'The Twenty Hoss-Power Shay' by Ellis Parker Butler

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Frank Leslie's MonthlyMay 1905You have heard of the wonderful one-hoss shay
That was built in such a logical way
It ran a hundred years to a day.
And then, of a sudden, it up and bust,
And all that was left was a mound of dust?
Holmes -- O. W. -- told it well
In a rhyme of his -- what there was to tell --
But the one-hoss shay wasn't "one, two, three"
With a vehicle once belonged to me.One hoss? No, sir! Not six nor nine --
Twenty there were in this rig of mine!
Twenty hosses as tough as rocks,
All caged up in a sort of box
That stood jist back of the forward wheels!
Right! She was one of those automobiles
With twenty hosses bottled inside -
Hosses that not only pull but ride!
Wonder what Holmes would have had to say
If the mare had rode in his one-hoss shay!
I reckon the shay would have logicked out
Before the century rolled about.Well, this big touring car, I say,
Was built just like the one-hoss shay --
Some dependable, logical way --
Flipflaps, dujabs, wheels and things,
Levers, thing-gum-bobs and springs,
Hub, and felloe, and hoss-power chest --
One part just as strong as the rest;
So "logic is logic," as Holmes would say,
And no one part could first give way.Wonderful vehicle, you'll admit,
With not one flaw in the whole of it;
As long as I had it, I declare
I hadn't one cent to pay for repair,
It couldn't break down because, you see,
It was such a logical symphony.Now for my tale. We're not so slow
These days as a hundred years ago,
And it's like enough that the one-hoss shay,
Ambling along in its sleepy way,
Should creep a century 'thout a break,
But nowadays we aim to make
A pace that is something like a pace,
And if that old shay got in our race
It would stand the pressure twenty days
And go to the home of played-out shays."Logic is logic." Just figure this out --
For I know just what I'm talking about: --
If a one-hoss vehicle, genus shays,
Will stand our pressure twenty days,
Then, vice versa, a twenty-hoss shay
Should stand the pressure just one day; --
Well, mine is a logical automobile,
From rubber tire to steering wheel.
I bought it one morning at just 10.42,
And the very next morning what did it do,
Right on the second, but up and bust!
Talk of the old shay's pile of dust --
That's not logical; my mobile
Vanished completely! Brass and steel,
Iron and wood and rubber tire
Went right up in a gush of fire,
And in half a minute a gassy smell
Was all I had left by which to tell
I ever owned a touring car, --
And then that vanished, and there you are!End of my twenty hoss-power shay.
Logic is logic. That's all I say.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Twenty Hoss-Power Shay by Ellis Parker Butler: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation

Are you a fan of humorous poetry? Do you enjoy witty wordplay and clever rhymes? If so, then you're in for a treat with Ellis Parker Butler's "The Twenty Hoss-Power Shay," a delightful and entertaining poem that will leave you laughing and nodding in appreciation.

But what exactly is this poem about? What themes does it explore, and what literary techniques does it use to convey its message? In this literary criticism and interpretation, we'll delve into the depths of "The Twenty Hoss-Power Shay," exploring its meaning and significance, and examining the ways in which it uses language to captivate and amuse its readers.

Summary of the Poem

First, let's take a quick look at the poem itself. "The Twenty Hoss-Power Shay" is a humorous poem that tells the story of a man who purchases a new carriage or "shay" that is powered by twenty horses, rather than the typical one or two that most carriages rely upon. The man is thrilled with his new purchase, and he shows off his shay to all his friends and neighbors.

However, as time goes on, the man begins to realize that his shay is not all it's cracked up to be. It's too heavy and unwieldy, and it's constantly breaking down. Eventually, the man decides to get rid of the shay and buy a more practical and reliable one.

The poem is written in rhyming couplets, with a light and playful tone that makes it a joy to read. It's full of clever puns and wordplay, as well as amusing descriptions of the man's adventures with his shay.

Themes and Symbols

So, what themes does "The Twenty Hoss-Power Shay" explore, and what symbols does it use to convey its message? One of the most prominent themes in the poem is the dangers of excess and extravagance. The man in the poem is so caught up in the idea of owning a carriage powered by twenty horses that he fails to consider the practicality of such a purchase. He's blinded by his desire to be seen as wealthy and impressive, and he doesn't think about the negative consequences of his decision.

This theme is reflected in the symbol of the shay itself. The shay represents the man's excessive and wasteful lifestyle, as well as his obsession with status and appearance. The fact that the shay is powered by twenty horses, rather than the typical one or two, is a clear indication of the man's desire to show off and be seen as important.

