“After the Industrial Revolution, All Things Happen at Once” BY ROBERT BLY Now we enter a strange world, where the Hessian Christmas Still goes on, and Washington has not reached the other shore ; The Whiskey Boys Are gathering again on the meadows of Pennsylvania
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“After the Industrial Revolution, All Things Happen at Once”
BY ROBERT BLY
Now we enter a strange world, where the Hessian Christmas
Still goes on, and Washington has not reached the other shore;
The Whiskey Boys
Are gathering again on the meadows of Pennsylvania
And the Republic is still sailing on the open sea.
Isaac AbramsCosmic Orchid1967
I saw a black angel in Washington dancing
On a barge, saying, Let us now divide kennel dogs
And hunting dogs; Henry Cabot Lodge, in New York,
Talking of sugar cane in Cuba; Ford,
In Detroit, drinking mother’s milk;
Henry Cabot Lodge, saying, “Remember the Maine!”
Ford, saying, “History is bunk!”
And Wilson saying, “What is good for General Motors ... ”
Who is it, singing? Don’t you hear singing?
It is the dead of Cripple Creek;
Like turkeys are singing from the tops of trees!
And the Whiskey Boys are drunk outside Philadelphia.
Bly, Robert. "After the Industrial Revolution, All Things Happen at Once ."The Light Around the Body. Harper Collins, 1967. Poetry Foundation. Ed. The Poetry Foundation. 2008. The Poetry Foundation. 28 Feb. 2008 <http://www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poem.html?id=176612>.
The Austin Chronicle
Robert Bly represents a new school of poets inclined towards natural and visionary verse, rather than academic subjects and forms. His theories on the roots of America’s social problems can be clearly seen in much of his poetry, including “After the Industrial Revolution, All Things Happen at Once.” Bly feels that many of our modern troubles can be traced to our loss of primitive roots. This theory leads him to use his poetry as a way to delve into the often unseen connections and interactions between the human mind and the things of the natural world. This way of thinking is seen throughout “After the Industrial Revolution” in the interplay between natural images of animals and the landscape and references to commercial and political history (Contemporary Authors).
Bly is also well known for his opposition to the Vietnam War, going so far as to co-found the organization, American Writers against the Vietnam War. “After the Industrial Revolution” is part of a section of poems against the war in his National Book Award Winning collection, The Light around the Body. Bly donated the prize money he won to the antiwar effort (Contemporary Authors).
This refers to the Battle of Trenton which took place on December 26, 1776 during the Revolutionary War. Up until this point in the war, British troops controlled much of New Jersey and the Americans had not yet enjoyed a clear victory of any kind. Washington won this battle by leading his troops across the Delaware River in secret. Once they crossed, the American army managed to capture 900 mercenary Hessian soldiers, while only suffering three casualties of their own (American History).
In this stanza, Bly asks the reader to imaging a world where Washington is suspended in time waiting to cross the Delaware, and has yet to bring a decisive victory to the Americans in the Revolutionary War. Bly is comparing this strange world to the reality of the War in Vietnam. To Bly, America’s participation in Vietnam is as ridiculous as the Idea of Washington waiting endlessly on the frozen banks of the Delaware for a victory, and is equally as hopeless.
Here, Bly is referring to a rebellion started by protesting Pennsylvania farmers in 1794. In 1791 the government passed a tax on whiskey which proved to be very costly for grain farmers who were required to pay the tax before distilling their crops into alcohol. Although many farmers petitioned congress to lessen the burden, the tax was not removed. By 1794 a number of frustrated farmers in western Pennsylvania began local protests which are now known as the Whiskey Rebellion. Eventually, President Washington called up the militia to stamp out these acts of protest and the farmers backed down (Whiskey Rebellion).
This psychedelic painting from the year known as the “summer of love” depicts visually many of the feelings Bly paints with words in his poetry. It is clear here that the natural world has been disrupted and is descending into a swirling chaos. The colors are harsh and in discord with the natural colors of orchids. There is a sense of urgency and violence screaming in the neon vibrancy; the perfect painting to describe the tumultuous America of the Vietnam War era.
Back to Poem
Bly uses the Whiskey Rebellion as a metaphor for those protesting the Vietnam War. Like the Pennsylvania farmers, those against the war feel the government is overstepping its bounds in ways that are neither right nor just. Also like those long ago farmers, those in the anti-war camp are willing to rise up in protest against the government.
The whiskey rebellion
Here, Bly introduces the idea that our nation, “the republic” is adrift, or “sailing on the open sea.” He is arguing that we have not aligned ourselves with anything as concrete or stable as land. Our involvement in the war has removed our country from the secure foundation of land and set us adrift in a vast ocean of uncertain outcome.
Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. was a U.N. Ambassador during the 1960’s and a one time member of the board of directors of the United Fruit Company. In January of 1960 Cuba expropriated 70,00 acres of property belonging to U.S. sugar companies, including the United Fruit Company. Many other influential political leaders also had interests in this company. The U. S. government protested the seizure of the land, but to no avail, U.S. – Cuba relations continue to be tumultuous to this day (Franklin).
