7.23.2009

Poetry In and Out of the Schools, 2

Olivia Turnage

English 7392

Dr. Schultz

21 October 2008

from Poetry Experiments

3) (Quarta)Cento (Bernstein #12): Put together 25 random lines of poetry to form a coherent whole. May alter punctuation.

“Death[1] Directive[2]

When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d[3],

I felt a funeral in my brain[4]

no chant of bloody war, no exulting paen[5];

I have walked out in rain—and back in rain[6].

A white hunter is nearly crazy[7],

under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with white teeth[8].

I remembered the cry of the peacocks[9],

how secretly you cuckold me with death[10].

I will teach you, my townspeople, how to perform a funeral[11]

—the apparition of these faces in the crowd[12]

Like a patient etherised upon a table[13],

please don’t snore so loud[14].

I’ve spent my life on nothing[15]

I lay there sleeping and my magic head remembered and forgot[16];

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked[17],

leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT[18].

I celebrate myself, and sing myself[19].

I dwell in Possibility[20],

desiring the exhilarations of changes[21]

to the ap parent impecca bility[22].

Go now, I think you are ready[23]

(you who can not wear yourselves out[24].)

Let us go then, you and I[25]

(I wonder if it’s that simple[26]?)

[Let us] leave immortality for another to suffer like a fool[27].

This variation upon the cento was the most intriguing of my attempted experiments in that it required me to search for random lines of poetry which not only bore some semblance of fitting into the stanza with the others, but which also conformed to my chosen rhyme scheme. Without resisting occasional humor, I managed to put together an admittedly convoluted bit of amateur poetry directed toward the subject of welcoming death. In the first four lines, the speaker is recalling the first time he sensed death’s approach (the funeral in the brain), how it held no fanfare (no chant, no paen) but only quiet contemplation about the positive and negative experiences throughout his life (in and out of rain). The second stanza evokes a visual memory of a maniacal man of white alongside an audible remembrance of birds, which leads ultimately to a sensual understanding of his own impending death: those memories taunt him with the inevitability of dying. In the third stanza, he attempts to prepare his fellow townsfolk for his own coming burial, but they heed him not (their faces are like apparitions in that they are figuratively “not there”) and they are so bored and unaffected by his dull self-inspired speech that he must ask them not to snore—his death may be significant to himself because it is his own life that will be lost, but life will go on for everyone else. The fourth stanza is a lamentation of a life about to be extinguished and outlines not only what he regrets but also what he has seen; he regrets not just the wastes of his own life but that of his entire generation. The fifth stanza stands in contrast as it remembers the more joyful aspects of that life, reconciles it to himself, and admits to actually “desiring” death as an exciting new change from the monotony of living, which by now, after so many decades, has been relatively perfected. The sixth and final stanza carries the reader with the speaker along on the metaphorical journey toward death and away from any foolish thought of immortality.

The purpose of this experiment was to pay tribute (in condensed form) to the 4th and 5th century Greek and Roman poetic form called the “cento,” which usually consisted of 100 lines of verse taken randomly one by one (or by half verses) and put together in a pastiche or collage fashion to form a whole.



[1] William Carlos Williams, “Death,” 295.

[2] Robert Frost, “Directive,” 224.

[3] Walt Whitman, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” 23.

[4] Emily Dickinson, “I felt a funeral in my brain,” 34.

[5] James Weldon Johnson, “O Black and Unknown Bards,” 173.

[6] Robert Frost, “Acquainted with the Night,” 217.

[7] Gertrude Stein, “A white hunter,” 182.

[8] Carl Sandburg, “Chicago,” 227.

[9] Wallace Stevens, “Domination of Black,” 243.

[10] Mina Loy, “The Widow’s Jazz,” 283.

[11] William Carlos Williams, “Tract,” 286.

[12] Ezra Pound, “In a Station of the Metro,” 351.

[13] T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” 463.

[14] Langston Hughes, “Morning After,” 696.

[15] Lorine Niedecker, “[What Horror to Awake at Night],” 718.

[16] Muriel Rukeyser, “Night Feeding,” 80.

[17] Allen Ginsberg, “Howl,” 337.

[18] Frank O’Hara, “The Day Lady Died,” 365.

[19] Walt Whitman, “From Song of Myself,” 4.

[20] Emily Dickinson, “I dwell in Possibility,” 38.

[21] Wallace Stevens, “The Motive for Metaphor,” 258.

[22] Mina Loy, “English Rose,” 280.

[23] William Carlos Williams, “Tract,” 288.

[24] Ezra Pound, “The Rest,” 351.

[25] T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” 463.

[26] Langston Hughes, “Theme for English B,” 702.

[27] Allen Ginsberg, “Last Night in Calcutta,” 354.

1 comment:

Ron said...

but these lines would hardly appear to be random