Cosmic Maelstrom

I was doing some end-of-the-year housecleaning on my computer, and stumbled across this poem — an unrhymed sonnet on symmetry breaking in the early universe. (Always aiming at the least common denominator, what can I say?)

I have no misconceptions about my poetic abilities, which is no doubt why it sat privately on my hard drive for so long. But it’s the holidays, so here you go.

The cosmic maelstrom boiled bright and fierce,
A thousand fields did gambol nearly free.
Momentum was exchanged so high and hot
That couplings did asymptote to nil.
Amidst the glue and bosons ‘lectroweak
There stood our pensive scalar doublet, Phi
Surveying a potential all about
Like Buridan’s ass, secured by symmetry.
A longing pulled these spineless complex fields,
To rest where energy was minimized.
But held by finite temperature effects,
The quarks and leptons bound symmetric state.
Yet nothing perfect lasts through cosmic time,
The universe expands, illusion breaks.

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20 Responses to Cosmic Maelstrom

  1. Pete says:

    It may not rhyme but the Force is strong with this one.

  2. Avattoir says:

    Day job: stick with it. Like anything else, poetry takes a lot of effort and study over a long period of … time. OTOH, you’re already almost past peotry [sic] … almost.

  3. James Gallagher says:

    As Dirac said, poetry says simple things we already know in a confusing way

  4. Ida Spaulding says:

    I need to look up a lot of words like ‘asymptote’–lots for me to learn. I like it really that you write poems.

  5. An olde English teacher says:

    It has some Old English echoes… very nice!
    As you know, lots of poems don’t have end-rhymes. Stephen Crane’s “A Man Said to The Universe” is a favorite; it reminds me of your “demotivational” poster of the Bullet Cluster and Dark Matter. (Is that image still available? My old Iphone died, taking the photo of it into the void.)
    Thank you for caring about using language well.

  6. Joe Horton says:

    He’s right about poetic abilities.


  7. Ajay saini says:

    Dear Mr. Sean
    The poetry itself does not know who is the author and to whom it is subjected.
    But Author unfolds the hidden treasure for entertainment & recreation of Audience.
    Author is Consciousness
    Hidden treasure is Matter of universe
    Audience is humans & other species of universe

  8. It has the sense of an awe struck graduate student who, upon reflection, decided discretion was the better part of valor. I have several of these cross discipline experiments myself.

  9. Chuck says:

    Thanks my friend for this poetic story
    Of our beginnings. Perfect for this time of year.

  10. Jens says:

    I love the reference to Buridan’s ass, which I had to look up.

  11. Gale Martha says:

    Love your poem! My favourite line is also “Surveying a potential all about
    Like Buridan’s ass, secured by symmetry” and I also had to look up Buridan’s ass. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  12. Bob H says:

    Liked this so much I read it over and over, and it has gone around to all my science minded friends.
    Re asymptote, there was a time when only poets could get away with using a noun as a verb. but it works beautifully. Nicely done – thanks !

  13. JonW says:

    Sean, what are the thousand fields? (If there were many more than a thousand, “a myriad” might have been more poetic.) By the way, the fourth line doesn’t scan, unless you pronounce ‘asymptote’ with more syllables than is usual (or maybe ‘couplings’ spread over three syllables, like “cup-a-lings”)… I think it’s worth fixing, as the rest scans well!

  14. Robert McAnelly says:

    I like it better when I sung using the melody of Leonard Cohen’s Hallellujah. I use the last two lines as the refrain. Does Sean Carroll sing?

  15. DazedAndConfused says:

    This poem made me think about cosmological expansion. Besides bringing about the creation of good poetry, can someone explain why the model, which relies on the assumption that some sort of completely undetectable cosmological impetus is pushing the universe apart, is a superior model to one like the backreaction conjecture, which just suggests that due to inhomogeneous inflation of the universe, the greater universe’s spacetime curvature is not homogeneous which creates areas where the curvature appears to be open and places where it does not.

    I have never been able to see the attraction of the Dark Energy model because it is not observable, only inferable based on other observations. As such, shouldn’t the hypothesis with the least assumptions be regarded as better, unless disproven?

  16. dmck says:

    Respectable, Sean! A lot better than most poets could do at cosmology.

  17. Pat Ridley says:

    Great – loved it. In return, I offer you this extract from The Eolian Harp by Samuel Taylor Coleridge:

    “And what if all animated nature
    Be but organic Harps diversely fram’d
    That tremble into thought, as o’er them sweeps
    Plastic and vast, one intellectual breeze,
    At once the Soul of each, and God of all?”

    A premonition?

  18. An olde English teacher says:

    The 19th C sure had better narcotics and better vocabulary, didn’t it?

  19. Glenn Kleier says:

    A physicist AND and poet. Well said, sir. Happy New Year.

  20. Robin says:

    “A thousand fields did gambol nearly free”

    This kind of archaism poets do now eschew.