(Note: When I originally posted this writeup, Pseudo_Intellectual had previously posted the text of the poem. At the behest of a member of the Copyright Salvage Team, I have added the text to my own writeup. /msg me with any comments on the formatting.)
pity this busy monster,manunkind,
not. Progress is a comfortable disease:
your victim(death and life safely beyond)
plays with the bigness of his littleness
—electrons deify one razorblade
into a mountainrange;lenses extend
unwish through curving wherewhen till unwish
returns on its unself.
A world of made
is not a world of born—pity poor flesh
and trees,poor stars and stones,but never this
fine specimen of hypermagical
ultraomnipotence. We doctors know
a hopeless case if—listen:there's a hell
of a good universe next door;let's go
—e. e. cummings
This poem appears (in addition to wherever it may have originally appeared) at the beginning of Tad Williams' first book in the Otherland series, on the first page of section one, but after the foreword. After rather enjoying Tad's previous work, I was slightly suprised that this odd poem would appear in his new book.
The first section of Otherland is entitled "Universe Next Door," and, combined with the final line of the poem, I had been under the impression that this poem shared the same title, but it seems the old "title the poem after its first line" thing still applies.
Ism points out in Space being(don't forget to remember)Curved that this poem is about technology and progress. Taken in that context (and, er, what other context could there be?) it really makes sense as the intro to Otherland, which shares some similar themes (being a sci fi book, natch). It also, of course, has a sort of "universe next door" in it... but then, I don't want to give anything away if you haven't read it.
Update 7/15/02: It's come to my attention that the first book of the Schrodinger's Cat trilogy is titled "The Universe Next Door". Having not read this trilogy I can't really comment on any connections between it, this poem, and Otherland, but it's plausible that some inspiration was derived from one to the other.