The Experience of Literature
The Experience of Literature ENGL 2030
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Date Created: 09/23/15
THE MACHINE STOPS by EM Forster 1909 I THE AIR S HIP Imagine if you can a small room hexagonal in shape like the cell of a bee It is lighted neither by window nor by lamp yet it is lled with a soft radiance There are no apertures for ventilation yet the air is fresh There are no musical instruments and yet at the moment that my meditation opens this room is throbbing with melodious sounds An armchair is in the centre by its side a readingdeskthat is all the furniture And in the armchair there sits a swaddled lump of esha woman about five feet high with a face as white as a fungus It is to her that the little room belongs An electric bell rang The woman touched a switch and the music was silent I suppose I must see who it is she thought and set her chair in motion The chair like the music was worked by machinery and it rolled her to the other side of the room where the bell still rang importunately Who is it she called Her voice was irritable for she had been interrupted often since the music began She knew several thousand people in certain directions human intercourse had advanced enormously But when she listened into the receiver her white face wrinkled into smiles and she said Very well Let us talk I will isolate myself I do not expect anything important will happen for the next five minutesfor I can give you fully five minutes Kuno Then Imust deliver my lecture on Music during the Australian Period She touched the isolation knob so that no one else could speak to her Then she touched the lighting apparatus and the little room was plunged into darkness Be quick She called her irritation returning Be quick Kuno here I am in the dark wasting my time But it was fully fteen seconds before the round plate that she held in her hands began to glow A faint blue light shot across it darkening to purple and presently she could see the image of her son who lived on the other side of the earth and he could see her Kuno how slow you are He smiled gravely I really believe you enjoy dawdling I have called you before mother but you were always busy or isolated Ihave something particular to say What is it dearest boy Be quick Why could you not send it by pneumatic post Because I prefer saying such a thing I want Well I want you to come and see me Vashti watched his face in the blue plate But I can see you she exclaimed What more do you want I want to see you not through the Machine said Kuno I want to speak to you not through the wearisome Machine Oh hush said his mother vaguely shocked You mustn t say anything against the Machine Why not One mustn t You talk as if a god had made the Machine cried the other I believe that you pray to it when you are unhappy Men made it do not forget that Great men but men The Machine is much but it is not everything I see something like you in this plate but I do not see you I hear something like you through this telephone but I do not hear you That is why I want you to come Pay me a visit so that we can meet face to face and talk about the hopes that are in my mind She replied that she could scarcely spare the time for a visit The airship barely takes two days to y between me and you I dislike airships Why I dislike seeing the horrible brown earth and the sea and the stars when it is dark I get no ideas in an air ship I do not get them anywhere else What kind of ideas can the air give you He paused for an instant Do you not know four big stars that form an oblong and three stars close together in the middle of the oblong and hanging from these stars three other stars No I do not I dislike the stars But did they give you an idea How interesting tell me I had an idea that they were like a man I do not understand The four big stars are the man s shoulders and his knees The three stars in the middle are like the belts that men wore once and the three stars hanging are like a sword A sword Men carried swords about with them to kill animals and other men It does not strike me as a very good idea but it is certainly original When did it come to you first In the airship He broke off and she fancied that he looked sad She could not be sure for the Machine did not transmit nuances of expression It only gave a general idea of people an idea that was good enough for all practical purposes Vashti thought The imponderable bloom declared by a discredited philosophy to be the actual essence of intercourse was rightly ignored by the Machine just as the imponderable bloom of the grape was ignored by the manufacturers of arti cial fruit Something good enough had long since been accepted by our race The truth is he continued that I want to see these stars again They are curious stars Iwant to see them not from the airship but from the surface of the earth as our ancestors did thousands of years ago I want to visit the surface of the eart She was shocked again Mother you must come if only to explain to me what is the harm of visiting the surface of the earth No harm she replied controlling herself But no advantage The surface of the earth is only dust and mud no advantage The surface of the earth is only dust and mud no life remains on it and you would need a respirator or the cold of the outer air would kill you One dies immediately in the outer air I know of course I shall take all precautions And besides Well She considered and chose her words with care Her son had a queer temper and she wished to dissuade him from the expedition It is contrary to the spirit of the age she asserted Do you mean by that contrary to the Machine In a sense but His image is the blue plate faded Kuno He had isolated himself For a moment Vashti felt lonely Then she generated the light and the sight of her room ooded with radiance and studded with electric buttons revived her There were buttons and switches everywhere buttons to call for food for music for clothing There was the hotbath button by pressure of which a basin of imitation marble rose out of the oor filled to the brim with a warm deodorized liquid There was the coldbath button There was the button that produced literature and there were of course the buttons by which she communicated with her friends The room though it contained nothing was in touch with all that she cared for in the world Vashanti s next move was to turn off the isolation switch and all the accumulations of the last three minutes burst upon her The room was filled with the noise of bells and speakingtubes What was the new food like Could she recommend it Has she had any ideas lately Might one tell her one s own ideas Would she make an engagement to visit the public nurseries at an early date say this day month To most of these questions she replied with irritation a growing quality in that accelerated age She said that the new food was horrible That she could not visit the public nurseries through press of engagements That she had no ideas of her own but had just been told onethat four stars and three in the middle were like a man she doubted there was much in it Then she switched off her correspondents for it was time to deliver her lecture on Australian music The clumsy system of public gatherings had been long since abandoned neither Vashti nor her audience stirred from their rooms Seated in her armchair she spoke while they in their armchairs heard her fairly well and saw her fairly well She opened with a humorous account of music in the pre Mongolian epoch and went on to describe the great outburst of song that followed the Chinese conquest Remote and primzeval as were the methods of ISanSo and the Brisbane school she yet felt she said that study of them might repay the musicians of today they had freshness they had above all ideas Her lecture which lasted ten minutes was well received and at its conclusion she and many of her audience listened to a lecture on the sea there were ideas to be got from the sea the speaker had donned a respirator and visited it lately Then she fed talked to many friends had a bath talked again and summoned her bed The bed was not to her