A lost poem written by Vladimir Nabokov about Superman — in which the Man of Steel envisions a tragic wedding night with Lois Lane and longs to be a mortal man — has been published for the first time.
Written in June 1942 and rejected by the New Yorker, “The Man of To-morrow’s Lament” was penned two years after Nabokov emigrated from Russia to the U.S., with the Lolita author focusing on the American cultural icon — he read the comics to his 8-year-old son — and jumping into one of the biggest debates in comic book-dom: Whether or not Clark Kent and Lois Lane could have a sexual relationship.
In the poem, Clark Kent ruminates that while he loves Lois Lane, “marriage would be murder on my part,” as his wedding night coitus with Lois would likely result in her death, as well as the destruction of both the big hotel they’re staying in and “the smaller one next door.”
“But even if that blast of love should spare/her fragile frame – what children would she bear?” Nabokov asks in the poem, published for the first time by the Times Literary Supplement. “What monstrous babe, knocking the surgeon down/would waddle out into the awestruck town?”
While the poem was known to exist, “The Man of To-morrow’s Lament” was believed lost until it was unearthed by Russian scholar Andrei Babikov in the Edmond Wilson’s archive in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.
“So this is why no matter where I fly/red-cloaked, blue-hosed, across the yellow sky/I feel no thrill in chasing thugs and thieves/and gloomily broad-shouldered Kent retrieves/his coat and trousers from the garbage can/and tucks away the cloak of Superman,” Nabokov wrote of the Man of Steel’s sorrow. “And when she sighs — somewhere in Central Park/where my immense bronze statue looms — ‘Oh, Clark … /Isn’t he wonderful!?!’ I stare ahead/and long to be a normal guy instead.” In TLS, Babikov notes that the scene of them walking through Central Park, as well Lane’s exclamation (including its punctuation) was taken directly from the cover of Superman No. 16, released in May 1942.
In 1969, science fiction author Larry Niven considered Kent and Lane’s physical relationship in the essay “Man of Steel, Women of Kleenex”; a quarter-century later, the eternal question was debated again, albeit more sophomorically, in a scene from Kevin Smith’s Mallrats:
Will there ever be an answer? Probably not. But good to know a Twentieth-century literary great was one of the first to spend time wondering whether Superman’s super-sperm would be too much for a human woman.