The Universe Story: An Epic Poem

by Jonathan Andreas

November 2012
Based on the book The Universe Story by Brian Swimme & Thomas Berry



From originating power foamed into existence
Sextillion particles, a flashing subsistence:
Chaos, randomness, freedom of possibility,
Sparkling, shimmering, creative probability.

Billowing expansions, cosmic fecundity,
Sweeping annihilations, quantum profundity.
Death and rebirth in delicate balance,
Pre-atomic seeds striving for valence.

From out of this marrow trends caused to form
Habits of behavior in this primordial storm.
Fixed interactions, determined intensities,
A fundamental architecture with lawful propensities.

Gravity, electromagnetic, weak and strong forces,
A field, a matrix, setting nuclear courses.
Photons colliding and patterns emerging,
The boundaries of space-time stretching and surging.

All of this in less than a second,
Survivors binding as yawning space beckoned.
All beings interrelated in the procreative squall,
The Great Flaring Forth, the Original Fireball.


For the next million years the photon rave withered;
Nary a proton, neutron, or electron had dithered.
As the Fireball cooled, hydrogen was created,
Energy pooled and chaos abated.

Subtle perturbations and density fluctuations
Begat clouds of beings and their generations.
Hydrogen spawned helium and wove a new order,
Cosmic patterns swelled to infinity’s border.

Micro-ripples of space-time formed trillions of galactic clouds,
The universe ever constellating into nests of gossamer shrouds.
Each galaxy’s condensation punctured by black holes,
The birthplace of stars where the death bell yet tolls.

Milky Way and Andromeda in our cluster of two dozen,
Bonded to Virgo with her thousands, our cousin.
Toward the edge of Milky Way’s galactic cotillion
Dances our star, one in a hundred billion.

Through the universe’s music all is connected;
When one star explodes, the whole is affected.
The building blocks of life by and by form your eyes
So look up with wonder at the glittering skies.


Our story continues with one galactic cloud,
Full of potential, with star stuff endowed.
Collapsing to a disc and by density wave breaking,
A nursery of stars in primal form awaking.

Over time one tired star began to collapse,
Burning carbon and iron and copper perhaps.
Toward pulsar or black hole the core was imploding
While outer-layered building blocks of life were exploding.

Let’s call her Tiamat, our supernova and mother,
Who sacrificed her life to give birth to another.
Like the universe itself, she embodies extremes;
Out of her chaos and violence, our planetary life teems.

And so we observe three simple rules,
To resist them reduces us to ephemeral fools.
Sacred beauty is born from sacrifice it seems,
So remember: resistance, energy, and dreams.

Resistance of matter avoiding extinction.
Energy is needed to maintain a distinction.
Dreams of all things of autopoiesis,
From atomic expression to cosmogenesis.


When Tiamat exploded, a large cloud remained.
Though rich in many elements, her energy had waned.
As one of many mother stars in the early Milky Way,
Over four-billion years from that procreative fray.

A density wave gave birth to ten-thousand lights.
From red giants to white dwarfs, their beauty fills our nights.
One humble subcloud flared yellow as a star;
Compared to all other lights, our Sun is not too far.

Our Sun’s early gas cloud was mostly blown away,
Twenty-billion tons of protons lost even now each day.
The cooling, swirling disc of dust became each planet and moon
From ultratorrid Mercury to frigid blue Neptune.

All places are alike says the Cosmological Principle,
Wherever you aim your telescope, the thesis looks convincible.
The Cosmogenetic Principle posits structures evolving in time,
From intragalactic nebulae to the unpretentious enzyme.

Cosmogenesis refers to self-organizing reality;
Through differentiation, each thing gains personality.
As autopoiesis unfolds each singular way of “seeing,”
To be is to be related in a kinship of interbeing.


Our solar system’s planets each had a violent birth.
What happened after that depended on their girth.
Mercury, Venus, and Mars became permanent rocks;
Their small size took a billion years to freeze their geological clocks.

