Ray Bradbury has explored mankind’s present through its future in his science-fiction novels Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles. With his poetry collection, They Have Not Seen The Stars, Bradbury relaxes a bit, writing on matters both deep and trivial, musing and rambling in a multitude of areas.
Those expecting Bradbury to write mainly about science fiction or fantasy will be surprised. There are several poems dealing with futuristic elements, such as the sentimental “I, Tom, and my Electric Gram” or the future-fused “Pope Android Seventh.” And Bradbury frequently uses space travel as the pinnacle of human aspirations. (“We Saviors call ourselves from earthly tomb/And go and find a better place, a larger room./Mars but a Beginning,/ Real Heaven our end”)
But Bradbury finds equal inspiration in the real world. Discovered stories — a painter who uses his likeness to portray several popes, Louis Armstrong wearing a catcher’s mask for protection, the possibility of genetically engineering dinosaurs, Melville revising Moby Dick after finding a readable printing of Shakespeare — provide material for poems. So too do trips through small towns, random musings on famous figures, looking at art or thinking on history. The most common theme in this collection is reflecting on the past. Bradbury thinks on what he is and what he was, often mitigating his age with the knowledge that the past is now contained in his daughters. His poems cover a wide gamut of feelings, from solemn meditation to silly fun.
While Bradbury occasionally employs a simple AA-BB-CC rhyme scheme, most of his poems are free verse. He enjoys rhyming the ending of one line with the middle of the next, creating a flowing sound through the work (“Their ringless fingers tremble on their dress/They hold their breath, their souls, they wait.”) He also uses language well, whether in somber reflection of joyous celebration of all around him.
What’s lacking in these poems is depth. Bradbury acknowledges this in the introduction — “none of these poems are planned excursions into deep thinking. They’re all hairball explosions or revelations that came to me in instants” — and it’s true throughout the works. For the beautiful language, the poems here do not strive for symbolism, to go beyond the central idea to reach for something more. What Bradbury created here are works that are interesting and enjoyable, but works that never strive for real greatness.
If you’d like to see a new side, or several new sides, of Ray Bradbury, I recommend They Have Not Seen The Stars. His poems may not revolutionize the field of poetry, but you will be entertained as you read them.
(Steath Press, 2002 )