Museum of Zoology Gillian Clarke

Museum of Zoology


With its spectacular whale skeleton hanging over the entrance, the Museum of Zoology is home to a huge variety of recent and fossil
animals. With intricately beautiful shells, a comprehensive collection of British birds, and many large skeletons of mammals, the displays trace the evolution of animal life.

Image: The Finback Whale

Hanging above the entrance to the Museum of Zoology is the skeleton of a Finback Whale. The Finback Whale is the second largest living whale (it is exceeded in size only by the Blue Whale) and the Cambridge specimen is also one of the largest recorded of its species. The Whale, a male, was washed ashore dead at Pevensey in Sussex in November 1865. Some

40,000 people are estimated to have made the trip to view it on the beach during the first few days of its stranding. The skeleton was prepared, and viewed over Easter, 1866, with some excitement, by the public at Hastings, and it was subsequently bought for the Museum by public subscription.


Gillian Clarke


Gillian Clarke was born in Cardiff and lives in Ceredigion. She was appointed National Poet for Wales in 2008. She is President of Tŷ Newydd, the Welsh Writers Centre which she co-founded in 1990. Her work has been widely studied for GCSE and A Level for many years. She has published thirteeen books for adults, and several for children as writer, translator or editor. Her first prose collection, At the Source, appeared in 2008. Her recent collection of poems, Ice, is short-listed for the TS Eliot Award 2012. In December 2010 she was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry, and in 2012 the Wilfred Owen Award.

Gillian Clarke


Archaeopteryx Gillian Clarke

The first bird in the world

stilled in stony silence behind glass.

Flight feathers, wishbone, that perching foot,

found in the limestone of a salt lagoon, a mould

from the Jurassic, print, exactitude,

a frozen moment in Earth's book of stone,

the transition between dinosaur and bird,

a memory of wing-feathers, skull and bones,

like the impression left by a magpie on the lawn,

bump-landing, lift-off, touch and go,

its wing-beats leaving angels in the snow

an icy hour before dawn.

First bird,

thence every warbler, song-thrush, wren,

the blackbird in the ash, five notes repeating

again, again, again.


Museum of Zoology


Archived posts
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Gillian Clarke’s reading and the Better-Late-Than-Never-Discoverer

15th March 2013 | 2 Comment(s) | Museum of Zoology

I had never set foot in The Museum of Zoology until a month ago, with my great nephew as ‘excuse’. I now cannot believe that I have walked past this and most of the other museums without a thought! That visit lingered on strangely; it tugged at corners of my non-scientific thinking in ways I was not able to explain. So when I saw that Gillian Clarke would be giving a poetry reading there in the context of Thresholds I was intrigued.

We sat in the atrium of the Lower Gallery of the Museum of Zoology. We were bathed in the mid-March sharp white light glancing from the soft yellow of the bones of extinct mammals – one could almost hear them sigh with patient relief “Ah! Here you are at last! What took you so long?”

Gillian Clarke began by saying how excited she, and the other poets in residence of the Cambridge Museums, had become by this exposure to “Science”. As an Arts graduate it was new to her! Something told me that the room was full of others to whom it was equally new – barring the Museum staff of course who stood around a mixture of proud and abashed at all this attention being paid to them and their work by ‘passers- by’! She (and we now too I suspect) glowed with the gratitude of the better-late-than-never-discoverer. She confessed her ‘greed’ for the riches of this new-found place and its task in the world today. The Giant Land Sloth from the Museum’s Darwin Collection may have nodded in paleolithic empathy from the far corner of the room.

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Throughout the recital, the poems (about her own life-long relationship with the natural world) recited as they were in the hearing of the bones, made vibrant but sometimes terribly sad connections in the heart and mind. This arts grad will want to come again, spend time with the bones… and no doubt wander across the road to the other Museum to connect with the Earth they knew and which I now definitely want to get to know!

There was just an indefinable magical something about hearing these wonderful poems in the context of this unique place in the presence of 8,000 year old bones (the Giant Land Sloth!)

How poetry can be used to break open the museum’s secrets to the ‘unscientific’ human heart is such a fantastic idea. I am sure that the ‘scientific’ heart has been no stranger to this all along! There absolutely have to be more of these events.

Thanks so much to all who thought of it and worked for it and did it! Bravo!


Anne Murray, Thresholds audience member

2 Comment(s)



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