Reading: The Hug by Thom Gunn

Thom Gunn (1929-2004) was an English poet. I’ve read another verse (tamer and hawk) by his hand before. Today I read a simple poem that says something I find lovely.

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.

I love such birthdays and adjacent nights, and the idea that you can visit an old friend on your birthday. The full-body snug hug is decribed wonderfully with the instep fitting the heel, the shoulder-blades against her chest (not breasts). Two interlocking bodies, set or braced against each other in a fresh way. The ‘intervening’ experiences in between have been deleted.

The embrace is ‘secure and firm and dry’ – and is here to stay. Deleting the intervening time and place made the moment appear timeless. The drowsiness made knowing anything beyond the embrace nearly impossible. Here we can find consolation, perhaps more than in any other gesture we are capable of.

Reading: The Hug by Thom Gunn was originally published on Meandering home


Reading: Tamer and Hawk by Thom Gunn

Thom Gunn (1929-2004), another much-honored poet, who started out using iambic pentameter, borne out of an ambition to be the John Donne of the twentieth century, writing about topics such as LSD, Hell’s angels or queer culture. Later, he wrote no less heart-felt poetry in freer forms. For him, “Writing poetry has in fact become a certain stage in my coping with the world” and “His identity is his resistance to the limitations of identity.” Here is an observation about a hawk who choses to be tamed:

Tamer and hawk

I thought I was so tough,
But gentled at your hands,
Cannot be quick enough
To fly for you and show
That when I go I go
At your commands.

Even in flight above
I am no longer free:
You seeled me with your love,
I am blind to other birds—
The habit of your words
Has hooded me.

As formerly, I wheel
I hover and I twist,
But only want the feel,
In my possessive thought,
Of catcher and of caught
Upon your wrist.

You but half civilize,
Taming me in this way.
Through having only eyes
For you I fear to lose,
I lose to keep, and choose
Tamer as prey.

It is clear what is going on, and the punch line shouldn’t be too hard to understand: The hawk experiences himself as caught upon the wrist of the tamer, and integrates that into his life story as a hunter by projecting his agency onto it: he chooses tamer as prey. Perhaps we should say that the hawk is fully, not half, civilized, that this is what being civilized is all about: choosing your tamer as prey.

The language in the first is carefully romantic and would be considered kitsch by some critics I reckon. Redoubling of I go I go, to be gentled as a verb, the alternating rhyme and the musical trimeter rhythm – nice that someone still writes like that in the twentieth century.

The word ‘seeled’, not sealed, and the metaphor of the habit (cloaK) that has hooded him produces the image of a monk, who is devoted to a greater love than what the mundane realm can offer him.

The third stanza sees the hawk behaving as formerly, but re-interpreting his ‘possessive thought’ (meaning: to be possessed by his own thought as well as wanting to possess things) to understand his relation to the tamer.

Reading: Tamer and Hawk by Thom Gunn was originally published on Meandering home