In Competition No. 3206, you were invited to supply a sonnet on the universe.
The late Frank Kermode reckoned that the sonnet form is just too easy — try a double sestina, if you’re after a challenge, he said — and comps such as this one certainly draw the crowds. A bumper crop of deftly wrought entries showed great wit and imagination, though some stumbled at that tricky final couplet. I was very much taken with several excellent twists on Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18: Joe Houlihan, John O’Byrne, Tim Raikes and Tony Harris take a bow. Others who shone brightly were Roy Ballard, Martin Parker, Nick MacKinnon, Frank Upton, Nick Syrett, Dorothy Pope, Matt Quinn and Richard Spencer.
The winners, printed below, are rewarded with £20 each.
The cosmos never featured in her life,
She’d read no scientific articles
Had Sitwell’s ‘Mrs Hague, the gardener’s wife’,
On space or subatomic particles;
The weekly round of chores was all her lot,
Days washing, baking, cooking and the rest,
Though, on the Sabbath, off to church she’d trot
With brooch and bible, dressed in Sunday best;
Fenced in was Mrs Hague’s small universe,
While stars wheeled overhead she’d spend her hours
On tasks she found sufficiently diverse,
Preparing fruits for jam or tending flowers.
The Universe for some might be profound
But Mrs Hague’s was rooted to the ground.
It’s everything there is, a whole bang shoot,
Caboodle, kit, your barrel, lock and stock,
The works, the boiling, right around the clock,
Your lot, but with the kitchen sink to boot,
Full English and an aggregate, a brute
So huge, size never matters; it’s en bloc,
It’s what it is, there is no propter hoc:
It is as real and marvelled at, as moot.
And that’s its business — what the cosmos is,
Or was, is never your concern. Its place
Is no place. It’s the bees’ knees, and the biz,
Around us all, refusing interface,
Defying Hawking, Sagan, every whizz
Who wonders what’s beyond the bounds of space.
When the Almighty formed the Universe
It was, to say the least, a Big Idea,
Which somewhat underwhelmed His wife, Ikea,
Who grudgingly demurred ‘Hm, could be worse’
But privately felt more inclined to curse
Her Husband’s hare-brained scheme; began to fear
His sanity. ‘Best not to interfere,’
She told herself. ‘Keep calm, stay risk-averse.’
The Project went ahead, complete with cock-ups.
Ikea had a flash of inspiration:
Intent on obviating further hiccups,
Announced, without a moment’s hesitation,
‘I want a Heaven too — don’t dare forget!’
The Almighty sighed, ‘It isn’t finished yet.’
I think I am in love with Isaac Newton,
his star shines brighter than the Milky Way;
though Blake depicted him without his suit on,
with or without, I’d have him any day.
We’d test the Big Bang theory out in space
and, drawn by universal gravitation,
’twixt galaxies and planets we’d embrace,
experiment with cosmic copulation.
Through interplanetary space, and rubble
suspended in a belt of asteroids,
we’d gravitate beyond the reach of Hubble
past superclusters, filaments and voids…
Alas, a solar-flame consumes my heart
while Ike and I remain light years apart.
We send our songs to galaxies beyond
The reach of rocket power. Our lonely race
Craves for companions in the depths of space
And hopes some clever beings will respond,
Inviting us to join a cosmic bond.
We’ve wandered on the moon’s forbidden face
And searched the rocks of Mars to seek some trace
Of lifelines when another age had dawned.
And all the while we hurtle ceaselessly
With Perseids and Megellanic mist
Into the universe’s silent soul.
A primal bang in our dark history
Or jest from some almighty humorist
Has put us on a course we can’t control.
So much, and all the words that knowledge finds
for galaxies, the whole cosmology,
the seen and unseen, beyond human minds —
uncounted stars, the genealogy
of superclusters, filaments and voids,
cosmic inflation, nebulae, the force
dark energy exerts, the laws employed
to grapple with expansion and its course.
Each has a role, however small — like dust,
decoupled photons wheeling through the dark,
from subatomic particles to trust
even a virus has some vital spark.
I stare into the edgeless dark of night,
a human dot, no bigger than a mite.
Let’s get this straight: there’s just one universe.
It’s in the name — it means ‘that’s all of it’.
No parallel ones — that would make it worse,
And when you chuck in time, it’s time to quit.
It seems the universe is infinite,
Its edges, therefore, won’t be seen from here.
No one will ever go faster than light,
And ‘dark matter’ just means ‘we’ve no idea’.
‘E = mc squared’, we’re often told
Though no one ever says what it might mean.
‘The Big Bang’s 13 billion years old.’
How do they know? Why not 9? Or 15?
Best to ignore this universal stuff!
We’ve not much time, and we have world enough.
No. 3209: take seven
You were invited to provide Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of a Tory MP. Please email entries of up 16 lines to firstname.lastname@example.org by midday on 21 July.
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