The Muse among
the Motors


(Notes on the text
by John McGivering
and John Radcliffe)

[November 17th 2015]



One of the last group of six, which did not appear until 1929, when the whole set of 26 items were assembled within a three-volume collection called Poems 1886-1929. Collected in the Sussex Edition vol. 35, p. 119. (ORG Verse No. 857).


"From the Greek Anthologies". After Simonides of Ceos (c. 556- 469 B.C.) Greek lyric poet, born on the island of Ceos.

During his youth he taught poetry and music in his native island, and composed paeans for the festivals of Apollo. He wrote an ode celebrating the victory of his patron Scopas in a chariot-race.

In KJ 305 for March 2003 Harry Ricketts comments:

What an apt point of departure: a supposed translation of an epigram from The Greek Anthology, one of the fountain-heads of European (hence by descent English) poetry. Specifically, Kipling's couplet evokes Simonides ... author of the famous epitaph for the Spartans who fell at Thermopylae:

'Go now, and tell the Spartans, passer-by,
That here obedient to their laws we lie.'
Kipling had imitated similarly terse epigrams from The Greek Anthology in his Great War sequence, "Epitaphs of the War 1914—1918" , notably in "Common Form" ... Here Kipling uses fast cars and Simonides to offer a laconic, sardonic reflection on love and death. En passant, he also takes the opportunity to have a swipe at the stiltedness of much Victorian translatorese in the phrase 'aught 'neath the sun'.



One of the last group of six, which did not appear until 1929, when the whole set of 26 items were assembled within a a three-volume collection called Poems 1886-1929. Collected in the Sussex Edition vol. 35, p. 120.(ORG Verse No. 858).


"Early Chinese" Chinese poetry, traditionally the most highly regarded literary genre in China, can be divided into shi, ci and qu. There is also arter a kind of prose-poem called fu.

In later years some verse in Western style has appeared.

See Li Po and Tu Fu (Poems Selected and Translated with an Introduction and Notes by Arthur Cooper; Penguin, 1973, p. 31.)

The Theme

The poet describes a slippery road with the death of a motorist, and recalls his own tragic accidents.

In KJ 305 for March 2003 Harry Ricketts comments:

This evocation of a series of hit-and-run accidents is a small masterpiece and seriously challenges the common assumption that Kipling never read his younger, more experimental contemporaries. Both the style and the use of free verse suggest that he must have known Ezra Pound's Cathay (1915) and Lustra (1916) or Arthur Waley's A Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems (1918) or perhaps both. Kipling brilliantly hits off the compressions and inversions, the somewhat mannered phrasing and cadence—the sheer Chinoiserie—of Pound's and Waley's translations in lines like 'Dead leaves under foot reproach not' and 'How black a shadow!'.

Notice, too, the quietly aestheticising pun in the title, "Arterial", hinting at the artiness of Chinese poetry, a point immediately exemplified by the exquisite delicacy of describing a road covered with black ice as "the ebony-lacquered avenue".
Janet Montefiore (p. 121) writing of Kipling’s pastiches and parodies refers to W.S. Gilbert’s "Bab Ballads" (largely the verses from Gilbert and Sullivan's Savoy Operas) and other comic verse, which show some brutality. She continues:

The jokes in “The Muse Among the Motors” follow suit, often turning on fatal car crashes—as in the two exquisite poems entitled “Arterial"... This is an extraordinarily accomplished pastiche—presumably of Arthur Waley’s translation of early Chinese poetry, perhaps also of tne Pound of Cathay. [Ezra Pound's great series of poems "Cathay and the Way Thither" (1915): Eds.] If one didn’t know the author, these poems would look like Imagist epiphanies turning on the distinction between the timeless pastoral of Chinese poetry and the modernity of the motor-car.
Professor Montefiore's full chapter 6 on 'Kipling's Poetry' is well worth study.

Carmen Circulare


One of the second group of six, first published in 1919. Collected in the Sussex Edition vol. 35, p. 121.(ORG Verse No. 851).


"Q. H. Flaccus". Quintus Horatius Flaccus, (65 B.C. to 8 B.C.) known in the English-speaking world as 'Horace', the leading Roman lyric poet during the reign of Augustus. Kipling was a great admirer of his work, wrote a “Fifth Ode” in his manner, and translated Ode ix. in his Bk. III, "Donec gratus eram" ("While I was dear") into broad Devonshire dialect.

See “The Survival”; "To the Companions"; and "A Translation". See also Land and Sea Tales, p. 268 ("An English School"); Charles Carrington (p. 39); and Charles Carrington (Ed.) Kipling’s Horace.

The Theme

The Poet advises the driver to avoid the temptation to speed, and to proceed carefully, despite being overtaken by others and egged on by his passenger.

Alastair Wilson writes:

What I like about this piece of verse is that it describes something which has been happening for centuries—in my young days, it was to show off your MG TC to your girl-friend. Kipling, in effect, has the poet (Horace), in Samuel Johnson’s words “driving briskly in a post-chaise with a pretty woman”—for post-chaise read chariot—and Dorothy L. Sayers, in Murder must Advertise, has Lord Peter Wimsey driving furiously in his Bentley, egged on by a bad girl named Diana de Momerie. [A.W.]

Notes on the text

[Title] Carmen Circulare This is a reference to Horace’s "Carmen Saeculare" which was written in honour of the emperor Augustus. Although difficult to translate precisely, it means a hymn or song in celebration of the age. It is sometimes translated as ‘Centennial Ode’, while Charles Carrington plumps for ‘Jubilee Ode’ in order to link it (and perhaps not too ingeniously) with Kipling’s ‘Recessional.’ See, Carrington, Kipling’s Horace, p. xvi. For "The Muse Among the Motors", Kipling plays with the idea of an updated version of Horace, celebrating the circles or hoops (i.e. wheels) which he probably intends here at least, to be regarded as representative of the early twentieth century.

[Verse 1] Dellius Quintus Dellius, Roman soldier and politician in the second half of the first century B.C. A political opportunist, he was a friend of Mark Antony, who used him mainly for diplomatic missions.

Appian Way (Via Appia in Latin and Italian) an early and important Roman road which connected Rome to Brindisi, Apulia, in southeast Italy.

[Verse 2]

Lydia A woman with the name of Lydia appears in several of Horace’s odes, notably I.8; I.13; and, most famously, III.9 ('Donec gratus eram tibi’) which, as noted above, the sixteen-year old Kipling translated brilliantly into Devonshire dialect and printed in the school magazine.

This is undoubtedly the same Lydia Kipling refers to in "Carmen Circulare". Partly because Horace seems to draw extensively on his own personal life in the odes, and partly because the Lydia of the odes is sexually provocative (as she is also in Kipling’s "Carmen Circulare"), it is sometimes assumed that she must have been drawn from life.

Carrington appears to subscribe to this belief when he says: ‘We know little of the real Lydia except that her friendship with Horace was far from smooth’ (Kipling’s Horace, p. 3). Well, perhaps, but that knowledge about their ‘friendship’ comes presumably from the odes. Whether the woman herself was real or invented, the name Lydia, together with those of a number of other women in Horace’s poetry (notably Lalage, Chloe, Lyce, and Lyde) were taken up enthusiastically by Kipling.

Telephus son of Hercules and Auge. [See The Penguin Book of Classical Myths, p. 219. We have not identified any connection between these two names and motoring; perhaps Kipling just thought they were nice names ? Eds.]

Verse 4

Hades’ King Pluto, King of the Underworld

Verse 5

Furies Allecto, Magaera and Tisiphone, avenging female deities personifying the anger of the dead.

Bolts in this context lightning, or large arrows from a catapult or crossbow.

The Advertisement


The first of the first group of fourteen, published in the Daily Mail 5 February 1904. Collected in the Sussex Edition vol.35, p. 122. (ORG Verse No. 837). Cambridge Edition (Ed. Pinney) vol II: text - p. 1272. endnote – p. 1533.


