~ by R. S. Gwynn
All human things are subject to decay.
Beauty is momentary in the mind.
The curfew tolls the knell of parting day.
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?
Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
And somewhat of a sad perplexity.
Here, take my picture, though I bid farewell.
In a dark time the eye begins to see.
The woods decay, the woods decay and fall —
Bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang.
What but design of darkness to appall?
An aged man is but a paltry thing.
If I should die think only this of me:
Crass casualty obstructs the sun and rain
When I have fears that I may cease to be,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain
And hear the spectral singing of the moon
And strictly meditate the thankless muse.
The world is too much with us, late and soon.
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze.
Do no go gentle into that good night.
Fame is no plant that grows on mortal soil.
Again he raised the jug up to the light:
Old age hath yet his honor and his toil.
Downward to darkness on extended wings,
Break, break, break, on thy cold, gray stones, O sea,
And tell sad stories of the death of kings.
I do not think that they will sing to me.
R. S. Gwynn has written the most allusive poem in history. Each repurposed pentameter line here is an allusion to — indeed a verbatim quote from — a classic poem. The authors here range from Shakespeare, Donne, and Dryden in the 1600s to Dylan Thomas, T. S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, and Theodore Roethke in the modernist era.
And all are artfully woven into a melancholic lamentation on mortality and mutability. Gwynn found that the nineteenth century poets of romanticism and high tragic sentiment (Shelley, Wordsworth, Keats, Tennyson, Hopkins, Hardy, and Yeats) were particularly suited to this theme; theirs is the greatest share of quotes.
R. S. Gwynn’s exact title for this work: APPROACHING A SIGNIFICANT BIRTHDAY, HE PERUSES THE NORTON ANTHOLOGY OF POETRY. A little unwieldly for my format here.
The Norton Anthology Of Poetry is an authoritative textbook comprising 1200 or so poems from many centuries of poetry in English, and it is considered essential to poetry studies in America. Gwynn collected all these “found” lines there in one place and then assembled them into a collage of rhymed quatrains.
The sources of each “sampling:”
Line 1: John Dryden, “Mac Flecknoe”
Line 2: Wallace Stevens, “Peter Quince At The Clavier”
Line 3: Thomas Gray, “Elegy Written In A Country Courtyard”
Line 4: Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Ode To The West Wind”
Line 5: John Keats, “Ode To A Nightingale”
Line 6: William Wordsworth, “Lines Composed A Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey”
Line 7: John Donne, “His Picture”
Line 8: Theodore Roethke, “In A Dark Time”
Line 9: Alfred Lord Tennyson, “Tithonus”
Line 10: William Shakespeare, “That Time of Year Thou May’st In Me Behold”
Line 11: Robert Frost, “Design”
Line 12: William Butler Yeats, “Sailing To Byzantium”
Line 13: Rupert Brooke, “The Soldier”
Line 14: Thomas Hardy, “Hap”
Line 15: John Keats, “When I Have Fears”
Line 16: John Keats, “Ode To A Nightingale”
Line 17: John Crowe Ransom, “Piazza Piece”
Line 18: John Milton, “Lycidas”
Line 19: William Wordsworth, “The World Is Too Much With Us”
Line 20: Gerard Manley Hopkins, “God’s Grandeur”
Line 21: Dylan Thomas, “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”
Line 22: John Milton, “Lycidas”
Line 23: Edward Arlington Robinson, “Mr. Flood’s Party”
Line 24: Alfred Lord Tennyson, “Ulysses”
Line 25: Wallace Stevens, “Sunday Morning”
Line 26: Alfred Lord Tennyson, “Break, Break”
Line 27: William Shakespeare, “Richard II”
Line 28: T. S. Eliot, “The Love Song Of Alfred J. Prufrock”