Henry Cabot Lodge Jr
Henry Ford is generally known as the father of the modern automobile. The Ford Motor company was incorporated in 1903 and produced only a few cars a day at a factory on Mack Avenue in Detroit. Even at this slow pace, Ford was able to produce a reasonably priced automobile with the introduction of the Model T in 1908. In 1913 Ford changed the way everything from clothes to soup was manufactured by instituting the continuous moving assembly line. This process cut time and costs, allowing the Model T to become even more affordable (The Henry Ford).
“Remember the Maine!” was a popular slogan during the Spanish-American War. The slogan refers to the explosion of the battleship USS Maineon February 15, 1898. 266 crewmen lost their lives when the boat sank in Havana Harbor. The explosion was blamed on a Spanish mine and became a major catalyst for the Spanish-American War. Today, however, many experts believe the explosion was triggered by something internal and was completely accidental (Sinking of the Maine).
Bly may be referencing this event to warn readers that what we remember of history is not always accurate. Just as a likely accident birthed the war cry “Remember the Maine!” Bly fears misrepresented history from the 1940’s and 50’s is being used to spur on the Vietnam War.
Ford and Model T
This phrase, attributed to Henry Ford, is often misquoted and taken out of context. When a Chicago Tribune reporter compared the need to build up America’s armed forces to the British need to build up troops before they fought Napoleon a century earlier, Ford opposed the comparison saying, “I don’t know much about history, and I wouldn’t give a nickel for all the history in the world. It means nothing to me. History is more or less bunk. It’s tradition. We don’t want tradition” (Howard).
Bly, like Ford, is wary of using past events as the basis for present actions. For him, America’s involvement in Vietnam is “bunk,” as he feels history that is already several decades old is being used to justify a contemporary battle.
Bly uses this quote as a metaphor for politicians he sees as falsely believing that what is good for their own interests is also good for the interests of America as a whole.
Charles E. Wilson was once president of General Motors Corporation. In 1953, recently resigned from that position, he went through confirmation hearings before the Committee on Armed Services to become Secretary of Defense. During the nomination hearing on January 15th he was asked if he would be able to make a decision that furthered the interests of the U.S. but would be unfavorable towards the interests of General Motors. He replied, “For years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa. The difference did not exist” (Respectfully Quoted).
Charles E. Wilson
This line refers to a quote made by Secretary of Defense Charlie Wilson In the middle of the 1954 recession. Speaking to Detroit reporters about the nation’s rising unemployment rate Wilson said, "I've always liked bird dogs better than kennel-fed dogs myself. You know, one that'll get out and hunt for food rather than sit on his fanny and yell." His analogy became a popular slogan for the democrats during that year’s congressional election campaign (Time).
Bly uses this phrase as a call to action. If change is going to happen, there must be those willing to be hunting dogs, going out and making things happen, rather than sitting like spoiled kennel dogs yelping for help. It can be argued that Bly sees those protesting the Vietnam War as hunting dogs willing to fight.
Jacob Sechler Coxey, known for much of his life as General Coxey, fought tirelessly to bring the plight of the unemployed to the attention of politicians in Washington. In 1894 he led a march on Washington to demand relief for those suffering from the depression of the mid- 1890s. Known as Coxey's Army, the demonstrators left Massillon, Ohio on March 25, numbering only 100. However, their ranks grew to over 500 strong as they reached Washington on May 1. The marchers attempted to travel down Pennsylvania Avenue but were stopped by police before they reached the Capitol. Coxey and others broke free and rushed the Capitol steps but were arrested for walking on the lawn ("Jacob Coxey”).
In 1903 a bloody conflict broke out between The Mine Owners’ Association and the Western Federation of Miners in Cripple Creek, Colorado. The Mine Owners were determined to crush the union, and before the conflict was resolved over thirty men were dead as the result of gun battles. The two sides fought with guns as well as fists, dynamite, and harsh words in the press. Both side sent conflicting reports to eastern newspapers.
While domestic turkeys cannot fly, wild turkeys can indeed fly as high as trees, but no higher. The image of turkeys singing from the tops of trees is somewhat humorous, but not awe-inspiring. Yet, Bly chooses this image to describe Coxey’s army. In many ways this is appropriate. By marching on Washington, Coxey’s army has flown as high as they possibly can, and although their cry sounds as cacophonous to the powers that be as a turkey’s gobble, they are doing everything in their power to make their voices heard.
At first glance, this final stanza seems to end the poem on a rather forlorn and disillusioned note. Bly can hear voices singing, but they turn out to be the dead of Cripple Creek and Coxey’s army belting out turkey gobbles. He sees the Whiskey Boys ready to protest, but they are reveled to be drunk outside of Philadelphia, unable to continue their fight. All is not lost, however. Even after their death, the voices of the miners from Cripple Creek can still be heard. Their fight for justice did not end with their death, but continues as long as they are remembered. Coxey’s army, although small and untrained, are making noise to the best of their ability. They are unable to make eloquent speeches, but are determined to be heard nonetheless. And the Whiskey boys, drunk as they are, have not given up the fight. They may be delayed by their present circumstances, but they are standing their ground. By flashing through these images, Bly shows readers the diverse ways those seeking justice can overcome adversity. The Vietnam War, like any controversial issue, requires protestors of all kinds, including the dead, the disheveled, and the disheartened, to rise above the challenges and make their voices heard.