"In the Manner if the Earlier English" An essay in alliteration, in the style of some of Chaucer’s contemporaries
In a somer sesun, whon softe was the sonne,
I schop me into a shroud, as I a scheep were;
In habite as an hermite unholy of werkes
Wente I wyde in this world wondres to here;
["The Vision of Piers Plowman", William Langland, c. 1330-1387]

The theme

The poem describes the virtues of a luxurious early motor-car, equally suitable for town or country; silent, beautifully fitted and a pleasure to handle...

Harry Ricketts in KJ 305 comments that Kipling is presumably taking off the 'manner' of medieval alliterative poems like Langland's "Piers Plowman":

... except that he only does so in a loosely impressionistic way. Instead of accurately reproducing the basic pattern of such verse – two alliteratively stressed syllables in the first half of the line and one (only very occasionally two) in the second, Kipling makes up his own pattern, which mostly consists of separate alliterate grouping in each half of the line ('Lordly of leather, gaudily gilded'): highly alliterative, but not quite the same thing.
Notes on the text

[Line 6] unnoisesome in this context free from unpleasant smells,

[Line 7] Lordly of leather cars of the period were beautifully upholstered in leather. This is also the title of articles by Meryl Macdonald in KJ 224/28, 225/34 and 226/50.

[Line 8] Burgeoning putting forth young shoots - budding.

[Line 8] a brass bonnet in this context the cover of the engine compartment (known as the hood in the United States), often trimmed with highly-polished brasswork. One car of the period had a circular bonnet entirely made of brass.

[Line 9] wains horse-drawn wagons, always a hazard for early car drivers.

The Justice's Tale


The second of the first group of fourteen, published in the Daily Mail 5 February 1904. Collected in the Sussex Edition vol. 35, p. 123. (ORG Verse No. 838). It is titled “The Engineer” in some early editions. In the early days of motoring, cars were highly unreliable, and it was common for wealthy car owners to engage an 'engineer' who not only drove the car but could make running repairs when they were needed, as they often were.


"Chaucer" This is in the manner of Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340-1400) whose Canterbury Tales written at the end of the 14th century describe how a party of pilgrims. on their way from London to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral, break the monotony of their journey by listening each day to a story told by a different member of the party.

Kipling’s “Prologue to the Master-Cook’s Tale” which follows "His Gift" in Land and Sea Tales is another fragment in Chaucer’s manner with some information about him. Also see "Dayspring Mishandled" (Limits amd Renewals) which turns on a forged Chaucerian manuscript, and "The Consolations of Memory" below.

The 'Justice' of the title is a Justice of the Peace, a magistrate—usually a local land-owner—who presides over, among other matters, motoring offences. See "The Village that Voted the Earth was Flat" (A Diversity of Creatures) in which a party of motorists are unfairly fined and held up to ridicule by a local Justice—and spend the rest of the tale taking a fearful revenge on him. See also KJ 299/10.

The Theme

The Narrator names the character who is to relieve the tedium of the journey by telling a story as the pilgrims ride to Canterbury, in this case a professional chauffeur, then also known as an 'engineer' (see above). Cars of the time were notoriously unreliable, as Kipling recounts in his motoring stories and in Something of Myself, Chapter 7.

This engineer, obviously a know-all, is a very bad driver who drives on his brakes, and has no consideration for others, high or low. He blows his horn at those who get in his way, only stopping for cows and dogs. Not surprisingly he must have come before the Justice for some offence or other.

Ann Weygandt (p. 21), comparing this to "The Master Cook's Tale", notes that:

The second, while it contains at least one mistake as obvious as "sterve", is equally authentic in its general tone, showing the same close observation and attention to detail. A consultation of the Chaucer concordance (analysis of the words Chaucer used) reveals no knowledge on his part of the word "squeeke", but the following passage on a road-hog has, none the less, a peculiarly Chaucerian air:

For simple people and for lordlings eke
Hee wolde not bate a del but onlie squeeke
Behinde their backes on an horne hie...
Weygandt goes on to comment: 'To judge by his parodies, Kipling knew the "Prologue to the Canterbury Tales" more intimately than any other piece of Chaucer's writing. '
Harry Ricketts in KJ 305 notes:

As its title implies, "The Justice's Tale" is one of the parodies which involves motoring and the law. It also contains a couple of good jokes. 'By the Road' is a nice travesty of the stock medieval phrase 'By the Rood' (meaning 'By the Cross') and 'He was more wood [mad] than bull in china-shoppe' speaks for itself.

However, while Kipling successfully travesties Chaucer's habit of slipping in homely proverbs and colloquialisms and manages quite effectively to echo something of his slyly guileless tone:

'Hee was soe wise ne man colde showe him naught
And out of Paris was hys learnyng brought'

A half-nod here to the Prioress, perhaps, the attempts at 'Chaucerian' spelling and prosody are too slapdash to produce anything more than a very generalised and largely visual impression of the original.
Notes on the text

[Line 4] Paris the French led the way in everything concerning motoring at the time.

[Line 5] Frontlings in the front of the vehicle.

[Line 5] wandes wands – in this context levers.

[Line 9] eke also.

[Line 13] bull in china-shoppe a bull in a china-shop is a proverbial saying implying a clumsy or dangerous person.

The Consolations of Memory


One of the last group of six, which did not appear until 1929, when the whole set of 26 items were assembled within a three-volume collection called Poems 1886-1929. Collected in the Sussex Edition vol. 35.(ORG Verse No. 859). See also “The Justice’s Tale" above


"Done out of “Boethius” by Geoffrey Chaucer" Chaucer translated The Consolation of Philosophy (Latin: Consolatio Philosophiae) a philosophical work by Boethius, written around the year AD 524. It is one of the most important and influential works in Western Europe on Mediaeval Christianity.

Anicius Manlius Severinus Boëthius, usually known simply as Boethius (ca. 480–524) was a Christian philosopher in Rome, at a time when the Roman Empire in the West had been conquered by the Ostrogoths. The Consolation of Philosophy was written during his one year imprisonment while awaiting trial, and eventual horrific execution, for the crime of treason, by the Ostrogoth King Theodoric the Great.

The Theme

The motorist considers the happy days before roads were tarred or cars obliged to have number-plates and muses on the changes in motoring since he began.

Ann Weygandt (pp. 21/22) comments that:

This parody bolsters itself up with several words and phrases taken direct from the original. The borrowing would not make it successful, were Kipling not able to catch the rhythms of Chaucer's prose as well as those of his poetry. But it, also, reveals how thoroughly the modern writer had absorbed the spirit of his fourteenth-century prototype.
Notes on the text

[last line] the dumbe lamp of Tartarus In Greek mythology Tartarus was a region of the Underworld even lower than Hades, and also the name of a minor deity. A red light was a danger signal, indicating the need to stop.

The Four Points


One of the last group of six, which did not appear until 1929, when the whole set of 26 items were assembled within a a three-volume collection called Poems 1886-1929. Collected in the Sussex Edition vol. 35. p. 125. (ORG Verse No. 860).


"Thomas Tusser” Thomas Tusser (1524-1580) was an English poet and farmer.

His instructions to farmers, Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry was published in 1557. See KJ 019/70 and 020/101 on a new edition of Tusser for Kipling; also our notes to the heading of "An Habitation Enforced" (Actions and Reactions).

Ann Weygandt (pp. 27/28) notes that Tusser's great work:

...consists chiefly of far from poetic couplets giving advice as to the proper times and seasons for planting and harvesting, breeding and slaughtering, brewing and baking. Its compressed, proverb-ridden style is quaint, but monotonous.
However, Weygandt goes on to note the Foreword to a new edition of The Five Hundred Points published in London by James Tregaskis in 1931, and edited by E V Lucas, with a 'Benediction' by Rudyard Kipling. Lucas quotes from a letter from Kipling in which he praises Tusser's verse and expresses appreciation of the: 'meatiness of Tusser's couplets, and their long life and practical value' Weygandt concludes:

Kipling's affectionate intimacy with Tusser was such that ... he was able to produce a very fair imitation of his style. The singsong rhythm, the inversions, the compressions, the very vocabulary - he achieves them all.
The Theme

The poet advises the driver to make the appropriate hand-signal when necessary and reminds him that overtaking on corners will eventually kill him. It was the custom to blow the horn when entering a main road from a side road and it is preferable to drink alcohol after driving rather than before.