liking It was too large and she had a feeling for a small bed Complaint was useless for beds were of the same dimension all over the world and to have had an alternative size would have involved vast alterations in the Machine Vashti isolated herselfit was necessary for neither day nor night existed under the groundand reviewed all that had happened since she had summoned the bed last Ideas Scarcely any Eventswas Kuno s invitation an event By her side on the little readingdesk was a survival from the ages of litterone book This was the Book of the Machine In it were instructions against every possible contingency If she was hot or cold or dyspeptic or at a loss for a word she went to the book and it told her which button to press The Central Committee published it In accordance with a growing habit it was richly bound Sitting up in the bed she took it reverently in her hands She glanced round the glowing room as if some one might be watching her Then half ashamed half joyful she murmured 0 Machine and raised the volume to her lips Thrice she kissed it thrice inclined her head thrice she felt the delirium of acquiescence Her ritual performed she turned to page 1367 which gave the times of the departure of the airships from the island in the southern hemisphere under whose soil she lived to the island in the northern hemisphere whereunder lived her son She thought I have not the time She made the room dark and slept she awoke and made the room light she ate and exchanged ideas with her friends and listened to music and attended lectures she make the room dark and slept Above her beneath her and around her the Machine hummed eternally she did not notice the noise for she had been born with it in her ears The earth carrying her hummed as it sped through silence turning her now to the invisible sun now to the invisible stars She awoke and made the room light Kuno I will not talk to you he answered until you come Have you been on the surface ofthe earth since we spoke last His image faded Again she consulted the book She became very nervous and lay back in her chair palpitating Think of her as without teeth or hair Presently she directed the chair to the wall and pressed an unfamiliar button The wall swung apart slowly Through the opening she saw a tunnel that curved slightly so that its goal was not visible Should she go to see her son here was the beginning of the journey Of course she knew all about the communicationsystem There was nothing mysterious in it She would summon a car and it would y with her down the tunnel until it reached the lift that communicated with the airship station the system had been in use for many many years long before the universal establishment of the Machine And of course she had studied the civilization that had immediately preceded her own the civilization that had mistaken the functions of the system and had used it for bringing people to things instead of for bringing things to people Those funny old days when men went for change of air instead of changing the air in their rooms And yetshe was frightened of the tunnel she had not seen it since her last child was born It curvedbut not quite as she remembered it was brilliantbut not quite as brilliant as a lecturer had suggested Vashti was seized with the terrors of direct experience She shrank back into the room and the wall closed up again Kuno she said I cannot come to see you I am not well Immediately an enormous apparatus fell on to her out of the ceiling a thermometer was automatically laid upon her heart She lay powerless Cool pads soothed her forehead Kuno had telegraphed to her doctor So the human passions still blundered up and down in the Machine Vashti drank the medicine that the doctor projected into her mouth and the machinery retired into the ceiling The voice of Kuno was heard asking how she felt Better Then with irritation But why do you not come to me instead Because I cannot leave this place Why Because any moment something tremendous many happen Have you been on the surface of the earth yet Not yet Then what is it I will not tell you through the Machine She resumed her life But she thought of Kuno as a baby his birth his removal to the public nurseries her own visit to him there his visits to hervisits which stopped when the Machine had assigned him a room on the other side of the earth Parents duties of said the book of the Machine cease at the moment of birth P422327483 True but there was something special about Kuno indeed there had been something special about all her children and after all she must brave the journey if he desired it And something tremendous might happen What did that mean The nonsense of a youthful man no doubt but she must go Again she pressed the unfamiliar button again the wall swung back and she saw the tunnel that curves out of sight Clasping the Book she rose tottered on to the platform and summoned the car Her room closed behind her the journey to the northern hemisphere had begun Of course it was perfectly easy The car approached and in it she found armchairs exactly like her own When she signaled it stopped and she tottered into the lift One other passenger was in the lift the first fellow creature she had seen face to face for months Few travelled in these days for thanks to the advance of science the earth was exactly alike all over Rapid intercourse from which the previous civilization had hoped so much had ended by defeating itself What was the good of going to Peking when it was just like Shrewsbury Why return to Shrewsbury when it would all be like Peking Men seldom moved their bodies all unrest was concentrated in the soul The airship service was a relic form the former age It was kept up because it was easier to keep it up than to stop it or to diminish it but it now far exceeded the wants of the population Vessel after vessel would rise form the vomitories of Rye or of Christchurch I use the antique names would sail into the crowded sky and would draw up at the wharves of the south empty so nicely adjusted was the system so independent of meteorology that the sky whether calm or cloudy resembled a vast kaleidoscope whereon the same patterns periodically recurred The ship on which Vashti sailed started now at sunset now at dawn But always as it passed above Rheas it would neighbour the ship that served between Helsingfors and the Brazils and every third time it surmounted the Alps the eet of Palermo would cross its track behind Night and day wind and storm tide and earthquake impeded man no longer He had harnessed Leviathan All the old literature with its praise of Nature and its fear of Nature rang false as the prattle of a child Yet as Vashti saw the vast ank of the ship stained with exposure to the outer air her horror of direct experience returned It was not quite like the airship in the cinematophote For one thing it smelt not strongly or unpleasantly but it did smell and with her eyes shut she should have known that a new thing was close to her Then she had to walk to it from the lift had to submit to glances form the other passengers The man in front dropped his Book no great matter but it disquieted them all In the rooms if the Book was dropped the oor raised it mechanically but the gangway to the airship was not so prepared and the sacred volume lay motionless They stopped the thing was unforeseen and the man instead of picking up his property felt the muscles of his arm to see how they had failed him Then some one actually said with direct utterance We shall be late and they trooped on board Vashti treading on the pages as she did so Inside her anxiety increased The arrangements were old fashioned and rough There was even a female attendant to whom she would have to announce her wants during the voyage Of course a revolving platform ran the length of the boat but she was expected to walk from it to her cabin Some cabins were better than others and she did not get the best She thought the attendant had been unfair and spasms of rage shook her The glass valves had closed she could not go back She saw at the end of the vestibule the lift in which she had ascended going quietly up