The gravity on the largest planets gave their crusts no chance;
Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune continue their stormy dance.
The Earth, however, found her balance these five billion years;
Her crusts float on her churning core, a feat beyond her peers.

Carbon dioxide, hydrogen, ammonia, and methane:
A planetwide megastorm of lightning and acid rain
Gave birth to Aries, the first living cell,
Autopoietic and created pell-mell.

Four billion years ago this miracle occurred,
Every cell’s memory through DNA averred.
By aboriginal magic every cell was cloned,
In order to find a meal, cannibalism was condoned.

By genetic mutation a new cell was born,
Tiny Promethio did photosynthesis adorn.
Feeding on the Sun, oxygen was exhaled,
Volatility ensued, most life chemo-impaled.


If an atmosphere’s oxygen reaches twenty-one percent,
Spontaneous combustion burns till all life is spent.
Teetering in the balance, life mutated again;
Eukaryotes appeared that could digest oxygen.

Cyanobacteria with blue-green coloration,
Living two-billion years ago, invented respiration.
As Aries’ descendants were choking and dying,
Bacteria ate their insides, a gourmet liquefying.

A deal was struck keeping both of them alive;
Endo-symbiosis allowed life to thrive.
The waste of one being became another’s food,
Two became one and formed a new brood.

Some fed on oxygen, others on light,
Some ate dead bodies right in plain sight!
Eventually someone chomped on his neighbor;
The predator-prey wars started to labor.

Bacteria divided creating a clone;
The new cells had sex, meiotically sewn.
Seven-hundred-million years ago, they formed an alliance,
Multicellular organisms became the first giants.


A half-a-billion years ago the seas began to splurge;
Hard-shelled creatures, fish with fins, and vertebrates emerged.
Wood-celled plants with vessels and seeds, stood up straight on terra
While insects made their debut in this Paleozoic Era.

Catastrophe struck again and again when the temperature took a dive;
The Permian-Triassic extinction left almost nothing alive.
The Mesozoic Era a quarter-billion years ago—
A time of trial and error and prodigious overflow.

Vertebrates with endothermy and amniotic eggs,
Baby birds and marsupials, walking on wobbly legs,
Coevolving plants and insects, then a meteor
Brought an end to the age of the mighty dinosaur.

From sixty-seven-million years ago, to the present day
Stupendous creativity formed a vast array:
Horses and whales and rodents and lions
And contemporary flowers and all of their scions.

Our continents formed with ice age periodicity,
A natural unfolding of chance, choice, and necessity.
The necessity of natural selection and choice of niche creation,
And the chance differentiation of genetic mutation.


Thirty-five-million years ago primates filled the trees
In Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Eastern Indies.
Those who stood on two legs and with a bigger brain
Survived on the savannas, their scavenging domain.

Hominids like Lucy, four-million years ago
Gave way to Homo habilis on the African plateau.
This began the Stone Age, the time of tool making,
Two-point-six-million years ago, the craft of stone flaking.

A million years later came Homo erectus,
The first great migrator within this prospectus,
To Asia and Europe in caves did they dwell
With hand axes, fire, and hides they scraped well.

A hundred-twenty-thousand years ago, Homo sapiens was on the scene;
In Australia and the Americas their journeys did advene.
Neanderthals in Europe had the cult of the bear,
Huts with fire, stone implements, and ornaments to wear.

Cro-Magnon people painted caves, developed spoken language,
Sculpted female figurines with breasts bigger than average.
They took their time in raising kids to guard enculturation
In hunting, cooking, storytelling, and seasonal celebration.


In a Neolithic village, 8000 BCE,
Buildings, farming, pottery, one begins to see:
Domesticated animals for transport and for food,
Storytelling ritual to pray for things renewed.

Jericho’s three-thousand folks became an early city;
Çatal Hüyük had copper and gold—dazzlingly pretty;
Jarmo’s painted pottery and statues made of clay;
Hassuna’s stylish spirit full of geometric play.

The Nile River’s horticulture and Sumerian irrigation
Unveiled Nature’s cycles through careful observation:
The invention of the calendar with guidance from the sky,
And inter-village commerce on which they did rely.

