Poem #6: Man and Machine by D.H. Lawrence

Estimated Reading Time:  3  minutes

TitleMan and Machine 
Black and white photo of D. H. Lawrence
Source: Wikimedia

D.H. Lawrence

Source:  Kalliope.

Link: You can find this poem on this website.


Man invented the machine
and now the machine has invented man.

God the Father is a dynamo
and God the Son a talking radio
and God the Holy Ghost is gas that keeps it all going.

And men have perforce to be little dynamos
and little talking radios
and the human spirit is so much gas, to keep it all going.

Man invented the machine
and now the machine has invented man.


I stumbled upon a reference to this poem in a book I read this past year--I think.  Regardless, the idea that Lawrence had written a poem on humans and technology captured my attention and so I looked it up.  

There's a lot going on in this short piece.  The first is the double-stated idea that humans and technology (or machines) are co-creating one another. This is a common notion in technology studies but one that is still insightful by Lawrence in the 1930s. Humans do create technologies but those technologies also shape what we think about what it means to be human. For instance, when we think of "men" or what it means to be a "man" in modern society, we see they are surrounded by technology whether that's a CEO, a trucker-driver, a soldier, a sportsball player, and the like. Their manliness is embedded in a variety of machines and technologies. If we strip the man of these accouterments, they lose the meaning of man.  

Then we have the two stanzas in the middle.  The first stanza translates how we might conceive of religion (the original "inventor" of men as it were) as technology.  God is the generator (a generator of all energy); the Son is the talking radio (the tangible yet intangible part of God that can be seen and heard), and Holy Spirit is the gas (the fuel that goes into the car to spread the word of God).   These abilities are then folded into men (the second stanza) who then go on to invent machines.  

However, by Lawrence using the previous stanza to bring in religion, he creates a striking metaphor; because while religion can be all these things (dynamo, radio, gas), they exist only because men use them.  That is, the relationship between the almighty and humankind is reciprocal.  Thus when Lawrence moves to talk of just man, he hints that the relationship between human and machine is just as reciprocal as that which is between humans and religion.  

It's a rather sly and ingenious poem to collapse the sociology of religion and technology of thousands of years into a 10-line poem. 

Those are my thoughts.  How do you interpret the poem?

About the reflections
This poem is part of a 365 day challenge project that focuses on a poem a day.  Similar projects have included short shorties and photo reflections. Part of the intention of this year's project is to develop a better appreciation and means of reflecting on poetry, something that has never been a strong suit for me.  These reflections therefore do not represent a definitive assessment of the work by me. They are merely an opportunity for me to have a public conversation about what they mean in order to help myself better understand them and mayhaps have a conversation with readers for further insight.  

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  1. We just used this poem in class. I had my students relate the work to the the short story "The Fun They Had" by Isaac Asimov. Your insight was enlightening. I enjoyed your perspective. Poetry is not my favorite medium, but I did like this piece, and even more so after reading your reflections.
    Thank you for sharing.

    Brian Theodore


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