Thom Gunn

by Chris Bertram on April 28, 2004

The poet Thom Gunn has died, and there are obituaries in the “NYT”: , “the Times”:,,60-1089982,00.html and the “Guardian”:,3604,1204724,00.html . A friend introduced me to Gunn’s work about twenty years ago and there are some lines from “Elegy” from “The Passages of Joy”: (1982) that have stuck in my mind ever since I first read them:

bq. There will be no turn of the river
where we are all reunited
in a wonderful party
the picnic spread
all the lost found
as in hide and seek.

A sad loss.



Henry 04.28.04 at 2:32 pm

From “Memory Unsettled,” in _The Man with Night-Sweats_.

bq.. When near your death a friend
Asked you what he could do,
‘Remember me,’ you said.
We will remember you.


drapeto 04.28.04 at 3:12 pm

He died, and I admired
the crisp vehemence
of a lifetime reduced to
half a foot of shelf space…

the precious half foot. Beyond that,
nothing, nothing at all.


af 04.28.04 at 3:25 pm

Like Auden said, a few thousand will think of this day as one thinks of a day when one did something slightly unusual.

from “On the Move”:

At worst, one is at motion; and at best,
Reaching no absolute, in which to rest,
One is always nearer by not keeping still.


roger 04.29.04 at 1:21 am

One of the greats, man. I’m tempted to type all of the best dog poem ever written, Yoko, but I will just copy the first stanza:

All today I lie in the bottom of the wardrobe
feeling low but sometimes getting up
to moodily lumber across rooms
and lap from the toilet bowl, it is so sultry
and then I hear the noise of firecrackers again
all New York is jaggedy with firecrackers today
and I go back to the wardrobe gloomy
trying to void my mind of them.
I am confused, I feel loose and unfitted.


Richard 04.30.04 at 1:59 pm

Thanks for posting this Chris. I’d noted the absence of anything about this on any of the literary weblogs I read and was wondering if I was the only one who felt this to be a very sad day. I my own view Gunn was a far more noteworthy poet than the amount of attention he received would have suggested.


Peter Forster 05.02.04 at 5:20 pm

I loved Thom across the Atlantic. Poets speak for us and he spoke for me. I cannot remember how I discovered him or knew that his poetry touched my predicament: the discovery that in the ’50s that I was gay in a country in which being gay was illegal and unwholesome, but men were glorious. I bought his books from the start. I was reciting his “Sad captains” out loud in my house the day after he died and I thought of him with deep affection, and then, a day or two later, I opened my newspaper, turning to the obituary page to see who I happened to have outlived that day, and there was his picture and I was deeply shocked that his life and acuteness and good humour had ceased.

Way back in the ’70s I reviewed his latest book – or his work in general (I forget which) in “Gay News”. In those days it seemed that he must be gay but it would not be polite to refer to it in print. I wrote about the armour of leather with which a man protects his identity and a few weeks later I received a letter forwarded via the newspaper in which he said “You certainly understand my poetry” and thanked me. We had a brief correspondence. Sadly his letters perished in the mid ’80s when I binned much of my life in a period of depression. I saw him read in London from time to time and when he did a reading at the Purcell Room in the late ’90s or early 2000s, I asked him to sign his poem “My Sad Captains” because it was one of my favourites. “It’s one of my favourites too” he said with a smile from which many writers who sign their books for queues of fans might learn. I worried when “The Man with Night Sweats” seemed valedictory and the name poem was written in the first person singular. Was this the end of Thom Gunn? It wasn’t and “Boss Cupid” came after.

If Mike Kitay happens to read this may I send you – and Rose the cat – my sympathy? I am one among so many on this side of the pond who will miss him deeply and keep him alive by walking around our houses and filling the air with his words.

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