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The Hug -- Thom Gunn

Guest poem submitted by Maddie Close:
(Poem #637) 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
The imagery in the poem is powerful; I could almost see the body pressed
against the narrator and feel the embrace. I particularly like the four
lines at the end. First, Gunn describes the first bewildering moments of
waking up - a complete deletion of "intervening time and place", the
unawareness of surroundings. Then, into the unconsciousness, comes a single
clue: the "secure firm dry embrace". The first instinct of a sleeper upon
waking up is to cement where he is. He seeks out clues, from the sound of
cars or sounds from the kitchen,to determine the surroundings. The narrator
has only this embrace, this tactile clue: in this moment, symbolically, this
person - his lover, presumably - is his world.

This expression of the bond between the two is powerful. They have been
together long enough to remember when they were young and passionate, and,
together still, their love has taken on ever greater importance: no longer
fiery passion but an all-encompassing embrace of each other.

A little bit about Thom Gunn: "Thom Gunn is a poet known for his daring
subject matter. In the mid '50s, after leaving his native England for the
American West Coast, he composed strictly rhymed lyrics about Elvis Presley
and biker gangs. In his 1972 book Moly, he wrote explicitly of experiences
with LSD. In a volume 10 years later, Passages of Joy, he described the
"sexual Jerusalem" of the gay scene in New York and San Francisco. But
Gunn's poems have never fallen to mere sensationalism. Instead, by using
unpredictable subjects that challenge his reader's assumptions and his own,
he's raised the stakes of his artwork" (from an article by Peter Campion,
The Boston Phoenix).

Maddie.

23 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

sandi_ordinario said...

Hi,
I am not too clear on how to have a poem published in this website but perhaps you could teach me. Thanks

On Thom Gunn's poem The Hug

It is simple imagery about a birthday but the "unfamilial emotions" could be likened to the quality of good wine with age. It is somewhat puzzling when he does not give more clues as to the sexes of the two characters. One can imagine the narrator could be a woman or a gay person. Not that it takes anything from the beauty of this poem in either case, in fact it gives it some social subtlety and perhaps a vital minority statement.

Sandi Ordinario

Anonymous said...

hugs are 4 n00bz

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