Notes on the text

[Verse 1]

put foorth a hand hand-signals were used as late as the 1960s before the arrival of the flashing indicator.

[Verse 2]

seventy times seven Many many times. An echo of Matthew 18,22: 'Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.'

[Verse 3]

Sith (archaic) since

Crowners archaic dialect form of 'coroners'. law officers who hold Inquests on unexpected deaths.

To a Lady Persuading her to a Car


The third of the first group of fourteen, published in the Daily Mail 6 February 1904. Collected in the Sussex Edition vol. 35, p. 126. (ORG Verse No. 839). and in the copyright edition published by Doubleday. Page & Company, New York, 1904. See the Headnote


"Ben Jonson" Ben Jonson (c. 1572-1637) English Renaissance dramatist, poet and actor.

A contemporary of William Shakespeare, he is known for his plays and lyric poems. He was a man of great scholarship with a liking for controversy, which Kipling catches in Jonson’s appearance in “Proofs of Holy Writ” Kipling's last tale.

Ann Weygandt comments:

"To a Lady, Persuading her to a Car" shows how familiar he was with the Jonsonian lyric. The title might as easily be Herrick as Jonson, and Ben seems to have abandoned his own sweetheart for Daniel's Delia, but these are minor matters. The form is the tetrameter couplet of "Still to be neat"; the chariot must have been suggested by the one in "Her Triumph"; and jewels and dress-stuffs are particularised as carefully as ever by Jonson himself.
The Theme

The poet sings of his love, persuading her to dress warmly for their drive (it is an open car), and prays they will not be caught exceeding the speed-limit or have an accident.

Notes on the text

[Line 1] Delia another name (or so legend has it) for Artemis, the Greek goddess of the moon, born on the Greek island of Delos. She is identified with Diana, the Goddess of the moon, hunting, etc. Ben Jonson wrote an “Ode to Diana”.

[Line 2] Vulcan the god of fire and metal-working

[Line 2] Venus the Roman goddess of beauty and sensual love – see Brewer.

[Line 8] muslins, lace or lawn very fine cotton fabrics, often made into delightful dresses, particularly for Edwardian tea and garden parties.

[Line 10] sables the fur of a type of marten (Martes zibellina) then made into luxurious and expensive garments.for ladies.

[Line 12] Euroclydon a brisk wind from the north-east, also any gale or storm. See Acts 27:14: 'But then there arose against it a tempestuous wind called Euroclydon.'

The Progress of the Spark


The fourth of the first group of fourteen, published in the Daily Mail 6 February 1904. Collected in the Sussex Edition vol. 35. (ORG Verse No. 840).


"XVIth Circuit, Donne" John Donne, pronounced "dun" (1572-1631) English Jacobean poet and preacher whose works are notable for their realistic and sensual style.

He wrote sonnets, love poetry, Latin translations, epigrams, elegies, songs, satires and sermons. His work is noted for its vibrancy of language and inventiveness of metaphor.

Charles Carrington records Kipling making a special study of Donne (pp. 350, 477)

The Theme

The motorist has ignition trouble. The spark which ignites the mixture in the cylinder when it is adequately compressed can be advanced or retarded by a lever on the steering-wheel until the optimum is reached; there is also a 'make-and-break' which provides electricity from the magneto when required, with contacts which must be kept clean. (See The Motor Manual, Temple Press Ltd., 22nd Edition. c. 1920, chapter 4.) Having diagnosed the trouble, the motorist must carry out repairs at the roadside, rain or shine, as related in "The Prophet and the Country" (Debits and Credits, p. 182, line 10 and p. 200, line 21), and in other motoring stories.

Ann Weygandt comments (pp. 46/47): is interesting to note the evidence of a re-reading of Donne cropping up in Kipling's work in the early nineties ... Yet when he went about to parody his elder, he certainly did not select one of his smoother passages for imitation. He may have thought stanza 35III of the "First Song" of "The Progresse of the Soule" especially suited to a burlesque in which an automobile must be concerned, but it was evidently not suited to draw out his own powers of mimicry.

Since Donne's name stands at its head ... we cannot fail to recognize its object, but it does not immediately and inevitably suggest Donne to us. Kipling is not imitating the best, or the best-known Donne, and he has tied himself down to a specific model; consequently, his work suffers.
Notes on the text

[Line 3] he swears/ That turns a metalled crank… He curses as he swings the metal starting handle. In the days before starter motors got engines going at the press of a button it was necessary to turn the engine over by hand with a handle inserted beneath the radiator. This was a tiresome procedure if the timing was not well adjusted and the engine unwilling to start.

The Braggart


The fifth of the first group of fourteen, published in the Daily Mail 9 February 1904. Collected in the Sussex Edition vol. 35 p. 128. (ORG Verse No. 841).


"Mat. Prior" Matthew Prior (1664-1721) Diplomat, secret agent, Member of Parliament, poet and writer of epigrams.

The Theme

A young man boasts that his car will do eighty miles an hour but, according to his chauffeur, has never dared to try it. Ann Weygandt (p.67) comments:

Of "The Braggart", Kipling's attempt in Prior's manner, there is little to be said once we have admitted that it embodies his bantering attitude in a very fair reproduction of his loose pentameter couplet. It may, however, be added that Kipling must really have read Prior to choose this form of quatrain as representative of his patterns for epigrams - the examples of his wit to be found in anthologies are almost invariably in tetrameter!
Notes on the text

[Line 1] Petrolio an Italian-sounding name which we have not traced, but perhaps it signifies what became known as a 'petrol-head', one whose enthusiasm for motoring verges on mania.

[Line 4] his man his chauffeur.

When the Journey was Intended to the City


One of the second group of six, first published in 1919. Collected in the Sussex Edition vol. 35, p. 129. (ORG Verse No. 852).


"Milton" John Milton 1608-1674, writer and public servant. His best-known works are “Paradise Lost” and “Paradise Regained”.

The Theme

A dignified description of the catastrophe that overtakes a party of drunks in a car on a moonlit night, who drive into a flint wall. The wall is unscathed, but they are not.

Ann Weygandt (p.55) comments:

... it is only in "When the journey was Intended to the City" that he reveals the extent of his familiarity with "Paradise Lost". With the exception of the opening ... the imitation seems to be independent of a specific model, yet - or perhaps because of - this, it achieves the sonorous periods of the original. The paragraph structure is here; the long simile (in which Rabelais, like Galileo in Milton's first book, is described without being named); the lengthy Latin word eating up three of the line's five feet ... the post-positive adjective, even the impression of skyey spaces - all are here. The passage sounds like Milton, but it is uninspired. It is neither funny nor impressive. Milton and Cowper are the only men who can write in the Miltronian manner without risk of boring their audiences.
Harry Ricketts in KJ 305 is more positive:

This spoof of Milton's grand style is wonderfully and satisfyingly obfuscating. Kipling gets maximum 'mileage' out of Milton's addic- tion to convoluted syntax, extended similes, classical allusions, and ponderous Latinisms (including the splendid 'Circumvoluminant'). So successful is the obfuscation that it can take several readings to work out all the nuances of this hilarious description of drunk driving and the inevitable pile-up.

Notes on the text

[Title] Probably inspired by Milton’s Sonnet 8: 'When the assault was intended to the City'.

[Line 3] Meudon a municipality in the southwestern suburbs of Paris in the département of Hauts-de-Seine. There are two candidates for the monstrous jest here.

The most likely is François Rabelais (c. 1494-1553) the celebrated French Renaissance writer, doctor and humanist, writer of fantasy, satire, the grotesque, and bawdy jokes and songs, and Canon of Meudon. His Fourth Book of Gargantua and Pantagruel, appeared in 1552.

