Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Motor Bus

You know how you wake up sometimes in the middle of the night with this scrap of a song or a poem in your head and you just can't get rid of it? You can't remember the whole thing, either. It just sits there, teasing your brain and leaving you incapable of further sleep. It happened to me last night with this ridiculous macaronic verse written, I discovered this morning, by the Oxford scholar Alfred Denis Godley, who died in 1925. Godfrey held the post of Public Orator at Oxford--a job that required him to write verses in Latin for momentous occasions.

The piece I woke up with? You won't believe this. I mean, it's a total stretch. Here are the lines: "What is this that roareth thus/Can it be a motor bus?/Yes, that smell and hideous hum/Indicant motorem bum..." I mean, what on earth could have provoked the memory of these lines, learned more than sixty years ago and forgotten since that time? Google provided the answer--not to that question, unfortunately, but to my brain's desperate hunt for the rest of the lines. For your enjoyment:
What is this that roareth thus?
Can it be a Motor Bus?
Yes, the smell and hideous hum
Indicant 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!

Make what you will of it. You need to try reading it aloud, I think, and even a non-Latin scholar can latch on to some of the humor. Or maybe not. The poem is a humorous poke, of course, at the arrival of the motor bus on the streets of Oxford in the 1910s, clearly a topic of vital interest to us today, particularly the reference to emissions. It's also a play on the declensions of Latin nouns--nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, ablative--which those of us who are old enough to have been compelled to study such things will surely have gratefully forgotten! I like particularly the last two lines, which I am still able to translate: Lord, defend us from those motor buses!

Where do such things come from? I'm struggling with what I need to learn from this memory, aside from the fact that my brain performs extraordinary feats when I'm not asking to; and too often fails miserably when I ask it to recall a simple memory from yesterday.

1 comment:

mandt said...

"I mean, what on earth could have provoked the memory of these lines?" Lines such as "Et cum spiriti to to O" haunt the mind don't ya know? In dreams, it would seem thus, "Domine, defende nos etc etc" and delights us.