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All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace

By imperium in Culture
Mon Jan 22, 2001 at 11:30:45 AM EST
Tags: Books (all tags)

American beat poet Richard Brautigan wrote this poem in 1968, about the same time as the birth of ARPANET. The poem itself can be read as a psychedelic vision of one future for the internet, one that makes sense to me. It is a rebuff to the commercialising trends on the net, and I think all sysadmins should have it on their walls.

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace

I like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
programming harmony
like pure water
touching clear sky

I like to think
(right now please!)
of a cybernetic forest
filled with pines and electronics
where deer stroll peacefully
past computers
as if they were flowers
with spinning blossoms.

I like to think
(it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.

So how does it make you feel? Do you love it? Does it make you think of Big Brother?

For those who want to read more on Richard Brautigan, I found a pretty good looking fan site. I would also recommend you buy In Watermelon Sugar, which is sort of like a novel.


Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure


This poem is
o beautiful 14%
o not written in PERL 33%
o a spooky vision of an open-source future 0%
o irrelevant to my life 7%
o a lot of hippy nonsense 28%
o going on my wall 7%
o a necessary fusion of IT and green consciousness 8%

Votes: 112
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o flowers
o fan site
o Also by imperium

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All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace | 25 comments (14 topical, 11 editorial, 0 hidden)
Ugh (4.20 / 5) (#4)
by tetsuo on Sat Jan 20, 2001 at 01:30:33 PM EST

I'm not sure if Brautigan meant for that poem to be as cynical as it sounds to me. Then again, I skipped english class on reading comprehension days.

Were it reality, it would mean that we as humans had decided that we can't make decisions for ourselves (we're watched over), and so we turn to our own creation to do it. It's then that we "return to our mammal brothers and sisters". A De-evolution perhaps? Left to our own devices, humans are fearful violent creatures. But we would be watched over by these machines, eh? Would the machines stop us from acting out our base instincts? Would they punish us? Could we turn them off if they malfunctioned? Dependance on anything but humans is usually a risky business. And humans are far from a sure thing as it is.

And loving grace. Machines don't program themselves (ok some do, but they're only able to program themselves within the confines of their ruleset). So who programs "love"?

Ugh. It is most definately NOT a rebuff to commercialization on the net. And if I saw a sysadm with this on his wall I would shoot him. We don't need to have a bizarre god-worship complex with computers, mmmkay?

good poetic topic, bad poem (1.81 / 16) (#5)
by xah on Sat Jan 20, 2001 at 01:35:26 PM EST

I voted for this article because I think the cross paths of nature and technology are especially fruitful for poems, and also K5 discussion. Nevertheless, the poem is not well rendered. I appreciate the lack of (horrible) postmodern solipsism and self-commentary, but there were no characters, except for the speaker. And the repeating line became quite monotonous and boring. Additionally, the choice of vocabulary was not varied enough. I hope the poet continues working on it. The "machines of loving grace" concept is indeed poetic, although it of course comes from a 90's grunge band song. To the poet, keep at it. I'd like to follow your work as it develops.

Uh, hello? (4.00 / 4) (#6)
by B'Trey on Sat Jan 20, 2001 at 01:41:48 PM EST

American beat poet Richard Brautigan wrote this poem in 1968...

I doubt that either the poet is still working on it or that he got any of it from a '90s grunge band. Perhaps the grunge band got it from Brautigan?

[ Parent ]

Brautigan died 17 years ago (3.00 / 4) (#9)
by imperium on Sat Jan 20, 2001 at 02:16:50 PM EST

So if you want his latest thoughts, call a medium!

[ Parent ]

lol !! rotfl !! (none / 0) (#18)
by bsmfh on Tue Jan 23, 2001 at 02:09:22 AM EST

What a great piece of sarcasm and wit! You yourself should take the keyboard in hand and write more for us. I really loved it.

[ Parent ]
Nice (4.60 / 5) (#11)
by seb on Sat Jan 20, 2001 at 03:03:08 PM EST

I tend to agree with xah's comment regarding the 'rendering' of the poem, but nonetheless it's got some interesting images. My first impression is that it's a strangely beautiful vision of a techno-organic world. I love the idea of computers as flowers. Additionally, the idea of technology finally releasing us from our chains and allowing us to realise our full potential in leisure reminds me of Oscar Wilde's description of The Soul of Man under Socialism (which is one of the most compelling arguments for socialism I've read). It's nice. But on the other hand there's a more sinister note there somewhere. I guess it comes from the Biblical Judgement Day imagery of the lion lying down with the lamb. It sort of implies that (1) computers are our natural enemies in this life, and (2) we'll need some kind of apocalyptic event to enable us to pass into paradise.

All of which makes me think it's a fantastic poem. Kind of sums it all up, the promise and the threat of machines in an evocative nutshell.

Thank you! (3.20 / 5) (#13)
by driph on Sat Jan 20, 2001 at 04:51:29 PM EST

I've always wondered where the industrial band Machines of Loving Grace found their name...
"...and her beauty spilled out across the highway in a glittering trail of venom and diamonds.."

Vegas isn't a liberal stronghold. It's the place where the rich and powerful gamble away their company's pension fund and strangle call girls in their hotel rooms. - Psycho Dave
love and tensor algebra (4.71 / 7) (#15)
by danny on Mon Jan 22, 2001 at 08:37:25 AM EST

From Stanislaw Lem's The Cyberiad - "a love poem, lyrical, pastoral, and expressed in the language of pure mathematics. Tensor algebra mainly, with a little topology and higher calculus, if need be. But with feeling, you understand, and in the cybernetic spirit."
Come let us hasten to a higher plane,
Where dyads tread the fairy fields of Venn,
Their indices bedecked from one to n,
Commingled in an endless Markov chain!

