Monday, August 06, 2012


Lord Man on His Mechanical Juggernaughts

W.P. Hodgkinson, The Eloquent Silence (London: The English Universities Press, 1946), pp. 103-105:
We are slow to learn. In spite of warnings, we are once again cashing-in on our trees. In the ordinary course of things, trees are remorselessly cut down by the industrial Frankenstein to feed his monster's voracious appetite for pit-props, boxes, sheds, bungalows, matchsticks and what-not, and it now seems necessary to fell them as a means to more lucrative farming. When I look mentally around England, my heart fails me at the sight of so much senseless devastation. Oh! for a Cobbett to ride through the land and lift up his voice in anger.

Even in my village has the rot set in. Gone are the proud elms that once topped the rise leading up to Amberley Hills. The glorious limes are now chip baskets. The oaks, beeches and pines, the nobility of the forest, are no more. Many a tree has been felled in Ridding Woods whose annular rings proved that it was a lusty harp of God when Ben Jonson was a boy. But not only have the peers of the forest fallen in sacrifice to Mars, the humbler populace has also been decimated to clear a path for the tractor and the combine harvester. The hedges, the hawthorns, sloes, crabs and rowans, have been ruthlessly torn up in the name of economy, and to make way for my lord man who rides forward on his mechanical juggernaughts to who knows what strange destiny. Only this morning I met Tom Mellows in the Hazel Patch. When I was a boy, Tom drove his team afield with loud cries of encouragement and abuse; and in the intervals he spat lustily. He was a true son of the soil; and though to the casual observer he seemed a mere clod, at least he had the same blessings as a clod—the same sun, wind and rain to modify his elemental roughness and to plant in his mind a vague humility. But now Tom rides out in the morning on a quivering, pulsating monster and rattles over the stones on his way to the fields. He has more time to spit now that he sits in splendid isolation as custodian of his gaudy orange machine; and no doubt he is happy to know that he is moving with the times. But he fails to see, I am afraid, that such movements are not without their backwash; and in a similar way turns a blind eye to the rise in the cost of living, but acclaims with much spitting and slapping of thighs the obvious increase in wages. But since wages move forward in direct proprtion to the cost of living—like ancient chain-shot made of two cannon-balls chained together hurling along side by side—nobody is any better or worse off.

The soil seems in no happier case than its cultivator. Deprive the soil of its natural humus and it will so deteriorate as to cause an economic landslide. Of course, the catastrophe may be averted for a time by fetching all sorts of artificial foods and medicines for the soil, to keep it, as it were, on its feet. Even this will have to be done in lorries and railway trucks made of wood; and the trees, had they been left to grow, could have provided the leaf-mould for the soil. De-forestation and mass production precede famine; and dust-bowls are the direct consequences of interference with the delicate balance of Nature.
Hodgkinson's picture of Tom Mellows in the Hazel Patch, riding on his "quivering, pulsating monster," reminds me of R.S. Thomas' poem Cynddylan on a Tractor:
Ah, you should see Cynddylan on a tractor.
Gone the old look that yoked him to the soil;
He is a new man now, part of the machine,
His nerves of metal, and his blood oil.
The clutch curses, but the gears obey
His least bidding, and lo, he's away
Out of the farmyard, scattering hens.
Riding to work now as a great man should,
He is the knight at arms breaking the fields'
Mirror of silence, emptying the wood
Of foxes and squirrels and bright jays.
The sun comes over the tall trees
Kindling all the hedges, but not for him
Who runs his engine on a different fuel.
And all the birds are singing, bills wide in vain,
As Cynddylan passes proudly up the lane.
Thanks to Eric Thomson (for copying pages from Hodgkinson's book) and to my son (for the gift of Thomas' Collected Poems 1945-1990).

On the theme of Luddism, see also Andrew Rickard's quotation from George Moore's Confessions of a Young Man.

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