Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Thom Gunn, Dustjackets and Werewolves

It's nice when more than one interest combine. Here we have the wonderful graphic dustjackets of Faber and Faber combined with one of my favourite poets, Thom Gunn. I remember being 'taught' a Thom Gunn poet or two by a High School teacher who I think fancied himself as 'one of the kids' and seemed to take an unseemly interest in the black leather shine on some of Gunn's poems. He was also the only teacher we had who actually wrote poetry too and, perhaps inadvisably, allowed us a glimpse of one of them in which there was a character who wrote dirty things about his wife on toilet walls... anyway...

In his earliest poetry Gunn was lauded as one of 'The Movement' thereby encouraging comparisons with such as Larking. He was later associated, perhaps only by a strange dual volume of their verse published by Faber, with Ted Hughes, and then there is the thought presented by a number of critics that he went somewhat 'off the boil' in poetic terms. The cynic in me can't help wonder if this was more about the fact that he moved to the States, came out, and started not just living the sexed-up and drugged-up lifestyle of the 60s (which would have been perfectly acceptable) but also writing about it in poetry (which, it seems, was not)

One of the themes in literature that fascinates me most is metamorphosis and the half-human/half-animal creature. Which might explain why this is one of my favourite of his poems.

The Allegory of the Wolf Boy

The causes are in Time; only their issue
Is bodied in the flesh, the finite powers.
And how to guess he hides in that firm tissue
Seeds of division? At tennis and at tea
Upon the gentle lawn, he is not ours,
But plays us in a sad duplicity.

Tonight the boy, still boy open and blond,
Breaks from the house, wedges his clothes between
Two moulded garden urns, and goes beyond
His understanding, through the dark and dust:
Fields of sharp stubble, abandoned by machine
To the whirring enmity of insect lust.

As yet ungolden in the dense, hot night
The spikes enter his feet: he seeks the moon,
Which, with the touch of its infertile light,
Shall loose desires hoarded against his will
By the long urging of the afternoon.
Slowly the hard rim shifts above the hill.

White in the beam he stops, faces it square,
And the same instant leaping from the ground
Feels the familiar itch of close dark hair;
Then, clean exception to the natural laws,
Only to instinct and the moon being bound,
Drops on four feet, Yet he has bleeding paws.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I remember reading this poem once as a teenager, in a random book I had pulled off the shelf while wandering the stacks in my high school library. It struck a chord with me and sparked a strange fascination with werewolves. Years later, now that I've come out, this poem is far less mysterious to me, but still resonates very strongly.

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