and down empty Beneath those corridors of shining tiles were rooms tier below tier reaching far into the earth and in each room there sat a human being eating or sleeping or producing ideas And buried deep in the hive was her own room Vashti was afraid 0 Machine she murmured and caressed her Book and was comforted Then the sides of the vestibule seemed to melt together as do the passages that we see in dreams the lift vanished the Book that had been dropped slid to the left and vanished polished tiles rushed by like a stream of water there was a slight jar and the airship issuing from its tunnel soared above the waters of a tropical ocean It was night For a moment she saw the coast of Sumatra edged by the phosphorescence of waves and crowned by lighthouses still sending forth their disregarded beams These also vanished and only the stars distracted her They were not motionless but swayed to and fro above her head thronging out of one skylight into another as if the universe and not the airship was careening And as often happens on clear nights they seemed now to be in perspective now on a plane now piled tier beyond tier into the in nite heavens now concealing infinity a roof limiting for ever the visions of men In either case they seemed intolerable Are we to travel in the dark called the passengers angrily and the attendant who had been careless generated the light and pulled down the blinds of pliable metal When the airships had been built the desire to look direct at things still lingered in the world Hence the extraordinary number of skylights and windows and the proportionate discomfort to those who were civilized and refined Even in Vashti s cabin one star peeped through a aw in the blind and after a few hers uneasy slumber she was disturbed by an unfamiliar glow which was the dawn Quick as the ship had sped westwards the earth had rolled eastwards quicker still and had dragged back Vashti and her companions towards the sun Science could prolong the night but only for a little and those high hopes of neutralizing the ea1th s diurnal revolution had passed together with hopes that were possibly higher To keep pace with the sun or even to outstrip it had been the aim of the civilization preceding this Racing aeroplanes had been built for the purpose capable of enormous speed and steered by the greatest intellects of the epoch Round the globe they went round and round westward westward round and round amidst humanity s applause In vain The globe went eastward quicker still horrible accidents occurred and the Committee of the Machine at the time rising into prominence declared the pursuit illegal unmechanical and punishable by Homelessness Of Homelessness more will be said later Doubtless the Committee was right Yet the attempt to defeat the sun aroused the last common interest that our race experienced about the heavenly bodies or indeed about anything It was the last time that men were compacted by thinking of a power outside the world The sun had conquered yet it was the end of his spiritual dominion Dawn midday twilight the zodiacal path touched neither men s lives not their hearts and science retreated into the ground to concentrate herself upon problems that she was certain of solving So when Vashti found her cabin invaded by a rosy nger of light she was annoyed and tried to adjust the blind But the blind ew up altogether and she saw through the skylight small pink clouds swaying against a background of blue and as the sun crept higher its radiance entered direct brimming down the wall like a golden sea It rose and fell with the airship s motion just as waves rise and fall but it advanced steadily as a tide advances Unless she was careful it would strike her face A spasm of horror shook her and she rang for the attendant The attendant too was horrified but she could do nothing it was not her place to mend the blind She could only suggest that the lady should change her cabin which she accordingly prepared to do People were almost exactly alike all over the world but the attendant of the airship perhaps owing to her exceptional duties had grown a little out of the common She had often to address passengers with direct speech and this had given her a certain roughness and originality of manner When Vashti served away form the sunbeams with a cry she behaved barbarically she put out her hand to steady her How dare you exclaimed the passenger You forget yourself The woman was confused and apologized for not having let her fall People never touched one another The custom had become obsolete owing to the Machine Where are we now asked Vashti haughtily We are over Asia said the attendant anxious to be polite Asia You must excuse my common way of speaking Ihave got into the habit of calling places over which I pass by their unmechanical names Oh Iremember Asia The Mongols came from it Beneath us in the open air stood a city that was once called Simla Have you ever heard of the Mongols and of the Brisbane school No Brisbane also stood in the open air Those mountains to the right let me show you them She pushed back a metal blind The main chain of the Himalayas was revealed They were once called the Roof of the World those mountains You must remember that before the dawn of civilization they seemed to be an impenetrable wall that touched the stars It was supposed that no one but the gods could exist above their summits How we have advanced thanks to the Machine How we have advanced thanks to the Machine said Vashti How we have advanced thanks to the Machine echoed the passenger who had dropped his Book the night before and who was standing in the passage And that white stuff in the cracks what is it I have forgotten its name Cover the window please These mountains give me no ideas The northern aspect of the Himalayas was in deep shadow on the Indian slope the sun had just prevailed The forests had been destroyed during the literature epoch for the purpose of making newspaperpulp but the snows were awakening to their morning glory and clouds still hung on the breasts of Kinchinjunga In the plain were seen the ruins of cities with diminished rivers creeping by their walls and by the sides of these were sometimes the signs of vomitories marking the cities of to day Over the whole prospect airships rushed crossing the intercrossing with incredible aplomb and rising nonchalantly when they desired to escape the perturbations of the lower atmosphere and to traverse the Roof of the World We have indeed advance thanks to the Machine repeated the attendant and hid the Himalayas behind a metal blind The day dragged wearily forward The passengers sat each in his cabin avoiding one another with an almost physical repulsion and longing to be once more under the surface of the earth There were eight or ten of them mostly young males sent out from the public nurseries to inhabit the rooms of those who had died in various parts of the earth The man who had dropped his Book was on the homeward journey He had been sent to Sumatra for the purpose of propagating the race Vashti alone was travelling by her private will At midday she took a second glance at the earth The air ship was crossing another range of mountains but she could see little owing to clouds Masses of black rock hovered below her and merged indistinctly into grey Their shapes were fantastic one of them resembled a prostrate man No ideas here murmured Vashti and hid the Caucasus behind a metal blind In the evening she looked again They were crossing a golden sea in which lay many small islands and one peninsula She repeated No ideas here and hid Greece behind a metal blind II THE MENDING APPARATUS By a vestibule by a lift by atubular railway by a platform by a sliding door by reversing all the steps of her departure did Vashti arrive at her son s room which exactly resembled her own She might well declare that the visit was super uous The buttons the knobs the readingdesk with the Book the temperature the atmosphere the illumination all were exactly the same And if Kuno himself esh of her esh stood close beside her at last what profit was there in that She was too wellbred to shake