Portrait of a Machine : Louis Untermeyer

Portrait of a Machine

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.

Louis Untermeyer

A sonnet … abba / abba /ababab … the machine is personified … two important attributes compared – beauty and power

The first eight lines show the machine as an untiring body with the beauty of its created components compared to muscles, fingers, and flank. The purring voice never faltering. The power of the machine far out weighing the physical capability of the mere creator.

The last six lines then reflect the non-emotional characteristic of the inanimate object but there is a subtle twist for the machine may have the last laugh – the question on the effect it has on its creator … does the creator become a slave to his or her creation?

I remember years ago visiting the Rowntrees Chocolate factory in York and watching girls taking deformed smartees from the production line. I guess that nowadays this would be an automated process.

From Wikipedia … Louis Untermeyer (October 1, 1885 – December 18, 1977) was an American poet, anthologist, critic,[and editor. He was appointed the fourteenth Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1961.


… and perhaps an appropriate time for a New Year’s resolution … for the Internet may well laugh at us if we spend all our time absorbed in this activity … well, time for a cup of tea …


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