The Green Hills of Earth
by Robert A. Heinlein

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson
The Saturday Evening Post, 8 February 1947

collected in —
The Green Hills of Earth

The Past Through Tomorrow

March 2005

Smooth poems for the slicks

"The Green Hills of Earth" is the story of Rhysling, "the Blind Singer of the Spaceways". This involves Robert A. Heinlein smoothly writing poetry in several styles, making it look as easy as his prose, casually at home in our future. This is the most famous Future History story.

With the novella "Common Sense" in the October 1941 Astounding, Heinlein made his last prewar appearance in print [under his own byline], having returned to duty early the next year as a civilian engineer at the Naval Air Experimental Station in Philadelphia. His reappearance after the war's end was startling, with this artfully-crafted short story featured in the most prestigious of the high-paying, high-profile 'slicks,' the Saturday Evening Post. ... [It] generated more reader mail than any story ever published before in the magazine.

James Gifford
Robert A. Heinlein:
A Reader's Companion

Gifford provides other fascinating details about this little story, from its being based on detailed notes from 1941, to being quoted by a Lunar astronaut on NASA's Apollo XV expedition in 1971.

Weird inspiration for a memorable lyric

I continue to find "The Green Hills of Earth" a very moving story. This stanza from the title poem as composed and sung by Rhysling is probably one of the earliest verses of any kind that I ever memorized:

We pray for one last landing
On the globe that gave us birth;
Let us rest our eyes on fleecy skies
And the cool, green hills of Earth.

Some background for the lyric: Heinlein's subconscious apparently stored up the song title from a solitary mention years earlier in "Shambleau", the very first story sold by the twenty-two year old C. L. Moore; he credits her with the phrase. "Shambleau" is a vivid story with minor exotica and one stunning item of exotica, and I find a second-order degree of interest in Heinlein's memory giving him, out of this sensuous adventure, the homely phrase that he made so memorable in science fiction.

The song title is a stray detail from the tough smuggler Northwest Smith in a frontier town on Mars:

He had no idea what comprised her usual diet, but he bought a can of New York roast beef and one of Venusian frog-broth and a dozen fresh canal-apples and two pounds of that Earth lettuce that grows so vigorously in the fertile canal-soil of Mars. He felt that she must surely find something to her liking in this broad variety of edibles, and — for his day had been very satisfactory — he hummed The Green Hills of Earth to himself in a surprisingly good baritone as he climbed the stairs.

Catherine L. Moore
Weird Tales, November 1933
Two more fine songs;
& concerning songs never written

The story has two more poems in entirely different styles. Heinlein has Rhysling give us ten lingering lines of a lovely lament, "The Grand Canal"; and fourteen short driving lines from "Jet Song". But first Heinlein teases us with other Rhysling song titles that I'm sure he could have written equally well:

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.


© 2005 Robert Wilfred Franson

The importance of "The Green Hills of Earth"
in Heinlein's career is mentioned in
R.W. Franson's Heinlein's Missed Bestsellers

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