him by the hand Averting her eyes she spoke as follows Here I am I have had the most terrible journey and greatly retarded the development of my soul It is not worth it Kuno it is not worth it My time is too precious The sunlight almost touched me and I have met with the rudest people I can only stop a few minutes Say what you want to say and then I must return I have been threatened with Homelessness said Kuno She looked at him now I have been threatened with Homelessness and I could not tell you such a thing through the Machine Homelessness means death The victim is exposed to the air which kills him I have been outside since I spoke to you last The tremendous thing has happened and they have discovered me But why shouldn t you go outside she exclaimed It is perfectly legal perfectly mechanical to visit the surface of the earth I have lately been to a lecture on the sea there is no objection to that one simply summons a respirator and gets an Egressionpermit It is not the kind of thing that spiritually minded people do and I begged you not to do it but there is no legal objection to I did not get an Egressionpermit Then how did you get out I found out a way ofmy own The phrase conveyed no meaning to her and he had to repeat it A way of your own she whispered But that would be wrong Why The question shocked her beyond measure You are beginning to worship the Machine he said coldly You think it irreligious of me to have found out a way of my own It was just what the Committee thought when they threatened me with Homelessness At this she grew angry I worship nothing she cried I am most advanced I don t think you irreligious for there is no such thing as religion left All the fear and the superstition that existed once have been destroyed by the Machine I only meant that to nd out a way of your own was Besides there is no new way out So it is always supposed Except through the vomitories for which one must have an Egressionpermit it is impossible to get out The Book says so Well the Book s wrong for I have been out on my feet For Kuno was possessed of a certain physical strength By these days it was a demerit to be muscular Each infant was examined at birth and all who promised undue strength were destroyed Humanitarians may protest but it would have been no true kindness to let an athlete live he would never have been happy in that state of life to which the Machine had called him he would have yearned for trees to climb rivers to bathe in meadows and hills against which he might measure his body Man must be adapted to his surroundings must he not In the dawn of the world our weakly must be exposed on Mount Taygetus in its twilight our strong will suffer euthanasia that the Machine may progress that the Machine may progress that the Machine may progress eternally You know that we have lost the sense of space We say space is annihilated but we have annihilated not space but the sense thereof We have lost a part of ourselves I determined to recover it and Ibegan by walking up and down the platform of the railway outside my room Up and down until I was tired and so did recapture the meaning of Near and Far Near is a place to which I can get quickly on my feet not a place to which the train or the airship will take me quickly Far is a place to which I cannot get quickly on my feet the vomitory is far though I could be there in thirtyeight seconds by summoning the train Man is the measure That was my first lesson Man s feet are the measure for distance his hands are the measure for ownership his body is the measure for all that is lovable and desirable and strong Then I went further it was then that I called to you for the first time and you would not come This city as you know is built deep beneath the surface of the earth with only the vomitories protruding Having paced the platform outside my own room I took the lift to the next platform and paced that also and so with each in turn until I came to the topmost above which begins the earth All the platforms were exactly alike and all that I gained by visiting them was to develop my sense of space and my muscles Ithink I should have been content with this it is not a little thing but as Iwalked and brooded it occurred to me that our cities had been built in the days when men still breathed the outer air and that there had been ventilation shafts for the workmen I could think of nothing but these ventilation shafts Had they been destroyed by all the food tubes and medicinetubes and music tubes that the Machine has evolved lately Or did traces of them remain One thing was certain If I came upon them anywhere it would be in the railway tunnels of the topmost storey Everywhere else all space was accounted for I am telling my story quickly but don t think that I was not a coward or that your answers never depressed me It is not the proper thing it is not mechanical it is not decent to walk along a railwaytunnel I did not fear that I might tread upon a live rail and be killed I feared something far more intangibledoing what was not contemplated by the Machine Then I said to myself Man is the measure and I went and after many visits Ifound an opening The tunnels of course were lighted Everything is light artificial light darkness is the exception So when I saw a black gap in the tiles I knew that it was an exception and rejoiced I put in my arm I could put in no more at first and waved it round and round in ecstasy I loosened another tile and put in my head and shouted into the darkness I am coming I shall do it yet and my voice reverberated down endless passages I seemed to hear the spirits of those dead workmen who had returned each evening to the starlight and to their wives and all the generations who had lived in the open air called back to me You will do it yet you are com1ng He paused and absurd as he was his last words moved her For Kuno had lately asked to be a father and his request had been refused by the Committee His was not a type that the Machine desired to hand on Then a train passed It brushed by me but I thrust my head and arms into the hole I had done enough for one day so I crawled back to the platform went down in the lift and summoned my bed Ah what dreams And again I called you and again you refused She shook her head and said Don t Don t talk of these terrible things You make me miserable You are throwing civilization away But Ihad got back the sense of space and a man cannot rest then I determined to get in at the hole and climb the shaft And so I exercised my arms Day after day I went through ridiculous movements until my esh ached and I could hang by my hands and hold the pillow of my bed outstretched for many minutes Then I summoned a respirator and started It was easy at first The mortar had somehow rotted and I soon pushed some more tiles in and clambered after them into the darkness and the spirits of the dead comforted me I don t know what I mean by that I just say what I felt I felt for the first time that a protest had been lodged against corruption and that even as the dead were comforting me so I was comforting the unborn I felt that humanity existed and that it existed without clothes How can I possibly explain this It was naked humanity seemed naked and all these tubes and buttons and machineries neither came into the world with us nor will they follow us out nor do they matter supremely while we are here Had Ibeen strong I would have torn off every garment I had and gone out into the outer air unswaddled But this is not for me nor perhaps for my generation I climbed with my respirator and my hygienic clothes and my dietetic tabloids Better thus than not at all There was a ladder made of some primzeval metal The light from the railway fell upon its lowest rungs and I saw that it led straight upwards out of the rubble at the bottom of the shaft Perhaps our ancestors ran up and down it a dozen times daily in their building As I climbed the rough edges cut through my gloves so that my hands bled The light helped me for a little and then came darkness and worse still silence which pierced my ears like a sword The Machine hums Did you know that Its hum