Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Word of the day: cento

A.Word.A.Day’s Word of the Day is cento:

noun : A literary work, especially a poem, composed of parts taken from works of other authors.
The cento is dear to readers of modern and postmodern poetry. From a page I gave my students earlier this fall, as we skipped lightly through T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land:
One way to enter into the spirit of Eliot’s mosaic-like poem is to make a cento, a poem made of lines from other poems. (Cento—pronounced “sen-toh”—comes from the Latin word for “patchwork.”) Making a cento is not a matter of plagiarism: the sources are meant to be recognized as such. A cento is not the way to make a reputation as a poet; it’s more a matter of game a poet might play, ranging among the works of ancestors and bringing unexpected tones and textures into a poem: “Come, Shepherd, and again renew the quest.” (!)
The preëminent cento-maker of our time is John Ashbery. Here are three of his centos: “The Dong with the Luminous Nose,” “They Knew What They Wanted,” and “To a Waterfowl.” The line above, from Matthew Arnold’s “The Scholar-Gipsy,” turns up in the first of these centos.

[Yes, centos: “Originally with Latin plural centones ; afterwards centoes , now usually centos  the French and Italian forms of the singular have also been used” (Oxford English Dictionary ).]

comments: 0