“Poetry is a sort of truancy, a dream within the dream of life, a wild flower planted among our wheat.”
— Michael Joseph Oakeshott
Portrait of a Machine
by Louis Untermeyer
What nudity as beautiful as this
Obedient monster purring at its toil;
These naked iron muscles dripping oil
And the sure-fingered rods that never miss.
This long and shining flank of metal is
Magic that greasy labour cannot spoil;
While this vast engine that could rend the soil
Conceals its fury with a gentle hiss.
It does not vent its loathing, it does not turn
Upon its makers with destroying hate.
It bears a deeper malice; lives to earn
It’s masters bread and laughs to see this great
Lord of the earth, who rules but cannot learn,
Become the slave of what his slaves create.
One hundred years ago it took 40 hours of labor from planting to harvest with the best horse drawn equipment at the time to raise 100 bushels of corn. Today it takes around 2 hours. We have 20X increased productivity and with it 20X increased the cost of production and reduced 20X the workforce needed to produce it. The reason we’ll never go back is no one would want to work that hard ever again for so little wages. We have grown comfortable in the marvels that the internal combustion engine and fossil fuels have created and there is no bridge back to a pastoral rural economy. But as these poems both remind us, there is a cost to our efficiency that goes beyond finances. There is a human cost in our souls being tethered to the very machines that have transformed lives.
Agricultural Implements and Machinery
by James Mcyintre (1828- 1906)
Poor laborers, they did sad bewail,
When the machine displaced the flail ;
There’s little work, now, with the hoes,
Since cultivators weed the rows.
Labor it became more fickle
When the scythe took place of sickle ;
Labor still it did sink lower
By introduction of mower ;
And the work was done much cheaper
When they added on the reaper.
Another machine to it they join,
Mower, reaper, binder, they combine.
Machines now load and stow away
Both the barley and the hay,
And the farmers do get richer
With the loader and the pitcher.
There’s little work now for the hoes,
Since cultivators weed the rows ;
They sow and rake by the machine-
Hand labor’s ‘mong the things have been.
Armed with scythes, the old war chariot
Cut down men in the fierce war riot ;
Round farmer’s chariot falls the slain,
But ’tis the sheaves of golden grain.
This harvest, now, of eighty-four,
Will great wealth on farmers pour,
For there is abundant yield
Of fruitful crops in every field.