penetrates our blood and may even guide our thoughts Who knows I was getting beyond its power Then Ithought This silence means that I am doing wrong But I heard voices in the silence and again they strengthened me He laughed I had need of them The next moment I cracked my head against something She sighed I had reached one of those pneumatic stoppers that defend us from the outer air You may have noticed them no the air ship Pitch dark my feet on the rungs of an invisible ladder my hands cut I cannot explain how I lived through this part but the voices till comforted me and Ifelt for fastenings The stopper I suppose was about eight feet across I passed my hand over it as far as I could reach It was perfectly smooth I felt it almost to the centre Not quite to the centre for my arm was too short Then the voice said Jump It is worth it There may be a handle in the centre and you may catch hold of it and so come to us your own way And if there is no handle so that you may fall and are dashed to pieces it is till worth it you will still come to us your own way So Ijumped There was a handle and He paused Tears gathered in his mother s eyes She knew that he was fated Ifhe did not die today he would die tomorrow There was not room for such a person in the world And with her pity disgust mingled She was ashamed at having borne such a son she who had always been so respectable and so full of ideas Was he really the little boy to whom she had taught the use of his stops and buttons and to whom she had given his first lessons in the Book The very hair that disfigured his lip showed that he was reverting to some savage type On atavism the Machine can have no mercy There was a handle and I did catch it I hung tranced over the darkness and heard the hum of these workings as the last whisper in a dying dream All the things I had cared about and all the people I had spoken to through tubes appeared infinitely little Meanwhile the handle revolved My weight had set something in motion and I span slowly and then I cannot describe it I was lying with my face to the sunshine Blood poured from my nose and ears and I heard a tremendous roaring The stopper with me clinging to it had simply been blown out of the earth and the air that we make down here was escaping through the vent into the air above It burst up like a fountain I crawled back to it for the upper air hurts and as it were Itook great sips from the edge My respirator had own goodness knows here my clothes were torn Ijust lay with my lips close to the hole and I sipped until the bleeding stopped You can imagine nothing so curious This hollow in the grass I will speak of it in a minute the sun shining into it not brilliantly but through marbled clouds the peace the nonchalance the sense of space and brushing my cheek the roaring fountain of our artificial air Soon I spied my respirator bobbing up and down in the current high above my head and higher still were many airships But no one ever looks out of airships and in any case they could not have picked me up There Iwas stranded The sun shone a little way down the shaft and revealed the topmost rung of the ladder but it was hopeless trying to reach it I should either have been tossed up again by the escape or else have fallen in and died I could only lie on the grass sipping and sipping and from time to time glancing around me I knew that I was in Wessex for I had taken care to go to a lecture on the subject before starting Wessex lies above the room in which we are talking now It was once an important state Its kings held all the southern coast form the Andredswald to Cornwall while the Wansdyke protected them on the north running over the high ground The lecturer was only concerned with the rise of Wessex so I do not know how long it remained an international power nor would the knowledge have assisted me To tell the truth I could do nothing but laugh during this part There was I with a pneumatic stopper by my side and a respirator bobbing over my head imprisoned all three of us in a grassgrown hollow that was edged with fern Then he grew grave again Lucky for me that it was a hollow For the air began to fall back into it and to ll it as water fills a bowl I could crawl about Presently I stood I breathed a mixture in which the air that hurts predominated whenever Itried to climb the sides This was not so bad I had not lost my tabloids and remained ridiculously cheerful and as for the Machine Iforgot about it altogether My one aim now was to get to the top where the ferns were and to view whatever objects lay beyond I rushed the slope The new air was still too bitter for me and I came rolling back after a momentary vision of something grey The sun grew very feeble and I remembered that he was in Scorpio Ihad been to a lecture on that too Ifthe sun is in Scorpio and you are in Wessex it means that you must be as quick as you can or it will get too dark This is the first bit of useful information I have ever got from a lecture and I expect it will be the last It made me try frantically to breathe the new air and to advance as far as I dared out of my pond The hollow filled so slowly At times Ithought that the fountain played with less vigour My respirator seemed to dance nearer the earth the roar was decreasing He broke off I don t think this is interesting you The rest will interest you even less There are no ideas in it and I wish that I had not troubled you to come We are too different mother She told him to continue It was evening before I climbed the bank The sun had very nearly slipped out of the sky by this time and I could not get a good view You who have just crossed the Roof of the World will not want to hear an account of the little hills that I saw low colourless hills But to me they were living and the turf that covered them was a skin under which their muscles rippled and I felt that those hills had called with incalculable force to men in the past and that men had loved them Now they sleep perhaps for ever They commune with humanity in dreams Happy the man happy the woman who awakes the hills of Wessex For though they sleep they will never die His voice rose passionately Cannot you see cannot all you lecturers see that it is we that are dying and that down here the only thing that really lives in the Machine We created the Machine to do our will but we cannot make it do our will now It was robbed us of the sense of space and of the sense of touch it has blurred every human relation and narrowed down love to a carnal act it has paralysed our bodies and our wills and now it compels us to worship it The Machine develops but not on our lies The Machine proceeds but not to our goal We only exist as the blood corpuscles that course through its arteries and if it could work without us it would let us die Oh I have no remedy or at least only one to tell men again and again that I have seen the hills of Wessex as PElfrid saw them when he overthrew the Danes So the sun set I forgot to mention that a belt of mist lay between my hill and other hills and that it was the colour of pearl He broke off for the second time Go on said his mother wearily He shook his head Go on Nothing that you say can distress me now I am hardened I had meant to tell you the rest but I cannot I know that I cannot goodbye Vashti stood irresolute All her nerves were tingling with his blasphemies But she was also inquisitive This is unfair she complained You have called me across the world to hear your story and hear it I will Tell me as brie y as possible for this is a disastrous waste of time tell me how you returned to civilization Oh that he said starting You would like to hear about civilization Certainly Had I got to where my respirator fell down No but I understand everything now You put on your respirator and managed to walk along the surface of the earth to a vomitory and there your conduct was reported to the Central Committee By no means He passed his hand over his forehead as if dispelling some strong impression Then resuming his narrative he warmed to it again My respirator fell about sunset I had mentioned that the fountain seemed feebler had I