Tuesday, February 9, 2021



by Thom Gunn 

You are already

asleep. I lower

myself in next to

you, my skin slightly

numb with the restraint

of habits, the patina of

self, the black frost

of outsideness, so that even

unclothed it is

a resilient chilly

hardness, a superficially

malleable, dead

rubbery texture.


You are a mound

of bedclothes, where the cat

in sleep braces

its paws against your

calf through the blankets,

and kneads each paw in turn.


Meanwhile and slowly

I feel a is it 

my own warmth surfacing or

the ferment of your whole

body that in darkness beneath

the cover is stealing

bit by bit to break

down that chill.


You turn and

hold me tightly, do

you know who

I am or am I

your mother or

the nearest human being to

hold on to in a 

dreamed pogrom.


What I, now loosened,

sink into is an old

big place, it is

there already, for

you are already

there, and the cat

got there before you, yet

it is hard to locate.

What is more, the place is

not found but seeps

from our touch in

continuous creation, dark

enclosing cocoon round

ourselves alone, dark

wide realm where we 

walk with everyone.



Valentine's Day is coming up on Sunday, and in 2012, The Guardian asked poets for their favorite love poem. English poet Blake Morrison chose “Touch” by Thom Gunn. Here is what he said:

Love poems may be addressed to someone in particular but the "you" invariably remains unidentified or is represented only by a body part or item of dress – a sleeping head, a naked foot, an air-blue gown. Thom Gunn's "Touch" is an extreme example of this. His lover is no more than a mound of bedclothes and embraces him in sleepy oblivion.


you know who

I am or am I

your mother or

the nearest human being

This feeling of anonymity is important: it links the two lovers to the rest of us: they're part of a "realm where we walk with everyone." But the poem is also intimate and domestic: here are two people (plus their cat) in their own bed – naked, cocooned, "ourselves alone." Gunn was gay but his lover's gender isn't specified, since the theme is the inclusiveness of touch: the way it breaks down the "resilient chilly hardness" we all adopt to function in the outside world. The syllabic form enacts this dissolution or slippage, as the words seep gently from line to line, without the hardness of end stops. The word "love" isn't used; the words "dark" and "darkness" recur three times. But the poem exudes warmth, familiarity and how it feels to lie naked with a fellow creature, whoever he or she may be.


Anonymous said...

Joe, not the poem but YOU!! What's the situation? How are you doing? I am, as always, concerned for you. Roderick

Joe said...

Roderick, I am not doing too good today. I'm very depressed that the treatments they have tried are not working and the pain just continues. My neurologist scheduled me for an MRI next week to rule out anything worse being wrong. It scares me that the treatments they have tried aren't working causing me to fear that it might be something awful. I know I am thinking of the worse, and hopefully, it won't be anything bad. The worst might be if they can't figure anything out and can't find a treatment. I've had worse headaches, but they didn't last this long. I've never had one that was this unrelenting for this long. I just have to believe that I will be OK. That's really all I can do.

naturgesetz said...

What jumped out at me was the word "pogrom," when the persona asks the other if the other takes him to be, "the nearest human being to/ hold on to in a/ dreamed pogrom." The implication is that the other is a victim of anti-Semitic violence, at least in his thoughts. I wonder if the poet intended that.

In the context of your blog, I took the poem as being "spoken" by one male to another. Nice to be corrected by the analysis that follows it.