There, is though, also Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot (1725-1804) French inventor of the 'world's first automobile', who is believed to have carried out trials of his steam tricycle at Meudon in the early 1770s. His vehicle came to a sticky end by running into a wall, though there is no suggestion that he was drunk.

[Line 4] Gargantuan gigantic, from the books by Rabelais.

[Line 7] Circumvoluminant the act of turning or revolving. The Oxford English Dictionary attributes the word to Herrick among others, in 1647.

[Line 9] many cups in this context cups of wine or other alcoholic drink.

"To Motorists"


The sixth of the first group of fourteen, published in the Daily Mail 9 February 1904. Collected in the Sussex Edition vol. 35 p. 130. (ORG Verse No. 842).


"Herrick" Robert Herrick (1591-1674) graduated at Cambridge and became a member of the 'Sons of Ben', a group which admired the works of Ben Jonson. Taking holy orders in 1623, he became vicar of Dean Prior in Devonshire, but lost his position during the Civil War between the King and Parliament (1642-1649). He wrote the memorable lines:
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old time is still a-flying :
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying...

["To the Virgins, to make much of Time"]
Ann Weygandt comments:

The Muse among the Motors shows that he has an extensive knowledge of "The Hesperides", no other verses are alluded to at all. "To Motorists" is written in a form - the tetrameter couplet - used even more frequently by Herrick than by Jonson, and often, as here, in groups of five. It contains the required classical reference and employs several of the more striking words in Herrick's poetical vocabulary. "Jocund" occurs in "And end decree'd," and, more notably, in the postscript to "The pillar of Fame" ... Moreover, the whole attitude of the poem, with its jocular condemnation of the motorist, is such as we might expect Herrick to take:

"To Motorists" represents one side of Herrick's personality adequately, but it overlooks a theme very common in his work - the fleetingness of time ... This theme Kipling has embodied in "Cities and Thrones and Powers," the prelude to Puck of Pook's Hill.
The Theme

The poet addresses motorists and observes that they sully their surroundings with fumes, while their protective clothing gives them a ghastly appearance.

Notes on the text

[Line 1] distemper a word of several meanings, including a morbid state of body or mind, disease, disorder etc. Motorists were seen as a disgusting crew by those who opposed the use of cars on the roads of England.

[Line 2] Sweet Herè Perhaps Hera, the Queen of the Gods in Greek mythology.

[Line 6] beshrouded 'neath a mask early motorists often wore large goggles like a mask, to protect their eyes from the white dust and flying gravel that were common in the days before tarred roads; the dust would give them the pallor of corpses.

Janet Montefiore points out that this could have a cross-reference to 'Gloriana' in Rewards and Fairies (p. 32): 'Her face was half covered by a black silk fringed mask, without goggles. And yet she did not look in the least as if she motored'.

[Line 7] goblin a fabulous personage of curious and grotesque appearance who, according to legend, lived in corners of houses or cracks in trees.

[Line 7] gluey The motorist would have worn gloves, sticky with dirt and dust.

[Line 10] though y'are quick, that ye are dead 'Quick' in this context means alive. Though motorists moved swiftly, they looked like corpses, and may also have been dead to the countryside around them.

Thw phrase is an echo of 1 Peter 4, which includes: 'Who shall give account to him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead'. The expression is repeated in 'The Apostles’ Creed' in The Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England.

"The Tour"


The seventh of the first group of fourteen, published in the Daily Mail 13 February 1904. Collected in the Sussex Edition vol. 35 p. 131. (ORG Verse No. 843).


"Byron" George Gordon Noel, 1788-1824, 6th Baron Byron, one of the great Romantic poets of the 19th Century. He was famously attractive to women, and a great champion of Greek independence from the Turks.

After Harrow and Cambridge and an unsuccessful marriage he went abroad on a Grand Tour until he died in 1824.

His extensive works include the poem “Don Juan” which explains the alternative title of this poem: "Juan Before J.P.s". (See Canto 2.)

Ann Weygandt (p. 81) comments:

He certainly seems to have read Byron in all his moods ... his attempt in the style of "Don Juan" is so good that we must admit the fact of his familiarity with its source. Its title "The Tour" is suggestive of both "Childe Harold" and "Don Juan," as well as suited to the subject of motor-cars, and the details of the writing are equally well worked out.

Byron would have appreciated the rhyming of "Police" with "J.P.'s," the alliterative swiftness of "At practically any pace you please," and the half-resigned finality of "And Juan paid!" Kipling has caught perfectly Byron's mocking tone; evidently he studied "Don Juan" to some purpose both before and after the day that "King" collared him reading it.
And Harry Ricketts in KJ 305 comments:

How deftly this catches Byron's lordly but worldly tone, the oh-so- knowing aside ('He was a publisher') and even Byron's use of the odd insouciant poeticism ('placid nook'). How neatly Juan's speeding is captured in the deliberately anachronism of the Dogberry/Waterbury joke...
Notes on the text

[Title] The Tour The Grand Tour was the expression used for the travels of wealthy young men to Italy and beyond to taste the delights of Classical and Renaissance culture.

[Line 1] Thirteen as twelve John Murray, and the British publishing trade generally, during the nineteenth century had the normal practice of offering an additional discount to the trade when they bought in bulk. This was often 13 copies for the price of 12 (normally expressed as “13 as 12”); varying discounts, i.e. 25 for 24, were also sometimes given. [Information by courtesy of David McClay, John Murray Curator at the National Library of Scotland ].

The point here is that the authorities tended to insist on exaggerating a car's speed, taking twenty miles per hour as thirty, or thirty as forty, at the motorist's expense.

[Line 1] Murray John Murray Publishers was founded in 1768, and is now part of the French company, Hachette. They have published the work of many distinguished writers, including Byron, Jane Austen, and Charles Darwin. (See their web-site.) .

[Line 4] Juan Byron’s “Don Juan”, an epic satire in sixteen cantos, was published by Murray between 1819 and 1824.

[Line 7] the Dogberry and the Waterbury
Dogberry is a comic and frequently muddled constable in Shakespeare's “Much Ado About Nothing”, a figure of fun. Waterbury is a city in Connecticut, U.S.A. famous for the manufacture of clocks and watches. The constable was evidently equipped with one.

[Line 8] fifty mile—five pounds Fifty miles an hour was a most unlikely speed in 1904 for a car passing through a village, and five pounds a heavy fine. However, motorists, without speedometers or any other way of judging their speed, had no way of contesting the evidence of the constabulary, and fining motorists was a useful source of revenue, to Kipling's evident indignation.

See "Steam Tactics” Traffics and Discoveries, page 191, line 23, and, for another police speed trap, “The Village that Voted the Earth was Flat” (A Diversity of Creatures), in which Sir Thomas Ingell, M.P. boasts of his local speed-trap to his brother magistrates, after fining a group of motorists and holding them up to ridicule:

'It falls away from my lodge-gates, dead straight, three-quarters of a mile. I’d defy any one to resist it. We rooked seventy pounds out of ’em last month. No car can resist the temptation. You ought to have one your side the county, Mike. They simply can’t resist it.’
The rest of the story tells how the victims get their revenge on the magistrate and his village.

"The Idiot Boy"


The seventh of the first group of fourteen, published in the Daily Mail 17 February 1904. Collected in the Sussex Edition vol. 35 p. 132. (ORG Verse No. 844).


"Wordsworth" William Wordsworth, 1770-1850, one of the great English Romantic poets of the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. This verse borrows its title from "The Idiot Boy", one of his Lyrical Ballads, but Kipling's words are based on this poem:

She dwelt among the untrodden ways
Beside the springs of Dove,
Maid whom there were none to praise
And very few to love:

A violet by a mosy tone
Half hidden from the eye!
---Fair as a star, when only one
Is shining in the sky.

She lived unknown, and few could know
When Lucy ceased to be;
But she is in her grave, and, oh,
The difference to me!
The Theme

Kipling's lines tell of a young reckless and perhaps unworldly driver, who is often arrested and fined. Wordsworth was an indefatigable walker among the mountains of the Lake District in north-west England, where he lived. He often walked alone.

