Happy Birthday, Thom Gunn

Thom_GunnOn August 29, 1929, Thom Gunn was born in Gravesend, Kent, England, the older son of two journalists. His parents were divorced when the poet was ten years old, and his mother committed suicide while he was a teenager. Before her death, his mother had inspired a deep love of reading in him, including affection for the writings of Marlowe, Keats, Milton, and Tennyson, as well as several prose writers.

Before enrolling in Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1950, he spent two years in the national service and six months in Paris. In 1954, the year after his graduation, Gunn’s first poetry collection, Fighting Terms, was published. The book was instantly embraced by several critics, including John Press, who wrote, “This is one of the few volumes of postwar verse that all serious readers of poetry need to possess and to study.” Gunn relocated to San Francisco and held a one-year fellowship at Stanford University, where he studied with Yvor Winters.

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

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Filed under Birthday, News, Poem

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