In 7000 BCE, South China farmed its rice
With harnessed water buffalo, an ingenious new device.
In Mycenean and Celtic lands, Mother Earth declined,
A sky god and his warriors became the ones enshrined.

Post-2000 BCE, stone circles were erected;
Mathematics, astronomy, and writing’s been collected.
Ten-million people on the Earth, or less is what they guess,
Would have barely taxed our globe, avoiding eco-stress.


The classical civilizations we all know so well
Followed one another as each rose and fell.
The clash of civilizations due to need of land
Created power centers in the Middle Eastern sand.

Pyramids and ziggurats rose as humans toiled,
Warrior gods and priestly kings their enemies despoiled.
Yahweh, Indra, Thor, and Zeus, in Persia Zoroaster;
Moses, Buddha, Plato’s nous, and Jesus, god-man-master.

The immense Eurasian continent had three vast usurpations:
First the central warriors’ outward aggrandizations,
Then sixteen-hundred years ago the Goth destroyed the Roman,
And last of all came Genghis Khan, the Mongol warrior-showman.

From Alexander the Great to the servile Marco Polo,
People and cultures mixed, leaving almost no one solo.
Around the globe dynastic wars seemed to be the thing:
In China, Han became T’ang, then Sung and finally Ming.

Almost five-hundred-million people on the Earth resided,
Slavery an institution, and patriarchs divided.
The European Renaissance had just begun to dawn,
And on those early cartographs, lines were being drawn.


The sixteenth century saw the rise of nations
Exploring the planet with circumnavigations:
From China’s Cheng Ho to Vasco da Gama
To the British East India Company and all of their drama.

The African peoples, forced into slavery,
Were shipped to the New World, surviving by bravery.
Inca and Aztec at the height of their glory
Saw Spanish conquistadors bring an end to their story.

“Time for revolution! Give the people a chance!”
Called heralds in England, America, and France.
Progress was the myth, things could only get better
(If you were bourgeois, not trapped as a debtor).

Colonial conquest led to economic gain;
The global north wrapped the south in a chain.
As nations were striving and treaties were made,
World War I exploded and communism essayed.

Nineteen-twenty-nine brought global depression,
Then World War II with its morbid aggression.
Fifty-million people met their demise
And nuclear power began to arise.


The past half millennium has brought about change
In human awareness that some yet find strange.
From thermodynamics to quantum mechanics
To nuclear plants that sometimes cause panics.

The sixteenth century saw an eruption of ideas,
From planetary trajectories to occult panaceas.
Copernicus dislodged us from the center of it all;
We scoped the inner workings of the great and the small.

Kepler and Bacon, Galileo, Descartes;
They changed understandings, new views did impart.
Newton’s laws came down on our heads;
Darwin’s theory tore Adam to shreds.

From Einstein to Higgs, physics led the way;
Herschel and Hubble put the cosmos on display.
The scientific method of empirical reduction
Offers enlightenment, a powerful seduction.

For all of the answers that science procured,
To a great many mysteries we continue to be lured.
Dark energy and matter are difficult to draw;
Our universe evokes a spirit of awe.


From the Great Flaring Forth to dark matter’s mystery,
We’ve surveyed the universe and all of its history.
The Paleo-, Meso-, and Cenozoic eras
Have crashed on the trash of our technochimeras.

Which way shall we go, toward the green or the gray?
An Ecozoic balance or a Technozoic fray?
Right now we’re losing our clean air and soil;
We’re still in denial of our addiction to oil.

The limitless junk and plastic pollution
Piles higher and higher with no good solution.
When we damage the Earth, we damage our own;
Our well-being is derivative, our numbers overblown.

It’s time to awaken the sacred dimension
Of Earth and her voices of biodissension.
From Leopold to Carson to Wilson to you,
Stand up for renewal and give Earth her due.

And now as we bring this story to a close,
Please love and protect those things that arose—
The forests and dolphins and each kangaroo—
For the sake of our children and all they may do.

© 2012 Jonathan Andreas. All Rights Reserved.