie’s carton108
of juice (a mate of mine, that guy),
remarkably full, yet slightly scrunched
as if it had been stomach-punched.
Some happy news: my one-way shipment
had safely delivered my camp equipment.

Herman Melville: 'A book (which heartened, / for it had landed someplace dry): / Melville’s <em>Typee</em>'

Herman Melville: 'A book (which heartened, / for it had landed someplace dry): / Melville’s Typee'


A tent. A bed. Some cargo had drifted
out to sea while I was lost
in throbbing dreams. A minor cost.
I couldn’t help feel but I’d been gifted
my life! This land! I scooped some sand
and kissed it! O all the dreams I’d planned,
my country! Our fate would be debated
in parliament – or parlia-tent
I should say – on my inflated
mattress, with me, just me, to represent
myself, a population of one.
To hold an election (and know I’d won!).
To write, to pass, to sign a treaty
sent by bottle to Tahiti;


to draft new laws each year but never
let them pass, then on a whim
to check an imbalance, or take a swim
– or take a shit! And so forever
to break from Samuel Johnson’s rule
(that Republics are governed by more than one fool)109
A single fool I’d be with numerous
voices in my head. This struck
me as so credible, so humorous,
a wave of laughter felled me. What luck,
to go insane before my camp
was made, amongst these tattered, damp,
remains of my absurd intentions!
The mind must check its own inventions.


But just as I was pacifying
these befuddling thoughts, I heard
those words again. What fish or bird
or god was speaking? I tried replying:
Raw!’ I shouted. ‘How raw my pain!
Where is the sun?’ – and in this vein
I tried conversing with that crazy
agent in my head, but soon
survival’s sunbeam cleared my hazy
thoughts. The rainy afternoon
detained me long beneath a torn
and trembling tarp. And when the storm
had passed, that eerie voice was silent.

‘Concussions make our thoughts turn violent.’


That’s what I thought, my dear! Some knocking
of my head it must have been!
Some damage to the wit within
had made me hear some spirits talking
(while giving them such little speech;
no more than fi ve or six words each).
It wasn’t until the following morning,
when truly the sun appeared – a pink
electrifying sort of warning
bulb, for how it flashed and blinked
as it prepared for its ascent –
that I began to think, would I invent
such words? And not until that strobing
sun matured, and I was probing


through the wreckage for some cooking
gear and kindling, did I decide
those words were more than mumbling tide
or weirdly whispering wind; and looking
for their source might give me peace
of mind. The murmurs, however, had ceased
a while. I fed on Tim-Tams.110 Then heard it
– ‘Kelp! O kelp!’ – muffled, yet clear.
I scanned the land where I inferred it
must be coming from. Just near
a crate filled with tin cans, a drum
of what I thought was oil had come
to rest. Or rather, not quite. That liver-
colored drum – I saw it shiver!

Samuel Johnson c. 1772, painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds

Samuel Johnson c. 1772, painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds: 'to break from Samuel Johnson’s rule / (that Republics are governed by more than one fool)'

108 Charlie’s Not From Concentrate (NFC) Orange Juice was co-founded by the New Zealand rugby league and rugby union player, Marc Ellis (born 1971). He is also a television celebrity known for – as this editor’s Kiwi colleague puts it – ‘somehow stepping outside the natural time continuum and doing adult things, such as running a business, hosting sport and travel shows, while never looking, or acting, older than 20. And thus, his youthful indiscretions, such as buying illegal party drugs, or talking on television about “sweating like a rapist,” or encouraging streakers to disrupt a televised sporting event, are usually forgiven as typical Kiwi “lad” behavior.’
109 Samuel Johnson, in his
Dictionary of the English Language (London, Walker and Co, new edition, 1853, page 536), defines the word Republick: ‘state in which the power is lodged in more than one.’
110 Produced by Arnott’s, the Tim Tam is made up of two dry, brown biscuits separated by chocolate cream and dipped in chocolate. For some reason, each package of Tim Tams contains exactly 11 biscuits, which requires the breaking of one biscuit to equitably share the entire package between two people.

Zireaux’s comments on these stanzas
And so at last the relevance of our title — Res Publica — becomes clear: ‘A state in which power is lodged in more than one.’

To recap: Our narrator has discovered a tiny island. He’s claimed it as his own. He’s packed up a boat, set off by himself to live out the rest of his life upon that little rock amidst the open sea. But as he nears the island, in heavy swells, he finds no place to land his boat. He doesn’t want to turn back. His life on the mainland is miserable. He decides, instead, to crash his boat upon the island’s frothy shores. A shipwreck, by god — and lo! He survives! With no way to return (the boat is destroyed); and isn’t that wonderful? Alone on his island at last! “Just me, to represent / myself, a population of one. / To hold an election (and know I’d won!).” He celebrates his conquest, his solitude, his absolute power.

But then, he thinks he hears a voice — words like raw and pain and sun and kelp. And then, in the final lines of stanza 234, one of the oil drums from the shipwreck begins to move. ‘That liver- / colored drum – I saw it shiver!’ (Next week we’ll learn what’s inside).

A note about Melville’s Typee: I’m of the opinion that Typee, the great whale-man’s first book, provided an inspiration for Wells’s The Time Machine. Both stories involve an encounter with two tribes, one cannibal, the other peaceful. Both Wells’s “Time Traveller” and Melville’s narrator (Herman playing himself) are responsible for the death of a beloved member of their host tribe. Both, at certain stages, become violent toward their hosts and disconsolately question their own behavior. And both find innocent, loving female concubines who help massage away their despair.

I can’t think of a better book than Typee, a favorite of my youth, to survive on the island of Res Publica. (Although you’ll recall that while preparing for his trip, Arcady packed Apsley Cherry-Gerrard’s The Worst Journey in the World, another work which no doubt survived the shipwreck).

Speaking of inspiration, I encourage you to visit the Tuesday Poets at tuesdaypoem.blogspot.com.


Read from the beginning of Res Publica | Listen to the audio version (read by Stuart Devenie) | Buy a signed copy of the book

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