Cento From Frost

11 May

Good day to my regular readers. As promised this extra post is both a response to We Write Poems prompt and an example of a cento if you need one for yourselves. I had to do some tweaking to bring the point of view in line so it is all third person and I had to change one word and some tenses. Otherwise this is Frost restitched [thank you, Linda, for the metaphor].

In All But Words

The questions that he frames in all but words
will run as hushed as when they were a thought;
seeking with memories grown dim overnight
they cannot scare him with their empty spaces.

Extremes too hard to comprehend at once
the questions that he frames in all but words;
they fall, they rip the grass, they intersect,
they must go downward past things coming up

be swallowed up in leaves that blow away,
yet nothing he should care to leave behind,
the questions that he frames in all but words
to scare himself with his own desert places.

Yet knowing way leads on to way
to every thing on earth the compass round
he let them lie there til he hoped they slept
the questions that he framed in all but words.

with apologies to Robert Frost for any tweaking I had to do.

Lines from:

“A Considerable Speck”
“A Dream Pang”
“A Soldier”
“Desert Places”
“In Hardwood Groves”
“The Armful”
“The Line-Gang”
“The Oven Bird”
“The Road Not Taken”
“The Silken Tent”

Remember to visit We Write Poems to see other examples of centos.


Posted by on 11/05/2011 in exercises, poetry, writing


Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

34 responses to “Cento From Frost

  1. Annette

    11/05/2011 at 11:20 am

    Ohhhhhh, I get it now. More tweaking allowed than I allowed myself. I think I’ll go back and play some more with mine. πŸ™‚

    • margo roby

      11/05/2011 at 11:25 am

      Absolutely, Annette. With the cummings poem which I wrote a few weeks ago, I added several words of my own, so play away πŸ™‚

  2. pamelasayers

    11/05/2011 at 12:54 pm

    Margo, you certainly turned this into your own. I love the results of the finely stitched together lines. So, in a cento it
    is permitted to add words if needed? I didn’t realize that.
    I always learn something when I visit you πŸ™‚ I like that.


  3. margo roby

    11/05/2011 at 1:10 pm

    Why thank you, Pamela πŸ™‚ And, yes,you are certainly allowed. Remember: The overriding rule in writing poetry is: Break the rules.

    • Sharp Little Pencil

      11/05/2011 at 1:17 pm

      Margo, I’m not so sure, and sorry if I’m crossing the line here, but a cento is defined as a poetical work wholly composed of verses or passages taken from other authors; only disposed in a new form or order.

      I don’t think “tweaking” is “allowed,” but if you are a rebel and it works for you, I’m not going to judge. Just wanted to add that caveat, and I hope you are not offended! Certain folks in the poetry world take forms quite seriously, which is why I mostly publish free verse, ha ha ha!! I hate rules! With best intentions and good vibes, Amy Barlow Liberatore

  4. Sharp Little Pencil

    11/05/2011 at 1:11 pm

    The repeated line, “the questions that he frames in all but words,” very effective. I’m not sure of the ins and outs, the absolute “rules” of centos, but I do know this, when read aloud, is gorgeous. I love Frost; he was a friend of my Uncle Joe in their later years…
    Glad I found your blog through VVWP! Amy Barlow Liberatore

  5. margo roby

    11/05/2011 at 1:15 pm

    I’m glad you found my blog too, Amy. I have been following yours for a while, thanks to Poets United. I noticed you stepped out of your zone to try the cento. I hope you enjoyed the venture.
    And, as I learned from my mentor: there are no absolute rules. There are rules, but if the writing requires it, you break them.
    And, I envy your Uncle. Frost has been my favourite poet for 45 years.

  6. margo roby

    11/05/2011 at 1:28 pm

    Interesting, Amy. Thank God my mentor, an internationally published author, taught me what he did. There will always be purists but I’ll ally myself along the lines of the rebels and their belief that the truth of the poem is more important than the form. And I have quite a pantheon who agree: Blake, Keats…in fact, most of the Romantics. Even Frost. Most good writers put the truth their writing conveys first.
    You haven’t crossed any lines, and of course I don’t mind.

