To read the books together is to see how Gunn is a figure in whom people find what they need.
That’s okay: Gunn pitches a wide tent, and his models and literary fusions are especially enabling.
Martin, not just for giving him his cloak, but also for only giving him half.
“You recognized the human need / Included yours,” says Gunn’s version of the beggar-turned-Christ: All of this raises some fascinating questions. What do we owe to the body, our own or someone else’s? And is the body itself a stranger whose needs are not our own?
The poem retells, in jaunty, Audenesque sestains, the legend of the fourth-century soldier from Amiens who halved his cloak to clothe a passing beggar in a storm. At the inn he is rewarded with a vision of the beggar, who appears, in Gunn’s telling, It turns out that the beggar, now clothed in sexy, thigh-gripping bands, is actually a Christ figure who wants to reward St.To have a beggar turn into Christ is common enough, but to make him a quasi-Christ, hot and muscle-bound, freshly blow-dried, wearing golden thigh bands, his eyes “wild with love” for your corporeal, sensual self—and then to celebrate your sensual body as ethical, necessary, and therefore perhaps even saintly—well, that’s Thom Gunn.Gunn made a lot of moves that only Gunn could make, though his poetics also recall Whitman’s gloriously expansive declaration: “Do I contradict myself?It opens with a partly clothed encounter with a stranger (if not from San Francisco’s Market Street, then at least from another foggy moor) and jumps off from this revelation (apparition?) to explore, explain, and celebrate the needs of the speaker’s—and, by extension, everyone else’s—physical, living body.
Gunn himself was suspicious of easy formulations (aesthetic or otherwise), and he was leery of critics, criticizing, and criticism.