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Cosmic Poetry: 2017 Seatonian Prize

Winning the Divinity School Seatonian Prize is becoming something of a Pembroke habit.

Christopher Smart won it three times. Colin Wilcockson has won it three times, most recently in 2016 with his villanelles inspired by Smart’s Jubilate Agno. And now Professor Randall Johnson has won it for the second time with his cosmic take on the theme ‘O God, enfold me in the sun’.

Johnson’s poem is an intriguingly scientific response for a competition for the best English poem on a sacred subject, focusing more on the sun than on the divine. The poem is an astronomical exploration the birth and death of stars, and of the subsuming of planets by a dying sun.  The structure of this poem is unusual, too; it is a Pindaric Ode. Named for Pindar, a Greek lyrist of the 5th century BC, Pindaric odes use a three-part structure consisting of a strophe, antistrophe and epode , or statement, response, and summation.  This style of writing is another Pembroke link:  Thomas Gray also wrote Pindaric Odes such as The Bard and The Progress of Poesy.

The resulting poem is a three part history of the solar system, from the birth of the sun, to the creation of Earth, culminating in the reunification of earth and sun.  The three parts are titled Patris, Filii and Spiritus Sancti, to reflect the Holy Trinity.


God is existence, all else filled with naught

All space, vacuum, absence: all that is cold

But to take part, an omnipresent thought

A divine mass, an always moving fold.

God collects, and in gathering warms

Until collected mass creates the light

Sharply defeats cold; for a space and time

Within light dark stuff forms

And drifts out in gusty, abandoned flight

To new-thought planets, and potential rhyme.


Combining light breathes an involved new dust

Which gathers at a distant point, accretes

Silently. Growing, held by gravity’s trust

Binding the molecules small complex cheats.

Rebellious eddies form in the darkness

And reform themselves. First unfaithfully

And then with fidelity’s tireless lust

A creation careless

And without thought: it grows on needlessly

And fills its small sphere with a sinful crust.

Spiritus Sancti

A sun knows when it feels death, and grows out

To recapture its untoward children

with a slowly divine, releasing shout

of stardust. Cosmic consideration.

And now within the light all is captured

Amalgamated as the fire dies in

And left in the cupboard of widest space

So that matters mattered.

All that’s left without now enfolds within

The last light reveals a spot; a god’s trace.