“A Pentecostal hair-do with a woman underneath looked in, copying down my scrawl with a tight grin”

~ by R. S. Gwynn

Our Dean of Something thought it would be good
For Learning (even better for P.R.)
To make the school ‘accessible to all’
And leased the bankrupt bookstore at the Mall
A few steps from Poquito’s Mexican Food
And Chocolate Chips Aweigh. So here we are–

Four housewives, several solemn student nurses,
Ms. Light– serious, heavy, and very dark–
Pete Fontenot, who teaches high-school shop
And is besides a part-time private cop
Who leaves his .38 among the purses,
And I, not quite as thin as Chaucer’s Clerk–

Met for our final class while Season’s Greetings
Echo subliminally with calls to buy
Whatever this year’s ads deem necessary
For Happiness and Joy. The Virgin Mary,
Set up outside to audit our last meetings,
Adores her infant with a glassy eye.

Descend, O Musak! Hail to thee, World Lit!
Hail, Epic (‘most of which was wrote in Greek’)
And hail three hours deep in Dante’s Hell
(The occupants of which no one could spell)–
As much as our tight schedule might admit
Of the Great Thoughts of Man– one thought per week.

I’ve lectured facing towards ‘The Esplanade’
Through plate-glass windows. Ah, what do I see?
Is that the face ‘that lunched a thousand ships’
Awash with pimples? Oh, those chocolate chips!
Ms. Light breaks in: ‘Will this be for a grade?’
It’s a good thing the students all face me.

One night near Halloween I filled the board
With notes on Faust. A Pentecostal hair-
Do with a woman underneath looked in,
Copying down my scrawl with a tight grin
That threatened she’d be back with flaming sword
To corner me and Satan in our lair.

Tonight, though, all is calm. They take their quiz
While I sit calculating if I’ve made
Enough to shop for presents. From my chair
I watch the Christmas window-shoppers stare
At what must seem a novelty, and is,
The Church of Reason in the Stalls of Trade–

Like the blond twins who press against the door,
Accompanied by footsore, pregnant Mummy,
Who tiredly spells out for them the reason
I am not price-tagged as befits the season,
Explaining what is sold in such a store
With nothing but this animated dummy

Who rises, takes the papers one by one
With warm assurances that all shall pass
Because ‘requirements have been met,’ because
I am an academic Santa Claus,
Because mild-mannered Pete’s strapped on his gun.
Ms. Light declared she has enjoyed the class:

‘They sure had thoughts, those old guys,’ she begins,
Then falters for the rest. And I agree
Because, for once, I’ve nothing left to say
And couldn’t put it better anyway.
I pack the tests, gather my grading pens,
And fumble in my jacket for the key,

With time to spend and promises to keep
And not one ‘hidden meaning’ in the tale,
Among those drifting schools of moon-eyed teens,
License and credit pulsing in their jeans,
Who circle, hungry for the choice and cheap–
Something of value, soon to go on sale.

“Forlorn! the very word is like a bell and somewhat of a sad perplexity”

~ 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”