There are horses in the basement,
And mysteries in machinery —
The night mares of abasement,
But deus ex machina scenery.
A pilgrim from a mare’s nest
Rides in equanimity,
His engine’s equine affinity
Has pistons for a prayerfest;
Oh sailor in the horse latitudes
Of mares ad mare, marist and marine,
The currents are your chargers of beatitude,
Becalmed in the combustion and serene.
NOTES For Students of English
Deus ex machina – Literally “a god from a machine,” an allusion to the practice in ancient Greek and Roman drama of lowering a god onto the stage by means of a crane (in a heavenly cloud or chariot) in order to solve difficulties. Hence, any person or thing that appears or is introduced suddenly and unexpectedly, as in fiction or drama, to provide a way out of an apparently inescapable dilemma.
Mare’s Nest – A place, condition, or situation of great disorder or confusion; also, something that appears at first to be wonderful, but that turns out to be imaginary or a hoax.
Horse Latitudes – Either of two regions in the neighborhood of 30° N and 30° S latitude characterized by high pressure, calms, and light baffling winds; especially that part of the northern region which is over the Atlantic Ocean.
Ad mare – Latin for “to the sea.”
Marist – Pertaining to the worship of, or work in honor of, the Virgin Mary; usually capitalized when designating a member of the Roman Catholic Society of Mary founded in France in 1816 and devoted to education.
Charger – A cavalry horse or an officer’s horse for battle or parade.
“Currents are your chargers” – A pun on electrical current and ocean current; also a pun on electrical charger and “charger” meaning a cavalry horse.
This poem is mentioned in one of Hertz’s letters. A friend had jokingly accused him of “plagiarizing Byron” by using the same rhyme, machinery-scenery, used by British poet George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824) in Don Juan (Canto I, stanza 201):
I’ve got new mythological machinery,
And very handsome supernatural scenery.
“So now, in order to defend myself against a charge of plagiarism, I have to lay myself open to a charge of ignorance by revealing that when I wrote Horsepower, I hadn’t even read Byron’s Don Juan. Well, I have to admit I hadn’t. But then, what if I had? The re-use of a rhyme is trivial, if not irrelevant. Rhymes in English are like notes or chords in music: there are a certain number of them, and they get used over and over again. If Bach uses a B-flat or C-E-G, does that mean that nobody else can? And then it’s the context that is key. What I’m talking about in Horsepower — the calm produced by confidence in a good internal combustion engine — isn’t what Byron is talking about at all.”