The Green Hills of Earth
The Green Hills of Earth
This is the story of Rhysling, the Blind Singer of the Spaceways — but not the official version. You sang his words in school:
“I pray for one last landing
On the globe that gave me birth;
Let me rest my eyes on the fleecy skies
And the cool, green hills of Earth.”
Or perhaps you sang in French, or German. Or it might have been Esperanto, while Terra’s rainbow banner rippled over your head.
The language does not matter — it was certainly an Earth tongue. No one has ever translated “Green Hills” into the lisping Venerian speech; no Martian ever croaked and whispered it in the dry corridors. This is ours. We of Earth have exported everything from Hollywood crawlies to synthetic radioactives, but this belongs solely to Terra, and to her sons and daughters wherever they may be.
We have all heard many stories of Rhysling. You may even be one of the many who have sought degrees, or acclaim, by scholarly evaluations of his published works – _Songs of the Spaceways_, _The Grand Canal and other Poems_, _High and Far_, and _”UP SHIP!”_
Nevertheless, although you have sung his songs and read his verses, in school and out your whole life, it is at least an even money bet — unless you are a spaceman yourself — that you have never even heard of most of Rhysling’s unpublished songs, such items as _Since the Pusher Met My Cousin_, _That Red-Headed Venusburg Gal_, _Keep Your Pants On, Skipper_, or _A Space Suit Built for Two_.
Nor can we quote them in a family magazine.
Rhysling’s reputation was protected by a careful literary executor and by the happy chance that he was never interviewed. _Songs of the Spaceways_ appeared the week he died; when it became a best seller, the publicity stories about him were pieced together from what people remembered about him plus the highly colored handouts from his publishers.
The resulting traditional picture of Rhysling is about as authentic as George Washington’s hatchet or King Alfred’s cakes.
In truth you would not have wanted him in your parlor; he was not socially acceptable. He had a permanent case of sun itch, which he scratched continually, adding nothing to his negligible beauty.
Van der Voort’s portrait of him for the Harriman Centennial edition of his works shows a figure of high tragedy, a solemn mouth, sightless eyes concealed by black silk bandage. He was never solemn! His mouth was always open, singing, grinning, drinking, or eating. The bandage was any rag, usually dirty. After he lost his sight he became less and less neat about his person.
“Noisy” Rhysling was a jetman, second class, with eyes as good as yours, when he signed on for a ioop trip to the Jovian asteroids in the RS _Goshawk_. The crew signed releases for everything in those days; a Lloyd’s associate would have laughed in your face at the notion of insuring a spaceman. The Space Precautionary Act had never been heard of, and the Company was responsible only for wages, if and when. Half the ships that went further than Luna City never came back. Spacemen did not care; by preference they signed for shares, and any one of them would have bet you that he could jump from the 200th floor of Harriman Tower and ground safely, if you offered him three to two and allowed him rubber heels for the landing.
Jetmen were the most carefree of the lot, and the meanest. Compared with them the masters, the radarmen, and the astrogators (there were no supers nor stewards in those days) were gentle vegetarians. Jetmen knew too much. The others trusted the skill of the captain to get them down safely; jetmen knew that skill was useless against the blind and fitful devils chained inside their rocket motors.
The _Goshawk_ was the first of Harriman’s ships to be converted from chemical fuel to atomic power-piles — or rather the first that did not blow up. Rhysling knew her well; she was an old tub that had plied the Luna City run, Supra-New York space station to Leyport and back, before she was converted for deep space. He had worked the Luna run in her and had been along on the first deep space trip, Drywater on Mars — and back, to everyone’s surprise.