Ann Weygandt comments:

"The Idiot Boy", which is directly taken from the first and last stanzas of "She dwelt among the untrodden ways", does not cheapen its original as does "Jane Smith", but, while it catches the poem's cadences, it is too obvious to be clever. Anyone could have written it. The impression left after a review of Kipling's allusions to Wordsworth in every kind is that he knew him well, and respected him, but had no special enthusiasm for him.
Andrew Lycett (p. 356) is also unimpressed by this ditty, taking it as an example of the 'modest fare' offered by the series.

But Harry Ricketts in KJ 305 comments:

Kipling plays a number of games here with Wordsworth. The title is of course lifted straight from Wordsworth's 'lyrical ballad' of the same name. 'Wandered' immediately echoes 'I wandered lonely as a cloud', but the Wordsworth the parody mainly recalls is the 'Lucy' poem "She dwelt among the untrodden ways", in particular the final pathetic quatrain which Kipling splendidly undermines with his 'differential gear.

Notes on the text

[Line 1] grade American usage for the steepness of a slope, known as 'gradient' in the United Kingdom. A serious issue for early motorists, indeed for Kipling, since there is a steep hill up from Bateman's to the main road above.

[Line 8] differential gear the mechanism in the rear axle that slows one wheel when the vehicle turns a corner. A failure could cause a car to go out of control. This is, as Weygandt points out, a direct echo of Wordsworth's last line.

"The Landau"


The eighth of the first group of fourteen, published in the Daily Mail 17 February 1904. Collected in the Sussex Edition vol. 35 p. 133. (ORG Verse No. 845).


"Praed" Winthrop Mackworth Praed (1802-1839), was a lawyer, Member of Parliament and poet, remembered mainly for his humorous work, which sometimes cloaked serious subjects.

The Theme

The old squire’s red-faced coachman drives him at speeds the Poet considers excessive, until he sees the new young squire's expensive motor car and reckless chauffeur. The poem conjures up, perhaps with a certain nostalgia, a picture of comfortable horse-drawn journeys in the countryside, out-dated by modern mechanised ways.

Ann Weygandt (p. 131) comments:

There is no doubt that Kipling knew Praed. His "The Landau" ... gives a pleasant parody of the mood and cadences of "Every-Day Characters" and especially "The Vicar." Its eight-line stanza with alternating masculine and feminine endings to its lines, its Byronic rhymes, and its trick of using Latin phrases for rhyme-words or in the body of the poem, are all preserved.

The opening lines of "The Vicar" run as follows:

Some years ago, ere time and taste
Had turn’d our parish topsy-turvy,
When Darnel Park was Darnel Waste,
And roads as little known as scurvy,
The man who lost his way between
St. Mary’s Hill and Sandy Thicket
Was always shown across the green,
And guided to the parson’s wicket...

Notes on the text

[Title] landau A horse-drawn four-seater carriage-–usually luxuriously fitted-–with hoods front and back that can be raised and lowered.

[Line 1] The first line echoes Thomas Ford’s: 'There is a lady sweet and kind'. [Suggestions from readers on the significance of this will be welcome.]

This also has a faint hint of :

I never had a piece of toast, particularly long and wide,
But fell on to the sandy floor, and always on the butter side

[from a newspaper in Norwalk, Ohio in 1841, itself parodying the epic poem "Lalla Rookh" by the Irish poet Thomas Moore (1779-1852). Thus have poets echoed one another down the years; Eds.]
[Line 4] Tanner’s End to Marlow Ditton there is a 'Tanners End Lane' in present-day north London (N.18) , but this is a typical name for a road in an English country village, which that area may well have been a hundred years ago. Marlow is a town on the River Thames in Buckinghamshire. Thames Ditton is in Surrey but we have not identified a Marlow Ditton. We believe that these country-sounding names were coined by Kipling,

[Line 5] John traditional name for a coachman.

[Line 6] eau-de-vie 'Water-of-life' in French. A distilled liquor, like brandy or whisky.

[Line 8] Jehu King of Israel, famous for furious driving in this chariot. 2 Kings, 9.

[Line 11] nine-hundred-pound £900 in 1904 would be the equivalent of over £200,000 in 2008. An immensely expensive car.

[Line 12] Mors communis omnibus Death is common to all men (Latin).

mors was Latin for death; but it was also an early French marque of car, one of the first to take part in automobile racing, beginning in 1897.

Alastair Wilson writes: Is Kipling not also making a multiple play on words here? Old John is now laid to rest, and the young squire’s son seems likely to follow sooner rather than later, such is the truly Jehu-like speed with which it may be inferred he drives. And omnibus is also a reference to the fact that the young man probably referred deprecatingly to his expensive car as “my ‘bus”. [A.W.]

[Line 14] crowd The Oxford English Dictionary offers three meanings, the first (which this clearly is) means to press on, or thrust (in the hunting-field sense) – or in the nautical sense “to crowd on all sail”. [A.W.]

[Line 15] Laudator temporis 'Praiser of time past' (Latin); from "Ars Poetica 173", by Horace).

[Line 16] the Act In this context, The Motor Car Act of 1903, which came into force on 1 January 1904, required all motor vehicles to be entered in the Government's vehicle register, to carry number plates and to observe a speed-limit of twenty miles (32 kilometers) per hour. (See “A Tour of Inspection”.)



The twelfth of the first group of fourteen, published in the Daily Mail 27 February 1904. Collected in the Sussex Edition vol. 35 p. 134. (ORG Verse No. 848).


"Longfellow" Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807-1882, American writer and Professor of Modern Languages at Bowdoin and Harvard. His extensive works include “Excelsior”, “The Building of the Ship", “Hiawatha”, and "The Discovery of the North Cape": see "The Knights of the Joyous Venture" (Puck of Pook's Hill p. 69). His work was much loved by Kipling.

The Theme

The poet contemplates the contrast between the horse and cart plodding along in silence at a walking pace, and the noise, fumes and speed of the motor-car. The car is a mixed blessing, noxious and disturbing, but also able to carry a doctor swiftly to a sick child, as described in "They", in Traffics and Discoveries.

Ann Weygandt (p. 153) comments:

"Contradictions" is cast in the mold of "The Slave in the Dismal Swamp," "The Emperor's Glove," and some thirteen others of Longfellow's poems, "The Discoverer of the North Cape" among them. The final stanza shows how close Kipling has come to Longfellow's idiom without being able to make the burlesque enjoyable.

Kipling seems to appreciate Longfellow's talents as a storyteller, and his power when he is moved by a truly poetic impulse, as in "My Lost Youth," but he is impatient of his frequent versified moralizing.

Notes on the text

[Verse 1]

carrier a man with a horse and cart who transported people and goods between village and market town – see “Steam Tactics” in Traffics and Discoveries. p. 177, line 5.

winnow To shake out the seeds from a head of wheat or barley. The vehicle shakes the seeds from roadside grasses as it brushes past, just as corn is thrashed

lamp the classic carriage-lamp showing white to the front and red to the rear, with a candle which might or might not be lit after dark.

[Verse 3]

swingle-bar a cross-bar to which the traces are secured – part of the harness of horse and cart.

[Verse 4]

Ormuzd (or Ohura Mazda) was the angel of Light and Good in Zoroastrianism.

Ahriman (or Angra Mainyu) was the spirit of Evil. The two were in eternal conflict. [Brewer's Dictionatu pf Phrase and Fable].



The thirteenth of the first group of fourteen, published in the Daily Mail 27 February 1904. Collected in the Sussex Edition vol. 35 p. 135. (ORG Verse No. 849).


"Tennyson" Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1809-1892, Poet Laureate during much of Queen Victoria's reign, who wrote many well-known poems, including In Memoriam and Idylls of the King. Kipling wrote “The Last of the Light Brigade” as a “sequel” to Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade”. The Poet Laureate is a sort of English national Bard, whose duty is to commemorate important events in verse.

