Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Martian Chronicles: Science Fiction or Poetry?

Editor's Note:  The following essay was submitted as part of the MOOC Fantasy and Science Fiction:  The Human Mind, Our Modern World presented by the University of Michigan.  Essays for this MOOC are limited to 320 words.  Quotations are taken from the Harper Perennial Modern Classics 2011 edition of The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury with an introduction by the author.

The Martian Chronicles could be categorized as poetry rather than science fiction.  In his introduction, Ray Bradbury agrees, commenting that while “The Martian Chronicles is often described as science fiction[,] it misfits that description.”  Bradbury also recounts the words Aldous Huxley used to describe him shortly after The Martian Chronicles was first published in 1950:  “You,” said Huxley, “are a poet.”  An analysis of the novel readily reveals its poetic qualities.

Google.com’s dictionary defines a “poem” as “a piece of writing that partakes of the nature of both speech and song that is nearly always rhythmical, usually metaphorical, and often exhibits such formal elements as meter, rhyme, and stanzaic structure.”  It is difficult to find a passage in The Martian Chronicles that could not be presented word-for-word but in stanzaic form and not result in poetry.  The constraints on the length of this essay limit the essayist to two examples. 

From page 41:

When the town people found
the rocket at sunset
they wondered what it was. 
Nobody knew,
so it was sold to a junkman
and hauled off to be broken up
for scrap metal.

Note the poetic elements:  the easy rhythm, the internal rhyming quality of rocket at sunset, and the metaphorical and ironic use of the rocket to represent futility.

From page 159:

Is this then how it was so long ago? 
On the rim of the precipice,
on the edge of the cliff of stars. 
In their time the smell of buffalo,
and in our time the smell of the Rocket.

Note the poetic elements:  the lyricism, pleasant rhythm, stunning imagery, and beautiful metaphor.  It is even semi-rhyming.

In conclusion, it is interesting to think of this timeless novel as poetry rather than science fiction.  Perhaps it is not surprising that over sixty years after the debut of The Martian Chronicles, Harper Perennial Modern Classics describes Ray Bradbury as “a poet of the possible.”

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