As I continue this month with NaNoWriMo, I find myself scratching together words and ideas from wherever I can scrounge them in my brain and elsewhere. Maybe that’s why I decided to dredge this subject/poem up from the depths of my backlog. The stitching together of existing scraps of literary cloth, and the stewing together of varied novel ingredients, have a lot to do with building meaning out of past encounters and experience.

Truthspeaking is a core aspect of storytelling and lifting our audiences. This is a large part of the artist’s portion of the communication that happens between them and their audience. Likewise, “halfbuilding” and meeting the artist partway is a large part of the audience’s portion. Reading and listening and viewing are not passive activities. Sometimes, they involve work and close attention. This building of halves, as we accumulate experience and apply unique perspectives, creates meaning. The more we know and apply, the more the subject means to us.

I don’t know a whole lot about opera, but there are parts that I look forward to hearing when I re-listen to them. I mean, who doesn’t love Ride of the Valkyries, the epic opening of Act 3 of Wagner’s Die Walküre? (Yes, I had to look up the specifics.) I love going to art museums, yet, when I visit galleries with friends who are better versed in art, I get the distinct impression that I’m missing out on the whole experience. They are more aware of the techniques and details involved, and more impressed by the talent and artistry displayed. I would argue that no one enjoys music quite as much as other musicians. Artists are particularly attuned to excellence in artistic presentation, so readers and writers are equipped to enjoy literature more and more with every poem and story they encounter.

This week’s poem is a variety called a cento. Put simply, a cento is a conglomeration of incongruous parts (that was simple, right?) — a collage poem composed entirely of other people’s words and lines. Now, before you accuse me of plagiarism, hear me out: The following is a pastiche of 63 of my favorite quotes from 38 poems by 19 poets, but I have combined these elements and ingredients to make something new (and cited my sources.) I have changed the line breaks and spliced together lines to make new meanings. As you read, I expect you’ll encounter lines and phrases that you have seen before, but what feels new? And what new half can you bring to the (web)page as you read?




Of Modern Poetry: A Cento

“After the leaves have fallen, we return to a plain sense of things 1

This is where the serpent lives, the bodiless.2

(The Word in the desert is most attacked by voices of temptation. 3)

This is his poison: that we should disbelieve 4
A tune upon the blue guitar of things exactly as they are. 5
(Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you join the dance? 6)

Because I could not stop for Death – He kindly stopped for me – 7
But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep. 8
I must lie down where all the ladders start, in the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart. 9

Last year’s words belong to last year’s language, and next year’s words await another voice. 10
To change your language you must change your life; 11
For if you close your ears only nothing happens. 12
Poetry makes nothing happen; 13
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’ 14
That was a way of putting it – not very satisfactory- 15
But later your vision watched for men and women
Hiding in burrows of fate amid great cities 16

Unhappy people in an unhappy world; 17
People change, and smile: but the agony abides: 18
The poem of the mind in the act of finding what will suffice. 19
The end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started…

And know the place for the first time. 20
You are here to kneel where prayer has been valid.

And prayer is more than an order of words,

the conscious occupation of the praying mind,

or the sound of the voice praying. 21
It’s not like talking, so it must be poetry. 22
A poet is not a jukebox for someone to shove a quarter in his ear

and get the tune they want to hear. 23
That music is intensest which proclaims the near, the clear, and vaunts the clearest bloom. 24

I have walked and prayed for this young child an hour; 25
Surely some revelation is at hand: 26
The ABC of being 27  happy people in a happy world. 28
The world is charged with the grandeur of God. 29 (He knelt, he wept, he prayed) 30
Hardly are those words out when a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi troubles my sight 31:
A happy people in an unhappy world. 32
There must be always a time of innocence. 33
It is white, as by a custom or according to an ancestral theme

or as a consequence of an infinite course. 34
And what was far grows near, and what is near grows more dear, 35
What might have been and what has been point to one end, which is always present. 36
Love is most nearly itself when here and now cease to matter. 37

(I knew a woman, lovely in her bones; 38 never again would birds’ song be the same.) 39
The old book I finished reading I’ve since read again and again. 40
(A word after a word after a word is power.) 41
When I looked up from the noon-lit page, I saw a vision
of a world about to come, and a world about to go. 42
It may come tomorrow in the simplest word, almost as part of innocence, almost,
Almost as the tenderest and the truest part 43  of things that would never be quite expressed. 44
The poetry does not matter. It was not (to start again) what one had expected. 45
Each venture is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabbý equipment always deteriorating. 46
We do not admire what we cannot understand. 47
Pure? What does it mean? 48  We do not say ourselves like that in poems. 49
(A poet is not a jukebox, so don’t tell me what to write. 50

I have known the inexorable sadness of pencils 51

l will show you fear in a handful of dust 52)
Here’s the gist of what they mean: 53
A poet writes about what he feels, what agitates his heart and sets his pen in motion, 54
Trying to learn to use words, and every attempt is a wholly new start,

And a different kind of failure. 55
He leaps from heaven to heaven more rapidly than bad angels leap from heaven to hell in flames. 56
Me, myself in the summer heaven godlike 57
I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference. 58
There is yet faith 59 (It is like a thing of ether that exists, almost as predicate.

But it exists, it exists, it is visible, it is, it is.) 60

But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting; 61
Looking for the souls of them to come out, so that you could see how they lived, and for what,
And why they kept crawling so busily along 62 two roads; diverged in a yellow wood.” 63


WRGilmour (1998/2020)


1) Wallace Stevens, “The Plain Sense of Things”
2, 4, 17, 28, 32, 33, 34, 43, 56, 60) Wallace Stevens,”The Auroras of Autumn”
3, 36).S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton”
5) Wallace Stevens, “The Man With The Blue Guitar
6) Lewis Carroll, “Will You Walk a Little Faster”
7) Emily Dickinson, “Because I Could Not Stop For Death”
8) Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”
9) W.B. Yeats, “The Circus Animals’ Desertion”
10, 20, 21) T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”
11) Derek Walcott, “Codicil”
12) Michael Ondaatje, “To a Sad Daughter”
13) W.H. Auden, “In Memory of W.B. Yeats.”

14) Robert Frost, “Mending Wall”
15, 37, 45, 46, 55, 59, 61), T.S. Eliot, “East Coker”
16, 62) Edgar Lee Masters, “Theodore the Poet”

18) T.S. Eliot, “The Dry Salvages”
19) Wallace Stevens, “Of Modern Poetry

22) Marilyn Hacker, “Feeling and Form
23, 50, 54) Dudley Randall, “A Poet Is Not A Jukebox
24) Wallace Stevens, “To the One of Fictive Music”
25) W.B. Yeats, “A Prayer for My Daughter
26, 31) W.B. Yeats, “The Second Coming
27, 44) Wallace Stevens, “The Motive For Metaphor”

29) Gerard Manley Hopkins, “God’s Grandeur”
30) Dylan Thomas, “A Winter’s Tale”

35, 40, 42) Li-Young Lee, “Visions and Interpretations”
38) Theodore Roethke, “I Knew A Woman”
39) Robert Frost, “Never Again Would Birds Song Be The Same”

41) Margaret Atwood, “Spelling”
47) Marianne Moore, “Poetry”
48) Sylvia Plath, “Fever 103°”
49) Wallace Stevens, “The Creations of Sound”
51)Theodore Roethke, “Dolor
52) T.S. Eliot, “The Waste Land
53) W.B. Yeats, “Under Ben Bulben”

57)Robert Frost, “For Once, Then Something
58, 63) Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken”

Read WR’s Poetry Blog from the beginning!

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