The Motor Bus

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"Motor Bus" redirects here. For the type of vehicle, see Motor bus.

"The Motor Bus" is a macaronic poem written in 1914 by Alfred Denis Godley (1856–1925).[1][2][3]

The mixed English-Latin text makes fun of the difficulties of Latin declensions. It takes off from puns on the English words "motor" and "bus", ascribing them to the third and second declensions respectively in Latin, and declining them.

At the time of writing Godley, a distinguished Classical scholar, was resident at Oxford University. The poem traditionally commemorates the introduction of a motorised omnibus service in the city of Oxford (Corn and High are the colloquial names of streets in the centre of the city where several Colleges of the University are located), thereby shattering the bucolic charm of the horse-drawn age. It has since also been cited in the context of the recent introduction of larger vehicles (including "bendy" buses).

The poem owes its continuing popularity to the large number of pupils who had to learn Latin as a compulsory subject for University entrance (not just Oxford and Cambridge) in the United Kingdom.[4] Most of them will have used a "primer" in which Latin nouns were "declined" (the correct declensions written out), for example, servus, serve, servum, servi, servo, servo (depending upon the order in which the casesnominative, vocative, accusative, dative, etc. – were cited). The poem provides leavening to what is a very dry subject for most school pupils.

The poem's rhymes assume that the Latin words are read using the traditional English pronunciation, which was taught in British (and American) schools until early in the 20th century.


Next to each repetition of the phrase "Motor Bus" is the case the words appear in in the original poem.

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!


What is this that roareth thus?
Can it be a Motor Bus? (singular nominative case)
Yes, the smell and hideous hum
Denotes a motor bus! (singular accusative case)
Terror of the Motor Bus (singular genitive case)
Fills me in the Corn and High
I will shout out to the Motor Bus (singular dative case)
Lest I be killed by the Motor Bus--- (singular ablative case)
Dative be or Ablative
So thou only let us live:---
Whither shall thy victims flee?
Spare us, spare us, O Motor Bus! (singular vocative case)
Thus I sang; and still anigh
Motor Buses came in hordes (plural nominative case)
And loads of Motor Buses (plural genitive case)
Filled up the whole forum.
How shall wretches live like us
Surrounded by Motor Buses? (plural ablative case)
O Lord, defend us
against these Motor Buses! (plural accusative case)


The poem is quoted by Dorothy L. Sayers in her essay "The greatest single defect of my own Latin education" and other texts.[5][6][7]

Herbert H. Huxley dedicated to A. D. Godley his short macaronic Latin poem "Mars Bar":[8]

Est praedulcis esu Mars-Bar.
Nil est cibo tuo, Mars, par.
Tune vis beatum larem?
Habe promptum Martem-Barem.
Captus dono Martis-Baris
Helenam liquisset Paris.
Dum natabunt ponto scari,
Dentur laudes Marti-Bari!

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Alfred Godley (1914). Letter to C.R.L. Fletcher, Jan. 10, 1914. "The Motor Bus," Printed in Reliquae, vol. 1 (1926).
  2. ^ The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations
  3. ^ Kingsley Amis (ed.), The New Oxford Book of English Light Verse
  4. ^ Ireland's Other Poetry: An Unfashionable Poet: A D Godley
  5. ^ Dorothy Sayers The Greatest Single Defect of My Own Latin Education Online version accessed on 2009-06-25.
  6. ^ Dorothy Sayers (1952), Address to the Association for Latin Teaching (ARLT) 1952. Online version accessed on 2009-06-25.
  7. ^ Latin For Today vol. 2, p. 10
  8. ^ Herbert H. Huxley (1975), Mars-Bar. In LACT Newsletter. Translations & versions accessed on 2009-06-25.