Cento (of the sea)

A Cento is a poem made up entirely of lines and passages from other works, arranged in an order to mean something completely different. Here is a Cento comprised of a little bit of everything from Spike Milligan to Sylvia Plath. Enjoy! Let me know what you think.


It’s always ourselves we find in the sea,
The green waves foam and thrust and slide,
the sea was wet as wet could be,
all my dreams come back to me.

It’s really best that tides come in
(The water soon came in, it did).
It looked so pitiful and sad,
despite this careful scrutiny.

Deeds cannot dream what dreams can do
No birds were flying overhead –
They “noticed” me-they noticed me
made of pumpkins and pelican glue.

A secret, kept from all the rest
(I never could talk to you)
Of pygmies, palms and pirates,
said the Duck to the Kangaroo.

There was an old man in a boat,
and as in uffish thought he stood,
they danced by the light of the moon.
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
I only sing the tunes.

4 thoughts on “Cento (of the sea)

  1. Angela

    This is simply wonderful, John. You’ve given me an idea for next year’s English class with my high school students. Could it work with fewer poets, perhaps gleaning lines and phrases from the work of one or two? We’re doing Emily Dickinson and Phyllis Wheatley for American Lit. I’d much rather give them a Cento to write than an academic paper. . . it’s be more meaningful, I think.

    1. John S Post author

      It could work, Angela. I think you’d need to provide a number of different poems from each poet to provide plenty of subject tangents for your students to create the Cento. The earliest Centos were made entirely from Homer or Virgil writings. So, I think it can be done.

      1. Angela

        My thought is to have a collection of both poet’s work, so there would be quite a few to choose from as students do their own exploration. I’m just now planning the course, but would you mind if I check back with you a little later as to how to go about guiding them through something like this?
        Thanks so much, John. Cheers!

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