1870: Cento

Hannah Hoch - Fashion Show (1925-35)

A cento is a poem composed of lines taken from other poems, either by different authors or from the same author. (Homer and Virgil are traditional favorites.) The word comes from the Greek κεντρόνη, which means “patchwork garment.”

The following example is taken from Charles Carroll Bombaugh’s Gleanings for the Curious from the Harvest-fields of Literature: A Melange of Excerpta (1890):

I only knew she came and went                                                   Lowell
Like troutlets in a pool;                                                                  Hood
She was a phantom of delight,                                                      Wordsworth
And I was like a fool.                                                                       Eastman

“One kiss, dear maid,” I said and sighed,                                    Coleridge
“Out of those lips unshorn.”                                                           Longfellow
She shook her ringlets round her head,                                      Stoddard
And laughed in merry scorn.                                                        Tennyson

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky!                                            Tennyson
You hear them, oh my heart?                                                        Alice Carey
‘Tis twelve at night by the castle clock,                                       Coleridge
Beloved, we must part!                                                                  Alice Carey

“Come back! come back!” she cried in grief,                             Campbell
“My eyes are dim with tears—                                                     Bayard Taylor
How shall I live through all the days,                                         Mrs. Osgood
All through a hundred years?”                                                     T. S. Perry

‘Twas in the prime of summer time,                                           Hood
She blessed me with her hand;                                                     Hoyt
We strayed together, deeply blest,                                               Mrs. Edwards
Into the Dreaming Land.                                                               Cornwall

The laughing bridal roses blow,                                                   Patmore
To dress her dark brown hair;                                                     Bayard Taylor
No maiden may with her compare,                                             Brailsford
Most beautiful, most rare!                                                             Read

I clasped it on her sweet cold hand,                                            Browning
The precious golden link;                                                              Smith
I calmed her fears, and she was calm,                                       Coleridge
“Drink, pretty creature, drink!”                                                   Wordsworth

And so I won my Genevieve,                                                        Coleridge
And walked in Paradise;                                                               Hervey
The fairest thing that ever grew                                                 Wordsworth
Atween me and the skies.                                                             Osgood

For modern examples, see The Cento: A Collection of Collage Poems and John Reed’s “new” Shakespeare play, All the World’s A Grave (2008), composed only of lines from actual Shakespeare playswhich he summarizes as follows:

The story: Hamlet goes to war for Juliet, the daughter of King Lear. Having captured his bride—by unnecessary bloodshed—Prince Hamlet returns home to find that his mother has murdered his father and married Macbeth. Hamlet, wounded and reeling, is sought out by the ghost of his murdered further, and commanded to seek revenge. Iago, opportunistic, further inflames the enraged Prince, persuading him that Juliet is having an affair with Romeo; the Prince goes mad with jealousy.

Image: Hannah Hoch: Fashion Show (1925-35)

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