Dancing in Chains

August 24, 2006

Thom GunnThis is how I survived junior college – being loveless, unloved, unhappy, abnormal, unstraight – I read the poetry of Thom Gunn. I love his poetry for so many different reasons – I can’t go into everything now but at the moment in time I’m rereading all my favorites. In fact his collected poems and his last and final collection (Boss Cupid) is sitting on my desk at work, waiting to rescue me from drudgery and boredom.

I was introduced quite late to Gunn. In the second and final year of junior college, the ‘S’-paper teacher introduced all of us to Thom Gunn (or was it just me? Juline, can you corroborate?) with the lovely poem, ‘The Hug’.

The Hug

It was your birthday, we had drunk and dined
  Half of the night with our old friend
    Who’d showed us in the end
  To a bed I reached in one drunk stride.
    Already I lay snug,
And drowsy with the wine dozed on one side.

I dozed, I slept. My sleep broke on a hug,
    Suddenly, from behind,
In which the full lengths of our bodies pressed:
    Your instep to my heel,
  My shoulder-blades against your chest.
  It was not sex, but I could feel
  The whole strength of your body set,
      Or braced, to mine,
    And locking me to you
  As if we were still twenty-two
  When our grand passion had not yet
    Become familial.
  My quick sleep had deleted all
  Of intervening time and place.
    I only knew
The stay of your secure firm dry embrace.

Thom Gunn

I like to think of Gunn, at times, as a metaphysical poet, a sort-of Donne – the dramatic voice, the use of wit, the double-entendre, ambiguous quality that many of his poems possess. For example, how this rather sweet poem hinges on the last line, where the deliciously and darkly ironic ‘dry’ is delivered. Lovely. More Gunn coming up.


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