All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace
"All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace" is a poem by Richard Brautigan first published in his 1967 collection of the same name, his fifth book of poetry. It is an enthusiastic description of a technological utopia in which machines improve and protect the lives of humans. It is Brautigan's most frequently reprinted poem.
Synopsis and analysis
The poem describes a world in which "mammals and computers live together in mutually programming harmony", with technology acting as caretakers while "we are free of our labors and joined back to nature."
Most critics take the poem as a counterculture, communitarian adoption of Cold War-era technological visions. Brautigan's publisher, Claude Hayward, said it "caught me with its magical references to benign machines keeping order ... [which] fit right in with our optimism over the promise of the computer". In Vijay Nambisan's review for The Hindu in 2000, he said "You cannot write a poem like this today. It is too childlike, too innocent. Indeed, college friends who were moved by Brautigan's work twenty years ago would now laugh at me for choosing it. That's more or less what happened to Brautigan."
Others have interpreted it as an ironic, mocking critique of the technologically enabled utopia it purports to long for. According to Stanford's Carlos Seligo, there is an irony in the poem that "is as subtle and complex as his mixed metaphors", which Seligo says are "always doing at least three -- and often four, five, or six things at once." Robert J. Grangeware noted how unusual it is for American poets to take a positive view of our relationship with technology, but if viewed as ironic it "joins the mainstream of antitechnological American verse."
The poem was first published by the Communication Company in 1967, type-written on an 8.5" x 11" mimeographed broadside with both the title and imprint hand-written.
It was the title poem in the April 1967 collection of the same name, published in April 1967. 1,500 copies of the 36-page work were printed at the Communication Company, and all were given away for free.
Brautigan gave the poem to The Diggers to include in their August 1968 pamphlet, The Digger Papers. The 24-page pamphlet was published in The Realist issue 81, and another 40,000 copies were printed by the Diggers and given away for free.
"All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace" is Brautigan's most frequently reprinted poem. In the original 1967 publication, Brautigan included a copyleft statement which retains copyright but grants permission to reprint any poem in All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace so long as it's given away for free.
The documentary series All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace was named after the poem, which is a favorite of director Adam Curtis. Its second part includes a recording of Brautigan doing a reading. According to the Chicago Reader, "For all the frenzy of the images, what dominates the sequence are Brautigan's voice and the languid piece of symphonic music on the soundtrack."
- Madrigal, Alexis C. (17 September 2011). "Weekend Poem: All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace". The Atlantic.
- Bokinsky, Caroline J. (1980). Greiner, Donald J., ed. Richard Brautigan (in Dictionary of Literary Biography). 5. Detroit: Gale Research Company. pp. 96–99.
- Barber, John F. (2006). Richard Brautigan: Essays on the Writings and Life. McFarland.
- Nambisan, Vijay (4 June 2000). "Pines and Cybernetics". The Hindu.
- Sachs, Ben (5 January 2012). "Now online: All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (part 2)". Chicago Reader.
- Turner, Fred (2010). From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. pp. 38–39.
- Seligo, Carlos (4 June 2011). ""All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace"". Stanford University Libraries - Academic Technology Specialists.
- Grangeware, Robert J., ed. (1972). The Exploited Eden: Literature on the American Environment. New York: Harper and Row. p. 376.
- Barber, John F. "Poetry - All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace". Brautigan.net.
- Barber, John F. "Poetry - The Pill versus The Springhill Mine Disaster". Brautigan.net.
- Barber, John F. "A-Z Index". Brautigan.net.