The cento is a poetic form made up of lines from poems by other poets; the name comes from the Latin word for "patchwork." (The name is pronounced "sin-toe" in English, "chin-toe" in Italian, and "kin-toe" in Latin... Pick one!) Even though poets often borrow lines from other writers and mix them in with their own, a true cento is composed entirely of lines from other sources. Modern centos are often witty, creating irony or humor from the juxtaposition of images and ideas.

In the example on the right, the stanzas are lines originally written by Christina Rossetti, John Greenleaf Whittier, Sir Walter Scott, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

December Medley

In the bleak mid-winter,
Frosty wind made moan;
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone.

The sun that brief December day
Rose cheerless over hills of gray
And, darkly circled, gave at noon
A sadder sight than waning moon.

Heap on more wood! The wind is chill,
But let it whistle as it will,
We'll keep our Christmas merry still.

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play.
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Classical Cento



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