  7. Kristin Brænne

    11/05/2011 at 1:37 pm


  8. Elizabeth J

    11/05/2011 at 1:38 pm

    Enjoyed this cento. Put together beautifully!

  9. Mary

    11/05/2011 at 2:08 pm

    Margo, a very well done Cento, with good choices of lines to ‘play with.’. I also liked the repetition of the line. It drove home the point well.

    • margo roby

      11/05/2011 at 2:22 pm

      Thanks, Mary. I enjoy repetition. It’s why I enjoy writing pantoums.

  10. b_y

    11/05/2011 at 7:21 pm

    Really like the way the questions line cascades down the poem. I enjoy playing with cento, but don’t really get much sense into them. You do, though.

    • margo roby

      11/05/2011 at 9:38 pm

      Thank you, Barbara. I enjoyed your playing with them. And I just read your about page and loved it.

  11. 1sojournal

    11/05/2011 at 7:38 pm

    Being a rebel, at heart, I thouroughly enjoy breaking rules. My mentor, a foremost Whitman scholar always told me to go with the truth, the light within the poem. I liked doing this first cento, and knew I was breaking rules while doing so. Thanks for your opinion. I also enjoyed what you did with these lines from Frost. I even found some that were familiar. You paint a wonderful tapestry,

    PS I got something in the mail today but have been running too much to take a look. Saving it for a quiet moment, whenever that might happen. Thanks.

    • margo roby

      11/05/2011 at 9:32 pm

      I enjoy breaking them too. My favourites of the older poets [i.e. the Romantics] were my favourites because they liked to break the rules while still using the form. My mentor and yours come from the same school of thought. Thank you for your own comments and for letting me know about the arrival. I shall think of you at the quiet moment. Enjoy.

  12. vivinfrance

    12/05/2011 at 2:43 am

    Margo, I am breathless with admiration. B….r the rules:
    what you have made is a perfect standalone poem. I’ve read it aloud a couple of times, and form and content are hand in glove. Yippee.

  13. Yousei Hime

    12/05/2011 at 7:55 am

    Frost! Bravo!! I love his writing, and you wove the lines so well. Nothing felt forced. Very nice.

    • margo roby

      12/05/2011 at 8:08 am

      Thank you, Yousei. I appreciate your comment.

    • Yousei Hime

      12/05/2011 at 8:28 am

      I think your re-use of the “The questions that he frames in all but words” line really strengthened the theme and flow. It certainly made it feel less stitched and more written. Thanks for your visit. I’ll be stopping by. Count on it. πŸ™‚

  14. margo roby

    12/05/2011 at 8:05 am

    Wish you could see my smile, Viv. I couldn’t agree more about the rules. Bless you for noticing the form and content. I say yippee to that. And to your reading the poem aloud.

  15. Linda Hofke

    12/05/2011 at 8:26 am

    Nice one, Margo. I love centos, love Frost…oh, what the heck–I love you! Ok…there. I said it πŸ™‚

    Glad to give you the metaphor. I’ve been working it into a poem but haven’t had time to give it proper attention as I prepare for my in-laws visit. Four weeks with an almost 80 year old with dementia and a 74 year old with physical issues. Love them dearly but it is a bit of work. But who know…maybe I’ll get a few good poems from it. (as well as the usual perks–love and attention) πŸ™‚

  16. margo roby

    12/05/2011 at 8:32 am

    Ohhhhh! You gave me a great laugh. What a lovely way to start my day. I love you too!
    The visit will be exhausting so store your energy and remember to schedule you time, even if only a few minutes.
    If all you can do is scratch out a poem, do send it my way so I can see what you come up with. πŸ™‚

  17. Mr. Walker

    12/05/2011 at 9:16 am

    Margo, this is beautifully constructed. With those stanzas and line lengths, I would not have known it is a cento. And it carries a flow of thoughts throughout the whole poem – impressive.


    • margo roby

      12/05/2011 at 10:46 am

      Coming from you I am honoured. Thank you, Richard. I enjoyed being able to read your poem in its original form and as a cento by Elizabeth.

  18. Linda Hofke

    12/05/2011 at 9:41 am

    You know me. I like to make people smile, but I love to make people laugh.

