Opening its doors for the first time on Easter Monday 1881, the beautiful Natural History Museum in London was conceived as nothing less than a ‘cathedral to nature.’ Today, its galleries continue to brim with treasures, from the tiniest specks of DNA to the bones of the colossal blue whale. In Wonder – The Natural History Museum Poetry Book by Ana Sampson, a glorious selection of poems inspired by the natural world is created, and even the great museum itself.
Who knew it was possible to feel emotional about a stegosaurus? Yet amongst the expected abundance of dinosaur poems, Dear Stegosaurus by Rebecca Perry, really tugs at the heartstrings with its beautiful description of the herbivorous and combat-averse beast, whose brain was only the size of a plum.
‘The perfections of your tiny head trounce a sunset,
Your mouth holds more wonder than a sky full of stars.’
Rob Walton celebrates an edgier beast, in Velociraptors, ‘their name is said to mean swift seizer, nifty plunderer, lightning geezer,’ their descendants the birdlife we know today.
Everybody loves a bird poem, and here we have Blake, Tennyson, and Hughes queuing up to share their avian verse, before a scurrying segue into the world of insects, and Judith Nicholls’ evocative poem, Cockroach.
‘Scuttle-bug, shadow-foot, bringer of night…smooth as new carbon, dark and untyped.’
Covering every aspect of the museum’s twenty-eight galleries, this marvellous collection ranges from the oceanic, with Christina Rossetti’s nod to ‘shells quaint with curve, or spot, or spike,’ to the ever-whirling galaxies above, where Gita Ralleigh vividly imagines the Solar System as candy, with Earth’s ‘strange and dusty’ moon, like Turkish Delight, and a meteor belt busily popping and crackling ‘like space dust.’
Complemented by notes and drawings related to exhibits, Wonder honours a beloved museum, where, as Michaela Morgan tells us there are ‘worlds laid out for us to see/ And we can wonder, gasp, sigh and dream…and be back home in time for tea.’
Wonder – The Natural History Museum Poetry Book by Ana Sampson is published by MacMillan’s Children’s Books, 272 pages.