The Theme

The Poet considers how the arrival of the motor-car sees the end of the coachman and the arrival of speeding drivers, threatened by policemen hiding behind pig-sties, but free to range abroad and shock elderly aunts in their staid barouches.

Ann Weygandt notes Kipling's admiration for Tennyson as a 'Mastersinger', but does not see great merit in this parody.

Charles Carrington (pp. 260 and 262) tells how Gladstone, who became Prime Minister for the fourth time in 1892, looked around for a new Poet Laureate in succession to Tennyson. Kipling was suggested by the influential author and journalist H. D. Traill.

Kipling’s opinion was not sought until 1895, when he declined the role, despite the distinction it carried. He neverthess became a sort of unofficial Laureate, thundering in The Times from time to time in the cause of England and Empire.

Notes on the text

[Verse 1]

'scutcheoned gate gates at the entrance to a park etc. with the coat-of-arms of the owner. An escutcheon is a coat of arms. (See "A Displaie of New Heraldrie").

[Verse 2]

Shallow a country Justice of the Peace in “King Henry IV Part 2” and “The Merry Wives of Windsor” who also appears in Kipling’s “Marrèd Drives of Windsor.”

farrowed sow a female pig who has given birth to piglets.

minion of the law a policeman – the inference is that he is hiding behind a pigsty to catch motorists exceeding the speed-limit. Kipling's policemen are rarely seen in a dignified light. A 'minion' is a subordinate figure of no great importance.

[Verse 3]

Ashby-de-la-Zouch A town with a fine castle in Leicestershire, mentioned in Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe; we have not found it in Tennyson’s works.

Lyonesse a legendary land, now said to be submerged beneath the sea between the Scilly Isles and Land’s End. See Idylls of the King, Tennyson’s cycle of twelve narrative poems published between 1856 and 1885 about the legend of King Arthur, and his Knights of the Round Table.

Locksley Hall another poem by Tennyson published in 1842.

barouche Like a landau, a four-wheeled horse-drawn carriage, seating four passengers, but with a hood over only the rear two seats.

"The Beginner"


The last of the first group of fourteen, published in the Daily Mail 27 February 1904. Collected in the Sussex Edition vol. 35 p. 136. (ORG Verse No. 850).


"Browning" (after he has been extemporising on an instrument not of his own invention). Robert Browning (1812-1889) English poet and playwright, a master of verse and dramatic monologues.

Kipling encountered him as a schoolboy and loved his work ever after. He was probably the greatest single influence on Kipling's verse, where one can find numerous echoes of Browning. See Kipling’s “One Viceroy Resigns”. for a monologue in his manner. Also “Slaves of the Lamp, Part I” in Stalky & Co..

The first four lines of Browning's poem "Abt Vogler" run thus:
Would that the structure brave, the manifold music I build,
Bidding my organ obey, calling its keys to their work,
Claiming each slave of the sound, at a touch, as when Solomon willed
Armies of angels that soar, legions of demons that lurk...

The Theme

The Poet tells how an inexperienced driver went ahead instead of – as he thought – reversing and sits in the wreckage while police investigate the crash.

Ann Weygandt (p. 109) comments:

His parody of "Abt Vogler" in The Muse among the Motors is negligible. "Mulholland's Contract", "M'Andrew's Hymn" and "The 'Mary Gloster' ", are worthier tributes to Kipling's apprenticeship to Browning. They do not imitate Browning's style, but their method is his—the revealing of character in monologue, and they are, especially the last two, really powerful pieces of work, of a kind impossible to the unformed artist who reproduces closely the mannerisms of his predecessors.
Notes on the Text

martagon plant genus of the Liliaceae (Lily family) not native to the United Kingdom.

bonnet in this context the cover of the engine-compartment, known as the hood in the United States.

"Lady Geraldine's Hardship"


One of the second group of six, published in 1919 in The Years Between The Muse Among the Motors in vol, xxv of the Bombay Edition. Collected in the Sussex Edition vol. 35, p. 137. (ORG Verse No. 863).


"E.B.Browning" Elizabeth Barrett Browning, (1806-1861). She was a popular and influential poet, and a campaigner against social injustices, in particular slavery and child labour. She was married to Robert Browning (above).

The Theme

Lady Geraldine turns the wrong lever and goes through a shop-front, finishing up in the window with garments draped over her car. Rather surprisingly it happens that her cousin is the magistrate. However, he fines her with the prospect of prison if she does not pay. She pays. There is no respite in the harsh treatment of errant motorists.

Ann Weygandt (pp. 129/130) comments witheringly: is "Aurora Leigh" that he chooses to parody in The Muse among the Motors. "Lady Geraldine's Hardship" is not very amusing; it is hard to burlesque Mrs. Browning; she has done it herself already. The brand of blank verse, the parentheses and dashes, the mention of cousin Romney, and the constant harping on the fact that the author is a woman unjustly regarded by man, remind us effectually of "Aurora Leigh", but it is depressing even to think of that poem. It would require a very clever parody to reconcile us to its presence in the series, and "Lady Geraldine's Hardship" is no more than competent.
Alastair Wilson comments:

I think Anne Weygandt is missing a point here. It may not be a particularly good parody of Elizabeth Barrett Browning—that’s a matter of opinion. But at a time (1919) when women’s suffrage was still an issue (just), and the standard view of a woman’s place being in the home was looking untenable, since women had shown themselves capable of tackling anything during the Great War, its message was as much about male chauvinism as the woman's inability to drive.
Janet Montefiore takes a different view:

To me there's a 'serve her right !' feel about the fine. (C.f. the wonderful 'Pont' cartoon of the debby girl who's just driven her car through a chemist's window squawking at the indignant owner "Can't you TRY to get it into your head, you stupid man, that I'm only a learner ?")

Personally I think the 'piteous baby-caps' strewed over the car's radiator is a good touch and funny - though I do find the last 6 lines a bit dull. I suppose inflation is the reason , one has to do arithmateric to see why a £10 fine was so rotten.

Notes on the text.

[Title] The title is adapted from Mrs Browning’s poem “Lady Geraldine’s Courtship”.

Lady Geraldine will be the daughter of a Duke, an Earl or a Marquis whose younger children take the title of Lord (or Lady) Christian name and surname. Had she married a younger son of the above she would take her husband’s Christian name as Lady James.

[Line 2] broken reed a weak person

[Line 4] agent in this context the man who sold her the car.

[Line 7] Artemis Diana, the Goddess of Hunting.

[Line 7] mazed with gauds to catch a man The car was festooned with women's clothes from the shop.

[Line 10] the bench in this context the magistrate

[Line 11] forty-shillinged law a fine of £2 in pre-decimal days. A common penalty for minoe offences.

[Line 12] the Woman's oversoul It was a common thought in Victorian times that despite their inferior position in society, women had 'higher souls', greater sensibility. A glance at Emerson, perhaps ?

[Line 17] Ten pounds or seven days In this case, because she was a woman, the magistrate exacted the heavy sum of £10, five times what a man would expect to pay, with the alternative of a week in prison.

"The Bother"


One of the second group of six, published in 1919 in The Years Between The Muse Among the Motors in vol, xxv of the Bombay Edition. Collected in the Sussex Edition vol. 35, p. 138. (ORG Verse No. 854).


"Clough" Arthur Hugh Clough, 1819-1861, writer of prose and verse, the latter including “Amours de Voyage”; Kiplng borrowed this title for his “Amour de Voyage” (see Early Verse, Ed. Rutherford, pp. 173/4).

Clough wrote a long poem called "The Bothie of Tober-na-Vuolich" which inspired Kipling's parody. He was a refugee from academic life, resigning his fellowship at Oxford because he felt unable to to teach the doctrines of the Church of England.

The Theme

These verses describe a party of motorists, their car breaking down and running out of petrol, finding a blank signpost, which has been repainted but not re-written. A Radical passenger holds forth at length about this in the manner of Mr Lingnam, in “The Vortex” (A Diversity of Creatures).

The others get tired of his rantings and abandon him in the countryside, like the kidnapped constable in "Steam Tactics" (Traffics and Discoveries). Like Jevon in "A Friend's Friend" (Plain Tales from the Hills) he is not heard of again.

