Saturday, October 13, 2012

Let's All Write a Cento!

The cento comes from the Latin word for "patchwork."  As you may well guess from this bit of trivia, the cento is a poetic form in which a poem is assembled entirely from lines from other poems.  You may think that sounds easy, like you don't actually have to write anything at all.  Boy oh boy, would you be wrong!

I found the cento be a painstaking process, albeit also a highly rewarding one.

Here, as an example of the form, is a humorous cento from Groucho Marx.

Groucho Marx - Poem From The Play "Animal Crackers"

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The inspiration from the one I've written here came from, well, Laurie actually.  I was explaining the form to her and explaining how Mr. Padgett tells, in our text, of a cento that was written about the life of Christ but was written entirely from lines from Homer who lived 900 years before Christ.  Laurie suggested what I ended up composing below which is a poem about Christ composed entirely of lines from the Psalms.  The words are entirely David's, assembled by me with a few adjustments to punctuation (and capitalization) where I deemed appropriate for my purposes.  I used the Geneva Bible, which is the one I mainly use for my at home study (partly because I find it to be one of the more beautiful translations, but mainly because of the footnotes!  The footnotes in the Geneva Bible are some of the best I know of.)




“I am like a pelican of the wilderness.
“The Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.  Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the ends of the earth for thy possession. The Lord sware, and will not repent, thou are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.  I have made a covenant with my chosen: I have sworn to David my servant, thy seed will I stablish forever, and set up thy throne from generation to generation.
“Then said I, ‘Lo, I come: for in the roll of the book it is written of me.’
“Thou didst draw me out of the womb: thou art my God from my mother’s belly.
“He that hath innocent hands, and a pure heart; which hath not lifted up his mind unto vanity nor sworn deceitfully.
“I wept and my soul fasted.”
There shall none evil come unto thee, for He shall give Angels charge over thee to keep thee in all thy ways. “And if he come to see me, he speaketh lies.”
The dragon shalt thou tread under feet.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied; they that seek after the Lord, shall praise Him; your heart shall live forever.
“Cruel witnesses did rise up: they asked of me things that I knew not; They that hate me without a cause.
“The kings of the earth band themselves, and the Princes are assembled together against the Lord, against His Christ.
“Mine enemies speak evil of me, saying, ‘When shall He die, and His name perish?’  For the zeal of thine house hath eaten me.
“Yea, my familiar friend, whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up the heel against me.
“I am like water poured out.
“Thou hast brought me into the dust of death.
“They pierced mine hands and my feet.
“They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.”
“He shall cry unto me, ‘Thou art my Father, my God.  My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?’”
“Mine eyes fail, while I wait for my God,
“For they gave me gall in my meat, and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.
“I am weary of crying: my throat is dry.” He keepth all his bones: not one of them is broken.
“Pour out thine anger. This also shall please the Lord better than a young bullock that hath horns and hoofs.
“Raise me up: so shall I reward them.
“He restoreth my soul. For thou wilt not leave my soul in the grave: neither wilt thou suffer thine holy One to see corruption.
“He brought me also out of the horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon the rock, and ordered my goings.
“The stone which the builders refused, is the head of the corner.”
He shall come down like the rain upon the mown grass, and as the showers that water the earth.
Then shall he judge thy people in righteousness, and thy poor with equity. “I make thine enemies thy footstool.”
His enemies shall lick the dust.
His name shall be forever; His name shall endure as long as the Sun: all nations shall bless Him, and be blessed in Him.
Blessed are all that trust in Him.
I have declared thy truth and thy salvation.
I will declare thy Name unto my brethren.
So be it, even, so be it. Here ends the prayers of David.

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