The Inventor

(notes by John McGivering and John Radcliffe)



The eleventh poem of the first group of fourteen, in The Muse among the Motors, 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 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 of Kipling’s parodies of Emerson, “Koprah-Brahm“, and “Rosicrucian Subtleties“.”.

“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 keen, eagar, competitive. Possibly also a pun on Emerson’s name ? [A.W.]

afret a fretful state

[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).


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