November 24, 2020

Christopher Smart's Alphabetical Imagination

Event Series: The Christian Literary Imagination

Christopher Smart's Alphabetical Imagination Video Player

Showing the Christopher Smart's Alphabetical Imagination Video

Christopher Smart wrote Jubilate Agno, his long and fragmentary poem of praise, while confined for insanity in St. Luke’s Hospital. The poem is not governed by any obvious formal or narrative logic. In this discussion doctoral candidate Molly Clark shared with Professor Michael Scott how it is instead governed by an “alphabetical poetics,” an associative structure and progression dictated by the alphabet and the atomic construction of names and words, rather than strictly by sense. In this way, the poem is inscribed with God’s handwriting, making legible the multiplicity of creation.

This event was sponsored by the Future of the Humanities Project, the Georgetown Humanities Initiative, the Georgetown Master’s Program in the Engaged and Public Humanities, and the Las Casas Institute (Blackfriars Hall, University of Oxford). It is part of a year-long series on the "Christian Literary Imagination."


Molly Clark is a doctoral student at Merton College, Oxford, where she holds a Graduate Prize Scholarship. Her thesis is on rhyme in Shakespeare's theater. She has articles forthcoming in Studies in Philology (on the origins of rhyme as an early modern dramatic technique in mid-sixteenth-century theater) and Shakespeare Survey (on the Henry VI plays). She also writes regularly for the Times Literary Supplement and publishes poetry under her full name, Mary Anne Clark.

Professor Michael Scott (moderator) is Senior Dean, Fellow of Blackfriars Hall, the University of Oxford college adviser for postgraduate students, and a Member of the Las Casas Institute. He also serves as senior adviser to the president at Georgetown University. Scott was on the Editorial Board which relaunched Critical Survey from Oxford University Press. Scott previously served as the pro vice chancellor at De Montfort University and founding vice chancellor of Wrexham Glyndwr University.