not Yes About sunset it let the respirator fall As I said I had entirely forgotten about the Machine and I paid no great attention at the time being occupied with other things I had my pool of air into which I could dip when the outer keenness became intolerable and which would possibly remain for days provided that no wind sprang up to disperse it Not until it was too late did I realize what the stoppage of the escape implied You see the gap in the tunnel had been mended the Mending Apparatus the Mending Apparatus was after me One other warning I had but I neglected it The sky at night was clearer than it had been in the day and the moon which was about half the sky behind the sun shone into the dell at moments quite brightly I was in my usual place on the boundary between the two atmospheres when I thought I saw something dark move across the bottom of the dell and vanish into the shaft In my folly I ran down I bent over and listened and Ithought I heard a faint scraping noise in the depths At this but it was too late I took alarm I determined to put on my respirator and to walk right out of the dell But my respirator had gone Iknew exactly where it had fallen between the stopper and the aperture and I could even feel the mark that it had made in the turf It had gone and I realized that something evil was at work and Ihad better escape to the other air and if I must die die running towards the cloud that had been the colour of a pearl Inever started Out of the shaft it is too horrible A worm a long white worm had crawled out of the shaft and gliding over the moonlit grass I screamed I did everything that I should not have done I stamped upon the creature instead of ying from it and it at once curled round the ankle Then we fought The worm let me run all over the dell but edged up my leg as I ran Help I cried That part is too awful It belongs to the part that you will never know Help I cried Why cannot we suffer in silence Help I cried When my feet were wound together I fell I was dragged away from the dear ferns and the living hills and past the great metal stopper I can tell you this part and Ithought it might save me again if I caught hold of the handle It also was enwrapped it also Oh the whole dell was full of the things They were searching it in all directions they were denuding it and the white snouts of others peeped out of the hole ready if needed Everything that could be moved they brought brushwood bundles of fern everything and down we all went intertwined into hell The last things that I saw ere the stopper closed after us were certain stars and I felt that a man of my sort lived in the sky For I did ght I fought till the very end and it was only my head hitting against the ladder that quieted me I woke up in this room The worms had vanished I was surrounded by arti cial air arti cial light arti cial peace and my friends were calling to me down speakingtubes to know whether I had come across any new ideas lately Here his story ended Discussion of it was impossible and Vashti turned to go It will end in Homelessness she said quietly I wish it would retorted Kuno The Machine has been most merciful I prefer the mercy of God By that superstitious phrase do you mean that you could live in the outer air Yesgt7 Have you ever seen round the vomitories the bones of those who were extruded after the Great Rebellion Yesgt7 Have you ever seen round the vomitories the bones of those who were extruded after the Great Rebellion Yes They were left where they perished for our edi cation A few crawled away but they perished too who can doubt it And so with the Homeless of our own day The surface of the earth supports life no longer Indeed Ferns and a little grass may survive but all higher forms have perished Has any airship detected them Now Has any lecturer dealt with them NO Then why this obstinacy Because I have seen them he exploded Seen what Because I have seen her in the twilight because she came to my help when I called because she too was entangled by the worms and luckier than I was killed by one of them piercing her throat He was mad Vashti departed nor in the troubles that followed did she ever see his face again III THE HOMELESS During the years that followed Kuno s escapade two important developments took place in the Machine On the surface they were revolutionary but in either case men s minds had been prepared beforehand and they did but express tendencies that were latent already The first of these was the abolition of respirator Advanced thinkers like Vashti had always held it foolish to visit the surface of the earth Air ships might be necessary but what was the good of going out for mere curiosity and crawling along for a mile or two in a terrestrial motor The habit was vulgar and perhaps faintly improper it was unproductive of ideas and had no connection with the habits that really mattered So respirators were abolished and with them of course the terrestrial motors and except for a few lecturers who complained that they were debarred access to their subj ect matter the development was accepted quietly Those who still wanted to know what the earth was like had after all only to listen to some gramophone or to look into some cinematophote And even the lecturers acquiesced when they found that a lecture on the sea was none the less stimulating when compiled out of other lectures that had already been delivered on the same subject Beware of first hand ideas exclaimed one of the most advanced of them Firsthand ideas do not really exist They are but the physical impressions produced by live and fear and on this gross foundation who could erect a philosophy Let your ideas be secondhand and if possible tenthhand for then they will be far removed from that disturbing element direct observation Do not learn anything about this subject of mine the French Revolution Learn instead what I think that Enicharmon thought Urizen thought Gutch thought HoYung thought ChiBoSing thought LafcadioHeam thought Carlyle thought Mirabeau said about the French Revolution Through the medium of these ten great minds the blood that was shed at Paris and the windows that were broken at Versailles will be clarified to an idea which you may employ most profitably in your daily lives But be sure that the intermediates are many and varied for in history one authority exists to counteract another Urizen must counteract the scepticism of HoYung and Enicharmon Imust myself counteract the impetuosity of Gutch You who listen to me are in a better position to judge about the French Revolution than I am Your descendants will be even in a better position than you for they will learn what you think Ithink and yet another intermediate will be added to the chain And in time his voice rose there will come a generation that had got beyond facts beyond impressions a generation absolutely colourless a generation seraphically free From taint of personality which will see the French Revolution not as it happened nor as they would like it to have happened but as it would have happened had it taken place in the days of the Machine Tremendous applause greeted this lecture which did but voice a feeling already latent in the minds of men a feeling that terrestrial facts must be ignored and that the abolition of respirators was a positive gain It was even suggested that airships should be abolished too This was not done because airships had somehow worked themselves into the Machine s system But year by year they were used less and mentioned less by thoughtful men The second great development was the reestablishment of religion This too had been voiced in the celebrated lecture No one could mistake the reverent tone in which the r quot had 39 J J and it 39 J a I 39 echo in the heart of each Those who had long worshipped silently now began to talk They described the strange feeling of peace that came over them when they handled the Book of the Machine the pleasure that it was to repeat certain numerals out of it however little meaning those numerals conveyed to the outward ear the ecstasy of touching a button however unimportant or of ringing an electric bell however