Come, every frustrum longs to be a cone,
And every vector dreams of matrices.
Hark to the gentle gradient of the breeze:
It whispers of a more ergodic zone.

In Riemann, Hilbert or in Banach space
Let superscripts and subscripts go their ways.
Our asymptotes no longer out of phase,
We shall encounter, counting, face to face.

I'll grant thee random access to my heart,
Thou'lt tell me all the constants of thy love;
And so we two shall all love's lemmas prove,
And in our bound partition never part.

For what did Cauchy know, or Christoffel,
Or Fourier, or any Boole or Euler,
Wielding their compasses, their pens and rulers,
Of thy supernal sinusoidal spell?

Cancel me not - for what then shall remain?
Abcissas, some mantissa, modules, modes,
A root or two, a torus and a node:
The inverse of my verse, a null domain.

Ellipse of bliss, converge, O lips divine!
The product of our scalars is defined!
Cyberiad draws nigh, and the skew mind
Cuts capers like a happy haversine.

I see the eigenvalue in thine eye,
I hear the tender tensor in thy sigh.
Bernoulli would have been content to die,
Had he but known such a-squared cos 2-phi!

Stanislaw Lem (translated Michael Kandel)

[900 book reviews and other stuff]

LEM (none / 0) (#17)
by bsmfh on Tue Jan 23, 2001 at 02:05:19 AM EST

Yeah, baby! Right on!

I loved the stories in that book. The two Constructors, Klaupacius (sp?) and Trurl, and all their robotic problems, insights, and solutions. What great fairy tales. This is exactly the kind of story Brautigan's machine could be reading to me, if I ever went to sleep!

[ Parent ]

Yeah! (none / 0) (#24)
by Vainamoinen on Wed Feb 14, 2001 at 07:16:05 AM EST

And that poem contructed entirely with the letter S.
Shorn, shaggy Sampson ... etc

Man, I spent hours trying to figure out if he'd written it first and then done the spec, or vice verse [sic!]...

**** Windows has detected a mouse movement. Please restart your computer so changes can take effect ****
[ Parent ]
Brings to mind (4.33 / 3) (#16)
by Ludwig on Mon Jan 22, 2001 at 02:17:26 PM EST

Not specifically net-related, but a more cynical view of techno-optimism in Danald Fagen's "I.G.Y." (International Geophysical Year). Call me a sap, but even though I know it's not meant to be read absolutely straightforwardly, I always find the last two couplets of the last verse ("A just machine...") stirring.

Standing tough under stars and stripes
We can tell
This dream's in sight
You've got to admit it
At this point in time that it's clear
The future looks bright
On that train all graphite and glitter
Undersea by rail
Ninety minutes from New York to Paris
Well by seventy-six we'll be A-O.K.

What a beautiful world this will be
What a glorious time to be free

Get your ticket to that wheel in space
While there's time
The fix is in
You'll be a witness to that game of chance in the sky
You know we've got to win
Here at home we'll play in the city
Powered by the sun
Perfect weather for a streamlined world
There'll be spandex jackets one for everyone

What a beautiful world this will be
What a glorious time to be free

On that train all graphite and glitter
Undersea by rail
Ninety minutes from New York to Paris
(More leisure for artists everywhere)
A just machine to make big decisions
Programmed by fellows with compassion and vision
We'll be clean when their work is done
We'll be eternally free yes and eternally young

What a beautiful world this will be
What a glorious time to be free

Sci-fi (4.00 / 1) (#20)
by Paul Dunne on Tue Jan 23, 2001 at 04:24:08 AM EST

Big Brother? Hardly. It makes me think of any number of dystopian sci-fi stories which envisage a world rather like that described, where intelligent machines take care of things. Generally, the humans end up having to disable them or face being "tidied away" (nasty organic detritus!). Hmm, think I'll go and dig some of the anthologies out...
More Brautigan recommendations. (5.00 / 1) (#21)
by mahlen on Tue Jan 23, 2001 at 02:41:55 PM EST

I think the "Machines of Loving Grace" phrase was also picked up by the Diggers in S.F. as well, as hard as it is now to believe that computational utopianism could be an ideal of the radical left.

Compared to "In Watermelon Sugar", I loved "Trout Fishing in America", the novel that put Brautigan into the hippie-era spotlight. That book really got me started reading seriously in high school, and 20 years later the buzz hasn't worn off. But I read most of his stuff in high school and college (in the '80's), and the others that I remember fondly are "The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966" and "Dreaming of Babylon: A Private Eye Novel 1942". He is a very odd, and very imaginative writer. I'd imagine that most of his works are pretty hard to find these days, but there's a nice reprint of his stuff, Richard Brautigan's Trout Fishing in America, the Pill versus the Springhill Mine Disaster, and In Watermelon Sugar, that's pretty easy to find in your remotely hip bookstores.

One of the book blurbs about him said, "One day, people will write brautigans the way that they now write novels"; pretty heady stuff for a kid from rural Montana. Sadly, fame destroyed him. One biography of him, "Downstream from trout fishing in America : a memoir of Richard Brautigan" by Keith Abbott convinced me that large-scale fame is not only not worth seeking, it is well worth actively avoiding.


I will try to find that bio (none / 0) (#25)
by imperium on Fri Mar 16, 2001 at 01:03:28 PM EST

I knew he killed himself, and, for a sensitive type like Brautigan, I always wondered whether it was fame-stress-related.

Thanks, though..

[ Parent ]

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace | 25 comments (14 topical, 11 editorial, 0 hidden)
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