    Mr. Walker is correct. I wouldn’t have known this was a cento either.

    Any plans on a future chapbook?

  19. ravenswingpoetry

    16/05/2011 at 9:15 am

    Your migrating, repeated line (“the questions that he framed in all but words”) works well and ties the whole poem together. I also did a bit of tweaking myself, but I think whether it matters depends on your take on the form, and what you wish to accomplish. And yours was very nicely done. πŸ™‚


  20. margo roby

    16/05/2011 at 10:15 am

    Thank you, Nicole. After all the backing and forthing in the comments, I am going to write to my definitive fount of poetry knowledge for his opinion on cento tweaking. His answer to “Can I…?” is always “Of course!” but with this one I’ll double-check πŸ™‚

  21. neil reid

    16/05/2011 at 9:49 pm

    (Wagging the tail… ) Beautifully, tightly expressed. Builds upon itself, word by word, line by line, a continuous thread. Hats off to you. Neat trick to do this well.

    (at some risk of being an ol’poo bear… )
    Myself, I take a cento poem as being unaltered source. Funny from me being so happily willing everywhere else to deliberately break and ignore the “rules”. But I understand the desire to smooth. Probably it bothers me less, don’t mind rough edges, with my taste for the abstract often times. Not however like I’m going to say “stop, you’re breaking the rules”. Not likely that!

    And by any measure I like your poem very much!

  22. margo roby

    16/05/2011 at 10:03 pm

    Thank you, Neil. It is interesting, coming from a rule-breaker like you πŸ™‚

    Do you take the position as that’s what is expected of a cento, that’s the point, that one puts the lines together and makes them work unaltered, or is it the playing with someone else’s material? I really am curious, as I need to find an answer for myself with regards to this form which is new to me.

    I respect your opinion and am now doubly curious as to how my mentor will answer.

    • neil reid

      17/05/2011 at 1:02 am

      Well opinion it is then! (cause that’s all I got)

      I had to really think. Are there any poem forms that I obey? Just the cento, just that one! Why? For both reasons you suggested. Because that’s how it was first presented to me (and I accepted that) and yes, out of some sense of respect for the other writer (leaving what they did intact), just the rearrangement is all (not counting punctuation, just cause). (Add in capitalization too.) But I don’t change the words.

      Understand, I regard cento poems primarily as “exercise” poems, as a way to more deeply enter into another’s style and poetic phrasing/vocabulary.

      I don’t (just saying for me) regard them as “mine”, rather as a learning and appreciative process. Don’t think of them as something I’d “publish” either, but then publishing (in print) is not something I take seriously (and a whole other topic in itself).

      Not saying “fair”, however neither am I the poem police! πŸ™‚ People will do what they want; they already do, but that’s my personal rule in this regard. And if such literal transcription makes some rough edges, well so be it then. In a cento I’m not trying to emulate another’s style, only use their words like seeds, like I said. Free form in composition, that’s the part I take as mine as I always do.

      I see “forms” enough to make my head swim. Suppose I’d say if that’s what you want to do, then yes, follow the rules. But then my solution is simple – I don’t. (No right wrong, just my choice.) Crossword puzzles make my head hurt. I’m just a dumb old poem bear although I take what I do seriously and with intention to write in ways with meaning about this life we share. (That’s my one rule.) πŸ™‚ Opinions are so easy to do! And just as valueless!!

  23. margo roby

    17/05/2011 at 10:36 am

    I feel I should apologise for making you really think! But I thank you for doing so. What you say makes sense, especially if viewing the cento as an exercise in style. Plus, if it’s not for publication, why change anything, [other than punctuation and capitals]?

    I realised I was holding stubborn on this because of a poem I wrote a few weeks ago using parts of cummings’ first lines. I like the poem. But it isn’t a cento and I incorporated the lines with my own words [wonder how publishers feel about that–more questions for my mentor].

    I am free-verse as a rule but do love playing with form, so long as it’s every now and then. Having said that, the pantoum is my go to form and I’ll run my free verse quickly through pantoum possibility.

    And, fortunately or unfortunately, I am still in the publishing game.

    Dumb, huh? Like a fox. Don’t sell your opinion short, poem bear! Thank you πŸ™‚


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