"In the Insect Room": a poem by Gillian Clarke

Marsh Fritillaries

A drawer of butterflies,
each impaled on the tiny stilt of its pin,
as numerous as those quivering, alive
in the colonies on Cors Llawr Cwrt, larvae
that live on Devil’s Bit Scabious on the bog.
They hunger, eat, belong, mate, breed and die.

I love their language, pupae, chrysallis,
the coloured oculi that dot their wings,
their almost symmetry, their beauty
nourished on buttercup, betony, bugle,
sprung from the hoof-prints of grazing cattle
on wetland and marsh.

Though none here stir, they could be alive.
If I gaze long enough, they move.

 

The Snowdon Rainbow Beetle

Trapped like the Snowdon Lily when ice lost its grip
as loosening glaciers began to slip,
mountains gave way with a slow, deep groan,
scouring valleys from the tuffs and ash
of old upheavals, this creature went its own way
to survive on Snowdon’s western flanks
feeding on flowers of the wild thyme.

Genetically distinct, a jewel,
its elytra striped with emerald, copper, gold,
precious metals of the mountain’s heart,
blue of the inky llyn, the colour of slate
in rain.

      What’s beauty for, but to disguise
a beetle as a waterdrop to hold
Snowdonia in a carapace of gold?

***

Gillian Clarke is the National Poet of Wales. Her latest collection is Ice (Carcanet, 2012). “In the Insect Room” was written while she was poet in residence at the Museum of Zoology in Cambridge last spring. She will be appearing with Carol Ann Duffy at the Cambridge Literary Festival, in association with the New Statesman, on 3 April. The festival runs from 1-6 April (cambridgeliteraryfestival.com; 01223 300 085).

This article first appeared in the 19 March 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Russia's Revenge

Show Hide image

“Minoan pendant”: a new poem by Mark Granier

“Yes – I press my nose / to the pleasantly warm glass – / it’s a copy of one I saw / cased in the cool museum”

Yes – I press my nose
to the pleasantly warm glass –
it’s a copy of one I saw
cased in the cool museum –
gold beaten to honey, a grainy
oval dollop, flanked by two
slim symmetrical bees –

garland for a civilisation’s
rise and collapse, eye-dropped
five thousand years: a flash
of evening sun on a windscreen
or wing mirror – Heraklion’s
scooter-life buzzing and humming –

as I step in to browse, become
mesmerised by the warm
dark eyes of the woman
who gives her spiel and moves
softly and with such grace,
that, after leaving, I hesitate

a moment on the pavement
then re-enter with a question
I know not to ask, but ask
anyway, to hear her voice
soften even more as she smiles
and shakes her hair – no.

Mark Granier is an Irish poet and photographer. He is the author of four collections of poetry, most recently Haunt (Salmon).

This article first appeared in the 16 June 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Britain on the brink