Ann Weygandt (p. 116) comments:

Kipling's only conspicuous reference to ... Clough occurs in The Muse among the Motors. "The Bother" parodies "The Bothie of Tober-na-vuolich's" monotonous hexameters, borrows Adam the tutor's name, and substitutes "Hugh the Radical" for Philip Hewson, radical poet.

It presents an accurate picture of Clough's technique; but more happens in its eighteen lines than in eighteen pages of "The Bothie's" dull and leisurely progress. Hugh's ejection from the car seems to imply that Kipling would like to throw Clough overboard, but we must not take the suggestion too seriously; if Kipling disapproves of Clough's political leanings, he thinks enough of four of his lines to use them for a chapter heading.

[for "Baa Baa Black Sheep" in Wee Willie Winkie p. 282]
Notes on the text

[Line 2] sprocket a toothed wheel which engages with a chain.

[Line 3] speer to inquire one's way; to make one's way, proceed or go, to a place [Oxford English Dictionary].

[Line 5] Radical one favouring change and political reform, politically on the left and most unpopular with Kipling.

[Line 9] son-of-a-gun an epithet with a trace of contempt, originally applied to boys born afloat, when women were permitted to accompany their men to sea; [Oxford English Dictionary]/

"The Dying Chauffeur"


The tenth of the first group of fourteen, published in the Daily Mail 23 February 1904. Collected in the Sussex Edition vol. 35 p. 140. (ORG Verse No. 846).


"Adam Lindsay Gordon" (1833-1871) A much loved Australian poet, well versed in the classics and in the works of Browning and Tennyson. He wrote many poems of his own, collected in "Sea Spray and Smoke Drift" and "Bush Ballads and Galloping Rhymes".

For a time he earned his living as a professional jockey, and made a brief foray into politics as a member of the South Australian House of Assembly. He killed himself at the age of thirty-eight after a troubled and adventurous life.

Gordon's poem, "The Sick Stock Rider" begins with these lines:

Hold hard, Ned! Lift me down once more, and lay me in the shade.
Old man, you’ve had your work cut out to guide
Both horses, and to hold me in the saddle when I swayed,
All through the hot, slow, sleepy, silent ride...

On the choice of Gordon in this company, Ann Weygandt (p. 130) comments rather scathingly:

... aside from the fact that neither is especially partial to poetic diction, they seem to be very remotely related to each other. Gordon is the commonplace epitomized, in sentiment and execution; no one could be less inspired. Indeed, Kipling has contrived to convey this impression in his burlesque on "The Sick Stock-rider."
The Theme

Realising that he is dying, the chauffeur considers his ailments, comparing them to the defects in a motor-car.

Notes on the Text


Probably after Gordon’s “The Sick Stock-Rider”.

[Line 2] the record and the run A private (and perhaps illegal) speed-trial, like the one in France described in “The Bull that Thought" (Debits and Credits).

[Line 4] pinking past redemption sudden loss of power due to a lack of accurate timing between the spark and the position of the piston on the compression stroke, causing premature detonation. There is a characteristic rattle, which will damage the engine if remedial steps are not quickly taken. In early cars the driver had to immediately retard the spark as described in “The Progress of the Spark” above. This cannot be done manually on most modern cars, as there is built in automatic advance and retard control. If there is pinking, the vehicle must go into a garage for adjustment.

[Line 5] strike a mixture The right grade of petrol or the petrol-air mixture produced in the carburettor. A play on words - up to about the 1950s the chemist would make up medicine prescribed by the doctor, and if liquid it was often labelled “The Mixture.”

[Line 6] My gears are stripped the teeth have been stripped off the gear-wheels by wear or accident

[Line 6] I cannot set my brakes Alastair Wilson writes: To set the brakes is to adjust the brakes, so that the brake-shoes or pads are just not rubbing on the brake drum or disk when the car is running, but application of the brakes will bring them into contact, and effect, immediately. [A.W.]

[Line 8] the Maker God.

"The Inventor"


The eleventh of the first group of fourteen, published in the Daily Mail 23 February 1904. Collected in the Sussex Edition vol. 35 p. 145. (ORG Verse No. 847).


"R. W. Emerson" Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803-1882, was an American essayist, philosopher, and poet, best remembered for leading the Transcendentalist movement of the mid 19th century. He was seen as a champion of individualism and a prescient critic of the countervailing pressures of society. He was much respected by Kipling.

The Theme

The Inventor considers how Oil, Fire and Electricity have joined to produce the motor-car, which has altered man’s conception of Time and Space.

Ann Weygandt compares this piece to two other parodies of Emerson,

"The Inventor" with its mixture of classical, Indian, and modern names," its personifications of Time and Space, and its employment of varied metres gives us Emerson in concentrate. Even the thought of the first stanza is allied to that of the famous "So nigh is grandeur to our dust".

This parody is cleverer than the other two because it is not so manifestly absurd; it does not try to be uproarious, and consequently succeeds in arousing at least a smile. Moreover, it contains one really good figure, of the Emersonian type. This is embodied in the last lines of the second stanza.

It does not appear that Emerson aided in shaping Kipling's style outside of his deliberate attempts to recapture it. But his doctrine of faith in nature, and his scraps of proverbial wisdom evidently appealed to Kipling as a boy, and continued to do so all his life ... as we have seen, in Something of Myself.
(p. 133)
Notes on the Text

[Verse 1]

mote in this contest 'must'. The Oxford English Dictionary has various meanings for this word, including 'must' and as an abbreviation of 'I motor' or 'to move quickly'.

[Verse 2]

New England The region of the north-eastern United States where the Pilgrim Fathers from England settled in the 17th Century. It is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, Canada and the state of New York, and includes Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Vermont where the Kiplings lived from 1892 to 1896.

altars to distance milestones.

[Verse 3]

Prometheus one of the Titans of Greek mythology. who brought fire from heaven. [Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable].

[Verse 4]

Wantastiquet The Wantastiquet Mountain State Forest lies in the southwest corner of Chesterfield along the Connecticut River, with views of the Connecticut River Valley, Brattleboro Vermont and the Vermont Mountains.

See Something of Myself, Chapter 5 for Kipling and his family in Vermont, and “In Sight of Monadnock” (Letters of Travel) .

Emulous ambitious, competitive. Possibly also a pun on Emerson's name ? [A.W.]

[Verse 7]

Franklin’s spark Benjamin Franklin (1705-1790) was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America. Polymath, author and printer, he was also a politician, scientist, inventor, statesman, soldier, and diplomat.

He experimented with electricity, flying a kite in a thunderstorm with a silk thread attached to a key from which he obtained an electric shock, so proving his theory that lightning was an electrical discharge. The reference is to the spark that fires the charges in the cylinders of a car's engine.

Kipling was fascinated by electricity. See "The Father of Lightnings", in Brazilian Sketches (1927).

"The Ballad of the Car"

(Wardour Street Border Ballad)


One of the last group of six, which did not appear until 1929, when the whole set of 26 items were assembled within a a three-volume collection called Poems 1886-1929. Collected in the Sussex Edition vol. 35. p. 141. (ORG Verse No. 861).


"Wardour Street Border Ballad" The English/Scottish border in the centuries before the Union of England and Scotland in 1707, has a long and bloody history of conquest and reconquest, raid and counter-raid. It also has a splendid tradition of balladry, such that a whole group of songs exists that are often called "border ballads", because they were collected in that region. The supernatural is a common theme, as are tales of raids and battles. (There is a useful summary on Wikipedia). See also Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1802-3) by Sir Walter Scott, reprinted a number of times since, most recently by Dodo Press in 2008.

Kipling, like a number of poets, wrote several 'Border Ballads'. See “The Rhyme of True Thomas” and “The English Way”, as well as this parody.

Wardour Street in Central London runs from Leicester Square to Oxford Street, and in the twentieth century became a centre for the film industry. However, Kipling's reference is to the second-hand furniture market there in the 1890s. 'Wardour Street' was literary slang for archaism - for example when King says in "Regulus" (A Diversity of Creatures): 'I don't like Conington's "well-witting", It's Wardour Street'.

