At our reading group we recently looked at a poem called The Hug by Thom Gunn, a poet who spent much of his life in the US but was actually born in Kent in 1929. His mother had committed suicide when he was very young, but before she died she had already instilled in her son a love of reading and of poetry. One of the poets Gunn loved was Keats and I discovered his poems when I was making a study of 20th Century poets influenced by Keats’ work.
Gunn lived something of a drug addled, bohemian lifestyle, enjoying the gay scene in San Francisco and New York regularly under the influence of LSD. Indeed he died of substance misuse in 2004 when he was in his 70s. Much of his poetry is incredibly moving and some is challenging in both form and subject matter. However I think The Hug is so very beautiful that I felt I wanted to share it on my blog.
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
My quick sleep had deleted all
Of intervening time and place.
I only knew
The stay of your secure firm dry embrace.
If you read this aloud, or to yourself just under your breath, I hope you will get the sense I get – that you can feel the arms around you; are part of this embrace and can imagine that perfect fit between two bodies so familiar with one another that such a hug can become all the world to them.
If you want to read more Thom Gunn then have a look at the website of the Academy of American Poets.