Motor Bus, declined

Motor Bus in 1926

Motor Bus in 1926. State Library of South Australia
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

“The Motor Bus” (1914), by Alfred Denis Godley, is a macaronic (mixed-language) poem that combines Latin with English by treating motor bus as a second declension noun modified by a third declension adjective. At the time of its composition, motor buses had recently been introduced into the city of Oxford (note the references to Cornmarket and High Streets).

What is this that roareth thus?
Can it be a Motor Bus?
Yes, the smell and hideous hum
Indicat Motorem Bum!
Implet in the Corn and High
Terror me Motoris Bi.
Bo Motori clamitabo
Ne Motore caedar a Bo—
Dative be or Ablative
So thou only let us live:—
Whither shall thy victims flee?
Spare us, spare us, Motor Be!
Thus I sang; and still anigh
Came in hordes Motores Bi,
Et complebat omne forum
Copia Motorum Borum.
How shall wretches live like us
Cincti Bis Motoribus?
Domine, defende nos
Contra hos Motores Bos!

Before reading this poem, it would be useful to discuss how the modern pronunciation of Latin varies from country to country. American students may already be aware that “alumni” and “alumnae” as naturalized English words reflect the pronunciation often associated with England. If you haven’t already gone into this, an interesting follow-up activity might be for students to think about how one would go about determining how classical Latin was pronounced and then do a little research into what we think we know and what the evidence is.

From a language-learning standpoint, this should be a great reminder of the need to make nouns and adjectives agree (rather than making their endings “match”). It’s also got nice examples of the ablative with a compound of pleo and with cingo. Speaking of ablatives, the bus appears in the ablative with a(b) as an agent, which suits its personification throughout the poem (the bus is shouted at and addressed in the vocative).

You can follow-up the in-class activity with an assignment for students to write their own macaronic poem, ideally treating an issue that has affected their own life or community. Since it’s not entirely in Latin, students can use vocabulary, morphology, and syntax that they know, but aren’t limited by that. Hence the activity is appropriate for students at quite early stages of study.

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