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Cento Wednesday and ‘Candles’

July 7, 2010

It’s been an age since I last did anything with the Cento Generator, but it’s still here on my computer, and over the last few days I’ve been taking renewed interest in it. I’ve fed it more raw material; it now contains almost 1,400 lines of pentameter, by dozens of poets from the Renaissance or so onwards. I’ve also added code to generate rubai’yat.

Now, for some poetry.

There are no fortunes to be told, although,
There must be reasons why the leaves decay.
Mighty and dreadful (for thou art not so),
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

For the ends of Being and ideal Grace,
Rationalists are growing rational;
‘Tis late to ask abundance of thy grace:
Even today your royal head may fall.

A saint, an angel; every canvas means
He would not stay for me, and who would wonder?
Born but to die, and reas’ning but to err,
I shook his hand, and tore my heart in sunder.

You only saw your future bigly planned,
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
An unintelligible multitude,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs –
And no, they did not die from solitude.

The last line of that cinquain is from Don Paterson’s Two Trees, and sounds quite different in its original context. Here, given the accusatory tone of l.1 and the fragments of war poem showing through in l.2 and 4, it becomes darkly sarcastic and outright chilling.

This week’s long poem is a villanelle heavily featuring George Meredith – specifically, his sonnets Lucifer in Starlight and the opening poem of his sequence Modern Love. It takes its title from the rather wonderful coincidence of candles appearing in both l.5 and 10.


Each wishing for the sword that severs all,
On a starred night Prince Lucifer uprose;
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall.

Created half to rise, and half to fall,
But those the candles light are not as those
Each wishing for the sword that severs all.

I write of Hell; I sing (and ever shall)
Where sinners hugged their spectre of repose;
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall.

What candles may be held to speed them all
But keep a marble or a bronze repose?
Each wishing for the sword that severs all.

The strangest whim has seized me … After all
He knows about it all – He knows – HE knows
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall.

The mass and majesty of this world, all
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes;
Each wishing for the sword that severs all,
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 9, 2010 3:19 pm

    I think the first is my favourite of the extracts, though they’re all good. Number 2 makes a shocking amount of sense.

    ‘Candles’ is great, too. The villanelle seems to have a better hit rate than any of the other forms in the Generator; something about the repeating refrains helps to keep a theme running throughout, it appears.

  2. July 9, 2010 4:05 pm

    I think the heavily refrained forms do tend to hold together better. I’ve had a couple of decent ballades as well. Ooh, that’s given me an idea; I wonder if I can teach it to do rondeau redoublé? I bet I can. (That’s this evening’s task, then.)

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