Another theme that the poem explores is the importance of practicality and common sense. The man eventually realizes that his shay is not practical or reliable, and he decides to replace it with a more sensible carriage. This emphasizes the importance of thinking things through and making practical decisions, rather than just following one's desires and impulses without considering the consequences.

The symbol of the new carriage also reflects this theme. The new carriage is a symbol of the man's newfound practicality and common sense. It represents his willingness to make responsible decisions and prioritize functionality over appearances.

Literary Techniques

Now let's turn our attention to the literary techniques that Butler uses to convey these themes and ideas. One of the most noticeable techniques in the poem is the use of rhyme and rhythm. The poem is written in rhyming couplets, which gives it a lighthearted and playful tone. The rhythm of the poem is also very consistent and steady, which helps to draw the reader in and keep them engaged.

Another literary technique that Butler uses is repetition. Throughout the poem, he repeats certain phrases and words, such as "twenty hoss-power," "wheel-spokes bent," and "the critters all wore out." This repetition helps to emphasize the key themes and ideas of the poem, as well as to create a sense of rhythm and flow.

Butler also uses irony and satire to great effect in the poem. The man's obsession with his shay is portrayed as foolish and ridiculous, and the poem uses humor and wit to poke fun at his excessive and wasteful lifestyle. This satire helps to drive home the message that practicality and common sense are more important than appearances and status.


In conclusion, "The Twenty Hoss-Power Shay" is a delightful and entertaining poem that explores themes of excess, practicality, and common sense. Butler uses a variety of literary techniques, including rhyme, rhythm, repetition, and satire, to convey his message and create a sense of humor and playfulness. Whether you're a fan of poetry or just looking for a good laugh, this poem is sure to delight and entertain you. So why not give it a read and see for yourself?

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Twenty Hoss-Power Shay: A Masterpiece of Poetry

Ellis Parker Butler's "The Twenty Hoss-Power Shay" is a classic poem that has stood the test of time. It is a masterpiece of poetry that captures the essence of American life in the early 20th century. The poem is a humorous and satirical take on the obsession with technology and progress that was prevalent during that time. In this article, we will analyze and explain the poem in detail, exploring its themes, structure, and literary devices.

The poem begins with a description of the titular "Twenty Hoss-Power Shay," a new and improved carriage that is supposed to be the pinnacle of modern technology. The speaker describes the carriage in great detail, highlighting its various features and innovations. He talks about the "gum-elastic tires" that make the ride smoother, the "self-feeding fire" that powers the engine, and the "patent leather wheels" that make it look sleek and stylish. The speaker is clearly impressed by the carriage and sees it as a symbol of progress and innovation.

However, as the poem progresses, the speaker's enthusiasm begins to wane. He starts to notice the flaws and shortcomings of the carriage, despite its supposed superiority. He talks about how the "gum-elastic tires" wear out quickly and need to be replaced often, how the "self-feeding fire" is prone to malfunctioning, and how the "patent leather wheels" are easily scratched and damaged. The speaker realizes that the carriage is not as perfect as it seemed at first, and that its flaws are a result of the very technology that was supposed to make it better.

The poem's central theme is the danger of blindly embracing new technology without considering its consequences. The speaker is initially dazzled by the Twenty Hoss-Power Shay and sees it as a symbol of progress and innovation. However, as he discovers its flaws and shortcomings, he realizes that the pursuit of progress can sometimes lead to unintended consequences. The poem is a cautionary tale about the dangers of blindly embracing new technology without considering its long-term effects.

The poem's structure is also noteworthy. It is written in rhyming couplets, with each stanza consisting of two lines that rhyme. This gives the poem a musical quality and makes it easy to read and remember. The use of repetition is also prominent in the poem, with certain phrases and words repeated throughout. For example, the phrase "Twenty Hoss-Power Shay" is repeated several times, emphasizing its importance and significance.

The poem also makes use of several literary devices, including metaphor, personification, and hyperbole. For example, the carriage is personified as a living entity, with its "self-feeding fire" and "patent leather wheels" given human-like qualities. This personification emphasizes the idea that technology can sometimes take on a life of its own and become uncontrollable. The use of hyperbole is also prominent, with the carriage described as having "more power than a locomotive" and being able to "run up a hill and around a corner." These exaggerated claims highlight the absurdity of the obsession with technology and progress.

In conclusion, "The Twenty Hoss-Power Shay" is a classic poem that has stood the test of time. It is a humorous and satirical take on the obsession with technology and progress that was prevalent in American society in the early 20th century. The poem's central theme is the danger of blindly embracing new technology without considering its consequences, and it uses a variety of literary devices to convey this message. The poem's structure, use of repetition, and musical quality make it a joy to read and remember. Overall, "The Twenty Hoss-Power Shay" is a masterpiece of poetry that continues to resonate with readers today.

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