Wednesday 20 February 2013


Just when you think the BBC's massive sense of its own importance and sheer wonderfulness couldn't get any more massive, along comes the latest jaw-droppingly self-congratulatory trailer for the supposed wonders of BBC2's output. Watch it here, if you can stand it...The verbal content of this shameless waste of licence fee payers' money might sound to the casual listener like so much windy 'inspirational' verbiage in the spirit of the Olympics opening ceremony - and a crime against John Keats and various other poets - but it is of some formal interest as a rare modern example of the verse form known as a cento. This is a patchwork of very short unrelated fragments from the works of one or more poets, stitched together into some kind of whole. At one time centos were often assembled from fragments of Virgil, sometimes to demonstrate the poet's unwitting foreshadowing of the Gospel story. The content of the BBC2 cento, stitched by one Alison Chisolm, is detailed here. Poor old Walter Savage Landor contributes two words of Alison Chisolm's 13, and Arthur O'Shaughnessy is, er, generously represented. But let us return to Keats and remind ourselves of that great sonnet - great enough to shrug off whatever violence is done to it...

On First Looking into Chapman's Homer

Much have I traveled in the realms of gold
    And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
    Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
    That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;
    Yet never did I breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
    When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
    He stared at the Pacific—and all his men
Looked at each other with a wild surmise—
    Silent, upon a peak in Darien.


  1. Slightly off message Nige, but I can't read this masterful sonnet without thinking of the great creation of Brian O'Nolan (Myles na gCopaleen) in the Irish Times, Keats and Chapman, an ongoing joke-format of mad shaggy-dog story concluding with mad pun. If you don't know it, can I urge you to order 'The Best of Myles' without further delay. You will thank me.

  2. Oh yes - me too, Susan! I love those stories - in fact I think there's one on Nigeness somewhere... Ah yes - here...

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