The Theme

A man is killed in a motor accident and cars of various makes whose owners are attending the inquest discuss the various accidents they have witnessed and consider the circumstances that caused them. They decide that with the best will in the world the car cannot prevent accidents – it is the driver.

Notes on the text

[Verse 1]

stirrup-cup an often strong drink given to horsemen before they depart on a journey or a hunt; also known as 'one for the road'.

[Verse 2]

Coroner the law officer who investigates sudden deaths – see 'Crowner' in our note to Verse 20 below.

[Verse 4]

Daimler The Daimler Motor Company, founded in 1896 in Coventry, became a subsidiary of BSA in 1910, and was acquired by Jaguar Cars in 1960.Their luxurious cars had a distinctive petrol-tank reinforced by horizontal slats.

[Verse 5]

Bonnets a play on words – the cover of the engine compartment of a car, and also a cap worn by Scots. The expression “cock your bonnet” means to deliberately set out to defy some one.

[Verse 6]

nonce a word of several meanings – in this context 'now' or 'for the present'.

[Verse 7]

Armstrong Armstrong Siddeley, manufacturs of luxury cars, and aircraft engines began as Siddeley Autocars, of Coventry, founded by John Davenport Siddeley (1866-1953) in 1902.

Grantham a market-town in Lincolnshire on the Great North Road from London to Edinburgh.

[Verse 10]

Babe Austin The Austin 7, produced from 1922 to 1939 by the Austin Motor Company, was nicknamed the "Baby Austin", and was one of the most popular cars ever produced.

[Verse 14]

Morris The original 'Morris Cowley', so called because the factory was in Cowley, just outside Oxford, was introduced in 1915; the last example of the model with the original engine appeared in 1920.

Cowley Friar a member of The Society of Mission Priests of St. John the Evangelist, an Anglican Order founded in 1865. usually known as the Cowley Fathers.

[Verse 15]

levin-spark lightning, – See Alastair Wilson's notes on A Fleet in Being, page 34, line 21, and KJ 140/04.

[Verse 16]

drunken a hoop too deep One of the bands at equal intervals on a quart pot; hence, the quantity of liquor contained between two of these.

[Verse 17]

mellow in this context drunk

[Verse 18]

busk a word of several meanings, perhaps in this context to go about seeking for something, or to keep one's eyes open. Nowadays in London a 'busker' is a street muusician.

prick of horn when the motorist sounds his horn the pedestrian must jump to safety.

[Verse 20]

Crowner archaic dialect term for 'Coroner', a law officer who investigates sudden deaths. See our note on Verse 2 above

"A Child's Garden"


The last of the last group of six, which did not appear until 1929, when the whole set of 26 items were assembled within a a three-volume collection called Poems 1886-1929. Collected in the Sussex Edition vol. 35. p. 147. (ORG Verse No. 862).


"R.L.Stevenson" Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) celebrated and much loved Scottish writer of poems and stories, including Treasure Island and Kidnapped, whose works were much admired by Kipling. See "The Vortex" (A Diversity of Creatures). Some of Stevenson's poetry is collected in A Child’s Garden of Verses (1885), and Underwoods (1887).

Stevenson and Kipling corresponded, but in 1892 a plan to meet in Samoa where the former was living, came to nothing. See Charles Carrington (p. 203),

Kipling borrowed the title of a collection of Stevenson’s Essays Virginibus Puerisque—an echo of Horace’s Ode "Virginibus puerisque canto", ("I sing for maidens and boys and for the young")—for his verses in the Pioneer of 13 August, 1888. See Early Verse (Ed. Rutherford) p. 415. See also KJ 032/130, 077/01, 141/17, 150/16, and 283/51, and Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses.

The Theme

A child, gravely ill from T.B., has to stay out in the garden, since treatment at that time called for as much fresh air as possible. He (or perhaps she) is frightened by the passing motor traffic, and does not enjoy a ride in a car. He sees the aeroplanes overhead, zooming through the sky, and says that when he is strong enough he will go through the air up in the clouds instead.

Notes on the text

[Verse 1]

T. B. Tuberculosis, or 'consumption' as it was called in the 19th Century, an often mortal disease of the lungs. See Dr Gillian Sheehan’s "Kipling and Medicine". Stevenson suffered from T.B. and eventually died of it.

[Verse 3]

charabancs an early form of motor-coach, usually open with a hood, used for excursions. Charabancs figure in “Beauty-Spots” (Limits and Renewals), “The Wish House” (Debits and Credits), and "The Village that Voted the Earth was Flat" (A Diversity of Creatures).

[Verse 4]

Croydon then an airport in South London formed from two adjoining World War I military aerodroms. The first airport in the world to introduce air traffic control, in 1921. It was was replaced by Northolt Aerodrome, and later by Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, and London City Airports.

[Verse 6]

Nursey a childish abbreviation of 'Nurse' – in this context one trained to look after children.

"The Moral"


One of the second group of six, published in 1919 in The Years Between The Muse Among the Motors in vol, xxv of the Bombay Edition. Collected in the Sussex Edition vol. 35, p. 148. (ORG Verse No. 855).


"Author Unknown" As ORG (vol. 8, p. 5405) suggests, this piece echoes Kipling’s own “The Song of the Banjo” (1894) : 'You couldn't pack a Broadwood half a mile...'

The Theme

The Poet, assuming the voice of a motor-car, advises the driver to be alert and pay careful attention to what is going on around him, and to refrain from strong drink.

Harry Ricketts in KJ 305 comments:

Kipling is too good a sport not to include himself in this parodic motorcade, and the penultimate piece, "The Moral", appropriately spoken by the car itself and nicely guying "The Song of the Banjo", is again amongst the best.

There is the annoying note of breezy expertise ('You mustn't groom an Arab with a file'), the irritating air of demotic superiority ('You hadn't ought to tension-spring a mule'); the predilection for out-of-the-way slang ('brumby', an Australian term for a wild horse).

There is a perfect spoof Kiplingesque line: 'I'm the Mentor of banana-fingered men!' (one worthy of the late, great comic poet Gavin Ewart, who specialised in such morsels). There is, finally, the persistent habit of wrenching commonsensical, even platitudinous, maxims from unlikely contexts and delivering them as though they were profound truths:

I will make you I know your left hand from your right.
I will teach you not to drink about your biz.
I’m the only temperance advocate in sight!
I am all the Education Act there is!
Janet Montefiore writes: 'I'm sure Harry's right about 'The Banjo', but I've also always thought this poem looks back to the "The Secret of the Machines", as well':
...We can neither love nor pity nor forgive,
If you make a slip in handling us, you die...
We are everything on earth—except The Gods'...

Notes on the text

[Title] In some earlier editions also known as "The Song of the Motor".

[Line 1] groom an Arab with a file rub a thoroughbred horse down with an abrasive instrument – or any horse, for that matter

[Line 2] tension-spring a mule a mule is the offspring of a donkey and a mare, but we have no information on the tension-spring.

[Line 3] brumby a wild horse in Australia, descended from escaped or lost horses, dating back to the first European settlers.

See “Her Majesty’s Servants” The Jungle Book p. 262, lines 7/8, in which Billy the mule, feeling insulted by the Troop Horse says: 'My father was a Southern Gentleman, and he could pull down and bite and kick into rags every horse he came across. Remember that, you big brown brumby.' Brumby means wild horse without any breeding.

[Line 6] grade the degree of slope on a road or railway. A grade of one in ten rises (or falls) one foot for every ten feet travelled. This is the the American usage for what is called 'gradient' in the United Kingdom.

[Line 11] temperance advocate Someone advising others not to drink alcohol.

[Line 12] Education Act probably the 1870 Education Act establishing School Boards to be elected by ratepayers in each district of the United Kingdom. The Poet is the only source of wisdom here.

[J McG. / J.R.]

©John McGivering and John Radcliffe 2010 All rights reserved