Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


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.”

Filippo Tommaso Emilio Marinetti, 1876–1944, Italian poet, editor, art theorist, founder of the Futurist movement. For an analysis of the complete “To My Pegasus,” see Franco Bernardi’s “Futurism and the Reversal of the Future.”

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.

Rudyard Kipling, 1865-1936, English journalist, writer, and poet. Photograph by Elliot & Frey.

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.”

Carl August Sandburg, 1878–1967, Swedish-American poet, writer, and editor. Portrait by Al Ravenna, World Telegram staff photographer, 1955.

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.

A G.N. chassis, 1920. Note the chain drive and lack of differential. Image from Classic Cars in Profile: Volume 3: Profile Nos. 49-72, Profile Publications, 1967.

“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.

A De Dion-Bouton, 1901/1902.

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.

Linda Pastan, born 1932, American poet, Poet Laureate of Maryland 1991–1995, recipient of the Dylan Thomas Award, the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay di Castagnola Award and other honors. Her brief bio is at the Poetry Foundation Image from 2014.

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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