super uously The Machine they exclaimed feeds us and clothes us and houses us through it we speak to one another through it we see one another in it we have our being The Machine is the friend of ideas and the enemy of superstition the Machine is omnipotent eternal blessed is the Machine And before long this allocution was printed on the first page of the Book and in subsequent editions the ritual swelled into a complicated system of praise and prayer The word religion was sedulously avoided and in theory the Machine was still the creation and the implement of man but in practice all save a few retrogrades worshipped it as divine Nor was it worshipped in unity One believer would be chie y impressed by the blue optic plates through which he saw other believers another by the mending apparatus which sinful Kuno had compared to worms another by the lifts another by the Book And each would pray to this or to that and ask it to intercede for him with the Machine as a whole Persecution that also was present It did not break out for reasons that will be set forward shortly But it was latent and all who did not accept the minimum known as undenominational Mechanism lived in danger of Homelessness which means death as we know To attribute these two great developments to the Central Committee is to take a very narrow view of civilization The Central Committee announced the developments it is true but they were no more the cause of them than were the kings of the imperialistic period the cause of war Rather did they yield to some invincible pressure which came no one knew whither and which when gratified was succeeded by some new pressure equally invincible To such a state of affairs it is convenient to give the name of progress No one confessed the Machine was out of hand Year by year it was served with increased efficiency and decreased intelligence The better a man knew his own duties upon it the less he understood the duties of his neighbour and in all the world there was not one who understood the monster as a whole Those master brains had perished They had left full directions it is true and their successors had each of them mastered a portion of those directions But Humanity in its desire for comfort had overreached itself It had exploited the riches of nature too far Quietly and complacently it was sinking into decadence and progress had come to mean the progress of the Machine As for Vashti her life went peacefully forward until the final disaster She made her room dark and slept she awoke and made the room light She lectured and attended lectures She exchanged ideas with her innumerable friends and believed she was growing more spiritual At times a friend was granted Euthanasia and left his or her room for the homelessness that is beyond all human conception Vashti did not much mind After an unsuccessful lecture she would sometimes ask for Euthanasia herself But the deathrate was not permitted to exceed the birthrate and the Machine had hitherto refused it to her The troubles began quietly long before she was conscious of them One day she was astonished at receiving a message from her son They never communicated having nothing in common and she had only heard indirectly that he was still alive and had been transferred from the northern hemisphere where he had behaved so mischievously to the southern indeed to a room not far from her own Does he want me to visit him she thought Never again never And I have not the time No it was madness of another kind He refused to visualize his face upon the blue plate and speaking out of the darkness with solemnity said The Machine stops What do you say The Machine is stopping Iknow it Iknow the signs She burst into a peal of laughter He heard her and was angry and they spoke no more Can you imagine anything more absurd she cried to a friend A man who was my son believes that the Machine is stopping It would be impious if it was not mad The Machine is stopping her friend replied What does that mean The phrase conveys nothing to me Nor to me He does not refer I suppose to the trouble there has been lately with the music Oh no of course not Let us talk about music Have you complained to the authorities Yes and they say it wants mending and referred me to the Committee of the Mending Apparatus I complained of those curious gasping sighs that disfigure the symphonies of the Brisbane school They sound like some one in pain The Committee of the Mending Apparatus say that it shall be remedied shortly Obscurely worried she resumed her life For one thing the defect in the music irritated her For another thing she could not forget Kuno s speech If he had known that the music was out of repair he could not know it for he detested music if he had known that it was wrong the Machine stops was exactly the venomous sort of remark he would have made Of course he had made it at a venture but the coincidence annoyed her and she spoke with some petulance to the Committee of the Mending Apparatus They replied as before that the defect would be set right shortly Shortly At once she retorted Why should I be worried by imperfect music Things are always put right at once Ifyou do not mend it at once I shall complain to the Central Committee No personal complaints are received by the Central Committee the Committee of the Mending Apparatus replied Through whom am Ito make my complaint then Through us I complain then Your complaint shall be forwarded in its turn Have others complained This question was unmechanical and the Committee of the Mending Apparatus refused to answer it It is too bad she exclaimed to another of her friends There never was such an unfortunate woman as myself I can never be sure of my music now It gets worse and worse each time I summon it What is it I do not know whether it is inside my head or inside the wall Complain in either case I have complained and my complaint will be forwarded in its turn to the Central Committee Time passed and they resented the defects no longer The defects had not been remedied but the human tissues in that latter day had become so subservient that they readily adapted themselves to every caprice of the Machine The sigh at the crises of the Brisbane symphony no longer irritated Vashti she accepted it as part of the melody The jarring noise whether in the head or in the wall was no longer resented by her friend And so with the mouldy arti cial fruit so with the bath water that began to stink so with the defective rhymes that the poetry machine had taken to emit all were bitterly complained of at rst and then acquiesced in and forgotten Things went from bad to worse unchallenged It was otherwise with the failure of the sleeping apparatus That was a more serious stoppage There came a day when over the whole world in Sumatra in Wessex in the innumerable cities of Courland and Brazil the beds when summoned by their tired owners failed to appear It may seem a ludicrous matter but from it we may date the collapse of humanity The Committee responsible for the failure was assailed by complainants whom it referred as usual to the Committee of the Mending Apparatus who in its turn assured them that their complaints would be forwarded to the Central Committee But the discontent grew for mankind was not yet suf ciently adaptable to do without sleeping Some one ofmeddling with the Machine they began Some one is trying to make himself king to reintroduce the personal elemen Punish that man with Homelessness To the rescue Avenge the Machine Avenge the Machine War Kill the man But the Committee of the Mending Apparatus now came forward and allayed the panic with wellchosen words It confessed that the Mending Apparatus was itself in need of repair The effect of this frank confession was admirable Of course said a famous lecturer he of the French Revolution who gilded each new decay with splendour of course we shall not press our complaints now The Mending Apparatus has treated us so well in the past that we all sympathize with it and will wait patiently for its recovery In its own good time it will resume its duties Meanwhile let us do without our beds our tabloids our other