Ray Bradbury Reads His Poem “If Only We Had Taller Been” in a Rare 1971 Recording
“Short man. Large dream. I send my rockets forth / between my ears, / Hoping an inch of Will is worth a pound of years.”
By Maria Popova
On November 12, 1971 — the day before NASA’s Mariner 9 mission reached Mars and became the first spacecraft to orbit another planet — Carl Sagan, Ray Bradbury, and Arthur C. Clarke sat down for an extraordinary conversation about the future of space exploration and the perennial spirit of discovery. A year later, the transcript, accompanied by early images of the red planet taken by the Mariner 9 and a selection of “afterthoughts” by the trio looking back on the historic achievement, was published as Mars and the Mind of Man (public library).
One of the loveliest moments in the conversation is Bradbury’s reading of his poem “If Only We Had Taller Been,” one of several unpublished poems he shared at the event. This surviving footage of the reading, flagged by the wonderful Neil Gaiman, is a true gift to humanity — please enjoy:
IF ONLY WE HAD TALLER BEEN
O, Thomas, will a Race one day stand really tall
Across the Void, across the Universe and all?
And, measure out with rocket fire,
At last put Adam’s finger forth
As on the Sistine Ceiling,
And God’s great hand come down the other way
To measure Man and find him Good,
And Gift him with Forever’s Day?
I work for that.
Short man. Large dream. I send my rockets forth
between my ears,
Hoping an inch of Will is worth a pound of years.
Aching to hear a voice cry back along the universal Mall:
We’ve reached Alpha Centauri!
We’re tall, O God, we’re tall!
Mars and the Mind of Man, while lamentably out of print, is well worth the hunt. See more of the brilliant trio’s conversation here, then treat yourself to Bradbury on emotion vs. intelligence, how list-making can boost your creativity, and the secret of work, life, and love.
Published November 12, 2015