The Hug by Thom Gunn

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

Photo © Ander Gunn 1992

In 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.

Over the next few decades, he published several collections that were not as warmly received as his earliest work, including The Sense of Movement (1957), My Sad Captains (1961), Touch (1967), Moly (1971), To the Air (1974), Jack Straw’s Castle (1976), Selected Poems 1950-1975 (1979), and The Passages of Joy (1983).

During the 1970s and 80s, Gunn’s poems were marked by the poet’s personal experiences as he wrote more openly about his homosexuality and drug use. Many critics believed he was betraying his talents. But with the publication of The Man with Night Sweats in 1992, a collection memorializing his friends and loved ones who had fallen victim of the AIDS pandemic, critics were reminded of Gunn’s early promise. As Neil Powell wrote of the book, “Gunn restores poetry to a centrality it has often seemed close to losing, by dealing in the context of a specific human catastrophe with the great themes of life and death, coherently, intelligently, memorably. One could hardly ask for more.” Gunn received the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize for the collection in 1993.

He went on to publish several more books of poetry in the United States and Britain, including Boss Cupid (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2000), Frontiers of Gossip (1998), and Collected Poems (1994). He has also written several collections of essays, including The Occasions of Poetry (1982; U.S. edition, 1999).

Gunn’s honors include the Levinson Prize, an Arts Council of Great Britain Award, a Rockefeller Award, the W. H. Smith Award, the PEN (Los Angeles) Prize for Poetry, the Sara Teasdale Prize, a Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Award, the Forward Prize, and fellowships from the Guggenheim and MacArthur foundations.

Thom Gunn died on April 25, 2004, in his home in San Francisco.

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

5 responses to “The Hug by Thom Gunn

  • silvereagle

    Another great way to spend time at this computer. I am constantly astonished at the breath of the subject matter on this site. And the bringing together of this poem with the closining linesMy quick sleep had deleted all Of intervening time and place.I only knewThe stay of your secure firm dry embrace.together with the accompanying photograph is absolutely amazing. Perhaps the two were published together, or did you assemble them?

  • silvereagle

    "breath" is spelled "breadth" I know after posting…but maybe the "breath of life" is appropriate as well?

  • Jay M.

    You never cease to find cool stuff to make the end of my day a good one!Thanks, as always, for this great piece.Peace <3Jay

  • becca

    i think a trip to the libary is called for he sounds wonderful must read his work

  • JoeBlow

    Silvereagle, I put the picture with the poem. I thought it was incredibly fitting and it took me a while to find just the right one.Jay, I do my best.Becca, from what I have read of Gunn's work, he was a beautiful writer.

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