Some recent on-line conversations have revived my interest in Thom Gunn’s poetry. I have several of his collections and his Selected which I browse from time to time. I realised I had not however engaged with his work with sufficient attention. So I decided to read through all his poems chronologically taking in the full range of his work.
So I begin with Fighting Terms, published by Faber and Faber in 1954 when he was twenty five and containing twenty five poems. In subsequent editions two of the poems – Contemplative and active and ‘A village Edmund’ were removed by the poet as being minor catastrophes. He wrote most of the poems in Fighting Terms while he was studying at Cambridge, having completed his National Service in the army. The image of the soldier recurs throughout the book, from the Achilles-like figure in ‘The Wound’ to the red-coat in ‘Incident on a Journey’. They are all worth reading but my personal favourite is ‘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.
Does it help that I know now that Gunn at met Mike Kitay at Cambridge, the man with whom he would have a relationship ‘so long-lasting, so deep and so complex’? Well it definitely adds something for me.