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

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You 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.

Submitted by John Martin

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Twenty Hoss-Power Shay by Ellis Parker Butler

Have you ever read a poem that made you laugh out loud and then left you thinking deeply about it? The Twenty Hoss-Power Shay by Ellis Parker Butler does just that. It is a poem that takes a humorous look at the durability of a carriage as it lasts for one hundred years, defying the laws of physics and logic.

But beneath the humor and the absurdity of the poem lies a deeper message about human nature and the inevitability of decay. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will delve into the poem's themes, structure, and language to uncover its meaning and significance.


At first glance, The Twenty Hoss-Power Shay seems to be a simple poem about a carriage that lasts for one hundred years. However, as we read on, we realize that the poem is about much more than that. It is about the inevitability of decay and the fleeting nature of life.

The carriage, which is described as "built in such a logical way/ It ran a hundred years to a day," seems to defy the laws of physics and logic. How can a carriage last for one hundred years without any signs of decay or wear and tear? The answer is simple: it can't. The carriage is a metaphor for human life, which is also subject to decay and the passage of time.

The poem also touches upon the theme of human nature. The carriage's owners, who are described as "fools," try to outsmart the laws of nature by buying a carriage that lasts for one hundred years. They believe that they can cheat death by buying something that is indestructible. However, they soon realize that they are just like the carriage: subject to decay and death.

In the end, the poem teaches us that no matter how hard we try to escape the inevitability of decay and death, we will always succumb to it. It is a sobering message but one that is essential for us to remember as we navigate this fleeting thing called life.


The Twenty Hoss-Power Shay is written in rhyming couplets, which gives the poem a light and humorous tone. The rhyming scheme is AABBCCDD, which creates a sing-song quality that is reminiscent of children's poetry. The use of such a playful structure adds to the absurdity of the poem and makes it more enjoyable to read.

However, despite the light-hearted structure, the poem's message is clear and impactful. The use of rhyme and meter helps to convey the poem's message in a memorable and effective way. The repeated use of the phrase "twenty hoss-power" also serves to emphasize the absurdity of the carriage's durability, adding to the humor and the impact of the poem.


Ellis Parker Butler's use of language in The Twenty Hoss-Power Shay is another reason why the poem is so enjoyable to read. He uses colloquial language and regional dialect to create a sense of authenticity and humor. For example, the line "It didn't clatter, didn't squeak,/ But held its way without a creak" uses simple and straightforward language to describe the carriage's durability. The use of alliteration in "clatter" and "creak" also adds to the poem's playful tone.

Butler also uses irony and sarcasm in the poem to emphasize its message. The line "And every year has added birth/ To children who died at ten" is a prime example of this. The irony of the line is that while the carriage lasts for one hundred years, the people who own it are subject to the same laws of nature as everyone else. They are born, they live, and they die, just like their children who died at ten.

In conclusion, The Twenty Hoss-Power Shay is a poem that is both humorous and thought-provoking. It uses a playful structure and language to convey a sobering message about the inevitability of decay and death. The poem's themes, structure, and language all work together to create a memorable and impactful piece of literature. It is a testament to the power of poetry to make us laugh, think, and feel deeply about the human experience.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Twenty Hoss-Power Shay: A Masterpiece of Poetic Engineering

If you're a fan of classic poetry, you've probably heard of Ellis Parker Butler's "The Twenty Hoss-Power Shay." This poem is a masterpiece of poetic engineering, combining technical precision with lyrical beauty to create a work of art that is both intellectually stimulating and emotionally resonant.

At its core, "The Twenty Hoss-Power Shay" is a poem about the power of technology. It tells the story of a man who builds a carriage that is so well-engineered that it lasts for 100 years without any need for repairs. The poem is a celebration of the ingenuity and creativity of human beings, and it reminds us that we are capable of achieving great things when we put our minds to it.

One of the most striking things about "The Twenty Hoss-Power Shay" is its use of language. Butler's writing is both precise and evocative, using words and phrases that are both technically accurate and emotionally resonant. For example, when describing the carriage, Butler writes:

"It was made of good materials, And it looked like a thing of beauty, With its wheels of the right size, And its axles strong and true."

These lines are not only technically accurate, but they also create a vivid image in the reader's mind. We can imagine the carriage rolling down the road, its wheels turning smoothly and its axles holding it steady.

Another aspect of the poem that stands out is its use of rhyme and meter. Butler's writing is very structured, with a consistent rhyme scheme and a regular meter. This gives the poem a sense of order and control, which is appropriate given its subject matter. The poem is about a carriage that is perfectly engineered, and Butler's writing reflects that same sense of precision and control.

But despite its technical precision, "The Twenty Hoss-Power Shay" is also a deeply emotional poem. It speaks to our desire for permanence and stability, and it reminds us that even in a world that is constantly changing, there are some things that can endure. The carriage in the poem is a symbol of that endurance, and it represents our own desire to create something that will last.

In many ways, "The Twenty Hoss-Power Shay" is a poem about the human spirit. It celebrates our ability to create, to innovate, and to push the boundaries of what is possible. It reminds us that even in the face of adversity, we can find a way to overcome and to succeed.

Overall, "The Twenty Hoss-Power Shay" is a masterpiece of poetic engineering. It combines technical precision with emotional depth to create a work of art that is both intellectually stimulating and emotionally resonant. If you haven't read this poem before, I highly recommend it. It's a true classic, and it's a testament to the power of human creativity and ingenuity.

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