little wants Such Ifeel sure would be the wish of the Machine Thousands of miles away his audience applauded The Machine still linked them Under the seas beneath the roots of the mountains ran the wires through which they saw and heard the enormous eyes and ears that were their heritage and the hum of many workings clothed their thoughts in one garment of subserviency Only the old and the sick remained ungrateful for it was rumoured that Euthanasia too was out of order and that pain had reappeared among men It became difficult to read A blight entered the atmosphere and dulled its luminosity At times Vashti could scarcely see across her room The air too was foul Loud were the complaints impotent the remedies heroic the tone of the lecturer as he cried Courage courage What matter so long as the Machine goes on To it the darkness and the light are one And though things improved again after atime the old brilliancy was never recaptured and humanity never recovered from its entrance into twilight There was an hysterical talk of measures of provisional dictatorship and the inhabitants of Sumatra were asked to familiarize themselves with the workings of the central power station the said power station being situated in France But for the most part panic reigned and men spent their strength praying to their Books tangible proofs of the Machine s omnipotence There were gradations of terror at times came rumours of hopethe Mending Apparatus was almost mendedthe enemies of the Machine had been got under new nervecentres were evolving which would do the work even more magnificently than before But there came a day when without the slightest warning without any previous hint of feebleness the entire communicationsystem broke down all over the world and the world as they understood it ended Vashti was lecturing at the time and her earlier remarks had been punctuated with applause As she proceeded the audience became silent and at the conclusion there was no sound Somewhat displeased she called to a friend who was a specialist in sympathy No sound doubtless the friend was sleeping And so with the next friend whom she tried to summon and so with the next until she remembered Kuno s cryptic remark The Machine stops The phrase still conveyed nothing If Eternity was stopping it would of course be set going shortly For example there was still a little light and air the atmosphere had improved a few hours previously There was still the Book and while there was the Book there was security Then she broke down for with the cessation of activity came an unexpected terror silence She had never known silence and the coming of it nearly killed her it did kill many thousands of people outright Ever since her birth she had been surrounded by the steady hum It was to the ear what arti cial air was to the lungs and agonizing pains shot across her head And scarcely knowing what she did she stumbled forward and pressed the unfamiliar button the one that opened the door of her cell Now the door of the cell worked on a simple hinge of its own It was not connected with the central power station dying far away in France It opened rousing immoderate hopes in Vashti for she thought that the Machine had been mended It opened and she saw the dim tunnel that curved far away towards freedom One look and then she shrank back For the tunnel was full of people she was almost the last in that city to have taken alarm People at any time repelled her and these were nightmares from her worst dreams People were crawling about people were screaming whimpering gasping for breath touching each other vanishing in the dark and ever and anon being pushed off the platform on to the live rail Some were ghting round the electric bells trying to summon trains which could not be summoned Others were yelling for Euthanasia or for respirators or blaspheming the Machine Others stood at the doors of their cells fearing like herself either to stop in them or to leave them And behind all the uproar was silence the silence which is the voice of the earth and of the generations who have gone No it was worse than solitude She closed the door again and sat down to wait for the end The disintegration went on accompanied by horrible cracks and rumbling The valves that restrained the Medical Apparatus must have weakened for it ruptured and hung hideously from the ceiling The oor heaved and fell and ung her from the chair Atube oozed towards her serpent fashion And at last the final horror approached light began to ebb and she knew that civilization s long day was closing She whirled around praying to be saved from this at any rate kissing the Book pressing button after button The uproar outside was increasing and even penetrated the wall Slowly the brilliancy of her cell was dimmed the re ections faded from the metal switches Now she could not see the readingstand now not the Book though she held it in her hand Light followed the ight of sound air was following light and the original void returned to the cavern from which it has so long been excluded Vashti continued to whirl like the devotees of an earlier religion screaming praying striking at the buttons with bleeding hands It was thus that she opened her prison and escaped escaped in the spirit at least so it seems to me ere my meditation closes That she escapes in the body I cannot perceive that She struck by chance the switch that released the door and the rush of foul air on her skin the loud throbbing whispers in her ears told her that she was facing the tunnel again and that tremendous platform on which she had seen men fighting They were not fighting now Only the whispers remained and the little whimpering groans They were dying by hundreds out in the dark She burst into tears Tears answered her They wept for humanity those two not for themselves They could not bear that this should be the end Ere silence was completed their hearts were opened and they knew what had been important on the earth Man the ower of all esh the noblest of all creatures visible man who had once made god in his image and had mirrored his strength on the constellations beautiful naked man was dying strangled in the garments that he had woven Century after century had he toiled and here was his reward Truly the garment had seemed heavenly at first shot with colours of culture sewn with the threads of selfdenial And heavenly it had been so long as man could shed it at will and live by the essence that is his soul and the essence equally divine that is his body The sin against the body it was for that they wept in chief the centuries of wrong against the muscles and the nerves and those five portals by which we can alone apprehend glozing it over with talk of evolution until the body was white pap the home of ideas as colourless last sloshy stirrings of a spirit that had grasped the stars Where are you she sobbed His voice in the darkness said Here Is there any hope Kuno None for us Where are you She crawled over the bodies of the dead His blood spurted over her hands Quicker he gasped I am dying but we touch we talk not through the Machine He kissed her We have come back to our own We die but we have recaptured life as it was in Wessex when PElfrid overthrew the Danes We know what they know outside they who dwelt in the cloud that is the colour ofa pearl But Kuno is it true Are there still men on the surface of the earth Is this tunnel this poisoned darkness really not the end He replied I have seen them spoken to them loved them They are hiding in the midst and the ferns until our civilization stops Today they are the Homeless tomorrow Oh tomorrow some fool will start the Machine again tomorrow Never said Kuno never Humanity has learnt its lesson As he spoke the whole city was broken like a honeycomb An airship had sailed in through the vomitory into a ruined wharf It crashed downwards exploding as it went rending gallery after gallery with its wings of steel For a moment they saw the nations of the dead and before they joined them scraps of the untainted sky The Machine Stops was first published in the Oxford and Cambridge Review in 1909 Copyright 1947 EM Forster