More on Ekphrasis – Grant Wood and Jay Sigmund

A pale green ribbon of cement
 Rippled along the jutting hill
 And down its silken course there went
 The horse Death rode when out to kill

A rubber-footed silvered steed,
 Needing no impact from a lash;
 An eagles' grace; a greyhound's speed -
 Two glassy eyes to burn and flash.

Love in the saddle; Death to guide
 This devil-horse of steel and brass;
 Death riding down the countryside
 Supplied with lances made of glass.

Death used to ride a white-maned horse
 Before these grey roads lined the sod
 But now he travels on his course
 Astride a sleek thing, rubber-shod.

This 1934 poem by American poet, Jay Sigmund, is entitled ‘Death Rides a Rubber-Shod Horse’ and came about following a road accident in which the car Sigmund was travelling in, driven by his son, was clipped by a truck and rolled twice. Sigmund’s writing hand was badly damaged and his index finger was amputated.

So, what is it doing on an art blog? Jay Sigmund was good friends with American artist, Grant Wood and, following the accident, Wood visited the scene of the accident and this work: Death on the Ridge Road, was the result.


Wood’s painting works so beautifully with Sigmund’s words, a perfect example of ekphrasis. With the viewer’s perspective being high above the scene, we can see what is about to occur: the truck takes the crest of the hill, straddling both lanes. The sleek, rubber-shod sedan has arrogantly overtaken the older car and is hurtling up the hill at the speed of a greyhound, straight into the path of the oncoming truck. As a viewer, you want to cover your eyes, cry out a warning but it will be to no avail.

The darkening sky is the embodiment of pathetic fallacy – told you this was a poetry based post! – Either side of the grey cement road, barbed wire fences trap the vehicles into an inevitable collision. The telegraph poles at either end, symbolically cross-shaped, emphasise Death’s intention, “astride a sleek thing, rubber-shod.”

Words and pictures work so wonderfully together and when you know the artists had a connection, this symbiotic relationship has even more resonance than usual.