Thursday, November 20, 2008

Finally, Cento Winners

This contest has been the hardest to judge so far, of all the contests I've done. Who knew it would be this difficult? But such a fierce beauty can be drawn from a careful selection and condensation of the words of others. More than one of these poems made me catch my breath -- feeling, in Emily Dickenson's phrase, as though the top of my head had been taken off. Well done, everyone.

First Place

In Evening Air
by Dylan, from Roethke

Under a southern wind,
Hidden in my own heart,
My lady laughs, delighting in what is.

A suddenness of trees
Turned by revolving air:
You will find no comfort here.
All waters waver, and all fires fail.

The dark heart of some ancient thing
And the sheen of ravens:
Flutter of wings and seeds quaking --
Such stretchings of the spirit make no sound
(I'm martyr to a motion not my own).

Once I transcended time
And came to a dark ravine --
Our small souls hid from their small agonies.

I receive! I have been received!
What speech abides?
How high is have?
The dew draws near
And loves the living ground.

What do they tell us, sound and silence?
The bushes and the stones danced on and on;
I walk as if my face would kiss the wind.

* * *

First place is just lovely. It suggests so much. That's the neat thing about centos -- they force you to suggest rather than say. I only wish I knew more of the source poems. I'll have to seek them out. That last line, especially -- it's pure gold.

This describes, by the way, pretty exactly what I felt the day I was engaged. I walked as if my face would kiss the wind.

* * *

Second Place

by Enbrethiliel, from Chesterton

A child sits in a sunny place
Pure as white lilies in a watery space
Laughing everlastingly
The joy without a cause
Holding his head up for a flag of all the free
Between us and the sea

Though earth be filled with waters dark
Hark! Laughter like a lion wakes!
For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen
Surely, friends, I might have guessed
God made the sun to crown his head
The Christ-child stood at Mary's knee
Aflame with faith, and free

* * *

Ah, she knew I was a sucker for Chesterton. But she picked the lines so carefully, it's like a long, sweet laugh that Chesterton might laugh on Christmas morning. You have to breathe Chesterton to condense him so well.

* * *

Third Place

The Return
by Meredith, from Hopkins

I will appear, looking such charity,
It will flame out like shining from shook foil.
Yes I can tell such a key, I do know such a place,
Where springs not fail.
Or ancient mounds that cover bones
Spring, that but now were shut
To the stars, lovely-asunder.

I did say yes
With the sea-romp over the wreck,
And find the uncreated light.
And I have asked to be
Lower than death and the dark,
An ark for the listener, for the lingerer,
For him who ever thought with love of me.

* * *

Again, another poet I can't resist. Is it Christ that speaks now? I do believe it is ... and how clever, to turn the words around from a human speaker to Christ! Who, of course, asked to be lower, so that he might come down to those who love him. This is what a cento ought to be -- a rearranging of the original words to mean something quite new.

* * *

Honorable Mentions

The Penguin Book of the Sonnet
by Dylan

Our spirits grew as we went side by side
Listening to Schubert, grievous and sublime.
Her voice was like the sound of blended flutes
And signified the sureness of the soul.

I had forgot wide fields and clear brown streams;
Breathless, we flung us on the windy hill
To give us comfort through the lonely dark
Calm night, the everlasting and the same.

Fair as the moon and joyful as the light,
Your hands lay open in the long fresh grass.
I marked with flowers the minutes of my day:

One little noise of life remained -- I heard
The very shadow of an insect's wing
Enshaded in forgetfulness divine.

* * *

Mmm ... Dylan seems to be a master of this form. I really, really like his centos. The subject here reminds me of Donne's "The Ecstasy," while being less over-the-top and more real, grounded in the visible (which, of course, is always a hint to the invisible).

* * *

by David S.

Be adored among men,
O loving Pelican, O Jesus Lord!
Wring thy rebel, dogged in den;
Unclean I am, but cleanse me in Thy Blood!

But oh, I've a wish in my soul, dear love,
Beyond saying sweet, past telling of tongue,
That I might wash free of my sins, dear love;
Father and fondler of heart, thou hast wrung.

By the pool that I see in my dreams, dear love,
There, motionless and happy in my pain,
(And the pool, it is silvery bright, dear love,
Of which a single drop, for sinners spilt,
Can purge the whole world from all its guilt)
There will I sing my sad, perpetual strain.

There will I sing my absent Lord and Love -
O wisest love! That flesh and blood! -
That sooner I may rise, and go above -
Numquam draco sit mihi dux
Crux semper sit mihi lux -
O loving wisdom of our God!

* * *

More Hopkins, hooray! But also some great saints. Saints should never be left out, when it comes to making poetry. They know what they're doing. I think my favorite touch in this poem is how the pool turns out to be a pool of Christ's blood. A little surprise, and a thrilling one.


dylan said...

I thank you, Sheila, and I'm sure that Theodore Roethke thanks you!

The line that you especially admire, "I walk as if my face would kiss the wind," comes from Roethke's poem "The Renewal."

Your contests are great fun! Thank you for the opportunity to participate in them!

Meredith said...

Wow, Dylan's Roethke one is *intense!*

(random note: the word verification beneath my comment said "prockle". I found this absurdly amusing. What is a prockle?)

dylan said...


Below are listed some of the source poems for my Roethke cento:

"Under a southern wind" -- Words for the Wind

"My lady laughs, delighting in what is" -- She

"All waters waver, and all fires fail" -- The Sequel

"Flutter of wings and seeds quaking" -- Light Poem

"I'm martyr to a motion not my own" -- I Knew A Woman

"Once I transcended time" -- In Evening Air

"Our small souls hid from their small agonies" -- The Tranced

"I receive! I have been received!" -- The Abyss

"What speech abides?" -- The Abyss

"How high is have?" -- Where Knock Is Open Wide

"The dew draws near" -- His Foreboding

"And loves the living ground" -- Light Listened

"The bushes and the stones danced on and on" -- The Dream

"I walk as if my face would kiss the wind" -- The Renewal

Hope you enjoy the poems from which these lines came!

Sheila said...

Oh, thank you! I may end up posting some of these. The only one I recognized was "I'm martyr to a motion not my own." I really like that poem -- especially the lines:

"Or English poets raised on Greek
(I'd have them sing in chorus, cheek to cheek)."

It makes me laugh every time.

Enbrethiliel said...


Thank you so much, Sheila! =)

Will there be another contest soon?

Warren said...

I feel unworthy to hang out with people as cool as you guys. Centos. First I had to learn what that was.
Kind of Refritos made with yummy bits of poetry by GKC and GMH. How cool is that.

You guys are just great. Great poetry. Great blog.


Sheila said...

Hm, another contest? I hope before too long. First, I have to come up with a category of poetry to try. Perhaps the villanelle? Those are insanely difficult, but rather fun when you manage them. (An example is "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night," by Dylan Thomas.)