Machines of Loving Grace

Richard Brautigan and Hilda Hoffman
Richard Brautigan and friend Hilda Hoffman on the first edition cover of Richard’s novel, In Watermelon Sugar.

Richard Brautigan wrote poetry, short stories and novels.

In 1967 he was Poet-In-Residence at the California Institute of Technology. The same year he wrote All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, a large format book made by mimeograph. 1500 copies were produced and given away.

The title poem of that book is reproduced below.

Reviewers of the poem have been divided about whether it’s a homage to technology or an ironic view of it.

In 2011, Richard Curtis produced a fascinating (though not neccessarily accurate) 3-part documentary whose title is based on the poem, lending it an ironic interpretation. That said, machines haven’t taken over society, they’re still subserviant to humans, and if (or when) they do, the type of world humans will live in is yet to be played out.

In the first part of the series, Richard makes the case that Ayn Rand’s philosophy had a profound influence on Silicon Valley, the growth of technology, and the idea that it could help enable freedom from government.

Of course this didn’t happen, and government used technology to buttress its power, but technology’s role in the future still has huge potential to develop and change society.

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.