Read To Me – Day Nineteen

The Dong With the Luminous Nose
(a cento), by John Ashbery

Within a windowed niche of that high hall
I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day.
I shall rush out as I am, and walk the street
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks
From camp to camp, through the foul womb of night.
Come, Shepherd, and again renew the quest.
And birds sit brooding in the snow.

Continuous as the stars that shine,
When all men were asleep the snow came flying
Near where the dirty Thames does flow
Through caverns measureless to man,
Where thou shalt see the red-gilled fishes leap
And a lovely Monkey with lollipop paws
Where the remote Bermudas ride.

Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me:
This is the cock that crowed in the morn.
Who’ll be the parson?
Beppo! That beard of yours becomes you not!
A gentle answer did the old Man make:
Farewell, ungrateful traitor,
Bright as a seedsman’s packet
Where the quiet-coloured end of evening smiles.


This is an excerpt from John Ashbery’s lengthy cento, which put to reuse an array of disparate works from nursery rhymes, Shakespeare, Eliot, Wordsworth, etc. The title comes from a poem written by Edward Lear, which I’ve read and I’ll admit that I am still not certain what a Dong is. Yes, I’m embarassed by my lack of insight.

However, it is the cento on which my focus lies today — an amazing form that never ceases to please and frustrate and challenge me. When you get the chance, I highly recommend reading Ashbery’s cento in its entirety, as well as the original piece from which the title has been borrowed. Enjoy.

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