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ITALIAN FUTURISM evolved as a cult of the machine at the beginning of the 20th century. Filippo Marinetti’s poem “To My Pegasus,” 1908, is exemplary of the genre: “Vehement god of a race of steel,/Automobile drunk with space,/…/I unleash your heart of diabolic quivers/And your giant pneumatics, for the dance/That you lead on the white roads of the world.”
Futurism, however, wasn’t the earliest nor most recent example of automotive poetry. Here’s a selection of a few favorites, the most recently composed one brought to my attention by SimanaitisSays reader Bill Urban.
Rudyard Kipling. In 1904, Kipling published The Muse Among the Motors, a collection of poetry devoted to “motors,” as automobiles were called in those days. He satirized the style of an earlier poetic genre with each poem.
Kipling’s “To a Lady, Persuading Her to a Car” is in the style of Ben Jonson, Elizabethan poet and playwright. In flowery style, Kipling writes, “Love’s fiery chariot, Delia, take/Which Vulcan wrought for Venus’s sake./…/Thus in our thund’ring toy we’ll prove/Which is more blind, the Law or Love;/And may the jealous Gods prevent/Our fierce and uncontrolled descent!”
Carl Sandburg. Sandburg is perhaps best known for his Chicago Poems and for his Abraham Lincoln scholarship. In 1918, though, he offered a “Portrait of a Motor Car.”
Of the motor car, Sandburg writes, “It’s a lean car… a long-legged dog of a car… a gray-ghost eagle car./The feet of it eat the dirt of a road… the wings of it eat the hills./Danny the driver dreams of it when he sees women in red skirts and red sox in his sleep./It is in Danny’s life and runs in the blood of him… a lean gray-ghost car.”
Do you suppose Sandburg was inspired by the Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost?
The G.N. chain drive. An anonymous poet of doggerel composed a most fitting description of the classic chain-drive G.N. sports car.
“Nash and Godfrey hated cogs,/Built a car with chains and dogs./And it worked, but would it if/They had built it with a diff?”
G.N. and later Frazer Nash drivers appreciated this lack of differential in exploiting the car’s quirky but superlative handling.
De Dion-Bouton and the Tripper. In 1930, Harry Graham composed Ruthless Rhymes for Heartless Homes, a collection aptly and satirically described in its title. One of my favorites has already appeared here at SimanaitisSays.
Harry Graham writes, “I ran into a tripper in my De Dion-Bouton./Knocked him flatter than a kipper,/Aussi mort qu’un mouton./What a bother trippers are:/Now I must repaint the car.”
English translation from the French: “As dead as a sheep.”
Linda Pastan. Modern poet Linda Paston writes gentle lyrics focusing on family and other relationships.
I suspect her “Cable Jumping” resonates with enthusiasts of the automobile: “When our cars touched,/When you lifted the hood of mine/To see the intimate workings underneath,/When we were bound together/By a pulse of pure energy,/When my car like the princess/In the tale woke with a start,/I though why not ride the rest of the way together.”
What a lovely, loving sentiment. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays, 201
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