The Green Hills of Earth

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"The Green Hills of Earth" is a science fiction short story by Robert A. Heinlein, and the title of a song, "The Green Hills of Earth", mentioned in several of his novels. One of his Future History stories, the short story originally appeared in The Saturday Evening Post (February 8, 1947), and it was collected in The Green Hills of Earth (and subsequently in The Past Through Tomorrow).

This is the story of Rhysling, the Blind Singer of the Spaceways - but not the official version.


Plot summary

It is the story of "Noisy" Rhysling, the blind space-going songwriter whose poetic skills rival Rudyard Kipling's. Heinlein (himself a medically-retired U.S. naval officer) spins a yarn about a radiation-blinded spaceship engineer crisscrossing the solar system writing and singing songs. The story is presented as a magazine article.[1]

Heinlein credited the title of the song, "The Green Hills of Earth", to the short story "Shambleau" by C. L. Moore (first published in 1933). In the story Moore's character, a spacefaring smuggler named Northwest Smith hums the tune of "The Green Hills of Earth".

The events of the story concern the composition of the titular song. An aged Rhysling realizes that his death of old age is near, and hitchhikes on a spaceship headed to Earth so he can die and be buried where he was born. A malfunction threatens the ship with destruction, and Rhysling enters an irradiated area to perform repairs. Upon completing the repairs, he knows that he will soon die of radiation poisoning, and asks that they record his last song; he dies just moments after speaking the final, titular verse.

The songs

Heinlein wrote several fragments of lyrics and one full stanza for the song.

  • harsh bright soil of Luna
  • Out ride the sons of Terra, / Far drives the thundering jet
  • Saturn's rainbow rings
  • the frozen night of Titan
  • We pray for one last landing/ On the globe that gave us birth/ Let us rest our eyes on the fleecy skies/ And the cool, green hills of Earth.

The fragments have been filled out and additional stanzas added by the filk community. The song's meter allows it to be sung to a number of popular tunes including: "Amazing Grace"; "Greensleeves"; "The House of the Rising Sun"; "The Rising of the Moon / Wearing of the Green"; Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" (in his Ninth Symphony, fourth movement); "Oh My Darling, Clementine"; "Semper Paratus"; "The Marine Corps Hymn"; "The Yellow Rose of Texas"; "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing"; "Ghost Riders in the Sky"; "Acres of Clams", and the theme song from the TV show Gilligan's Island.

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