My first word-cento was composed accidently. Spectrum Publishing was putting together a special Cento issue, back in 2019. At the time, I didn’t really know what a cento was, and mistakenly thought it was when you rearranged individual words of a poem rather than grabbing entire lines individually.
My word-cento which appeared in the Cento special issue, titled “Psémaopsis (ψέμαὄψις),” is a word-cento of William Cullen Bryant’s “Thanatopsis.” The title is a combination of the Greek word ψέμα meaning “untruth”/”lie” and ὄψις meaning “sight”/”view.” Bryant’s piece is meditation on death; mine’s is a meditation on a lie — particularly the lie that there’s an afterlife.
A cento of William Cullen
Embrace stern sympathy — shalt thou go
surrendering up phantom elements insensible?
Trace sharpness — Thy image, come
chase mirth! old, sad, pale form laid tears
under the long forever heaven train resting,
stretching a handful of all-beholding Nature: —
Spirit, bitter Communion, laugh forth Thy image!
Thy sick voice cold, like blight! of course, the
voice exist not, save his own reign he is aware —
Thy ere eternal realm that steals the living,
with a mild smile breathless, shroud rude retire
upon the couch of infinite meadows green,
All with One magnificent beauty. — With Thee,
thou thoughts wish to mix when destiny rolls. —
The hills exist not! The host, a lie
to sepulchre thee quarry-slave under vales of kings,
ancient patriarchs, mould ages old, nourished tribes
still unheeded by lapse of various language —
teachings no friend should breathe
and share in sound, without him
stretching narrow depths of desert lies;
continuous, each take summons, soothed
infants innumerable; drapery wraps the babe
at night, moves youth to pleasant dreams darker
than the old, gray-headed host. Their favorite
phantom — lie, share, breathe — chase away
thyself to sleep round rock-ribbed sluggish tomb;
insensible, without ground.
First published in Spectrum Publishing, Special Edition: Cento. October 26, 2019. Pasadena, CA. Available in-print.
Joshua Corwin, a Los Angeles native, is a neurodiverse, 2-time Pushcart Prize-nominated, Best of the Net-nominated poet and Winner of the 2021 Spillwords Press Award for Poetic Publication of Year. His poetry memoir Becoming Vulnerable (2020) details his experience with autism, addiction, sobriety and spirituality. His work has appeared in Winning Writers, The Somerville Times, Palisadian-Post, National Beat Poetry Foundation, Stanford University’s Life in Quarantine and more. He has lectured at UCLA, published alongside Lawrence Ferlinghetti and read with 2013 U.S. Inaugural Poet Richard Blanco. He hosts the poetry podcast “Assiduous Dust,” writes the weekly “Incentovise” column for Oddball Magazine and teaches poetry to neurodiverse individuals and autistic addicts in recovery at The Miracle Project, an autism nonprofit. Corwin is the editor and producer of Assiduous Dust: Home of the OTSCP, Vol. 1, featuring a collaboration with 36 award-winning poets demonstrating one of his invented forms of poetry. He is currently working on an existential novel about an alcoholic lawyer plagued with suicidal ideation.
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