The Man with Night Sweats

By Thom Gunn 1929–2004 Thom Gunn
I wake up cold, I who
Prospered through dreams of heat   
Wake to their residue,   
Sweat, and a clinging sheet.   

My flesh was its own shield:   
Where it was gashed, it healed.

I grew as I explored   
The body I could trust   
Even while I adored
The risk that made robust,

A world of wonders in
Each challenge to the skin.

I cannot but be sorry
The given shield was cracked,
My mind reduced to hurry,   
My flesh reduced and wrecked.

I have to change the bed,   
But catch myself instead

Stopped upright where I am   
Hugging my body to me   
As if to shield it from   
The pains that will go through me,
         
As if hands were enough   
To hold an avalanche off.

Thom Gunn, “The Man with Night Sweats” from Selected Poems. Copyright © 2009 by Thom Gunn. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux .

Source: Selected Poems (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2009)

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Poet Thom Gunn 1929–2004

POET’S REGION England

Subjects Living, Health & Illness, Nature, The Body

 Thom  Gunn

Biography

Thom Gunn was born in Kent, England to parents who were both journalists. Gunn’s early life was peripatetic; after his parents’ divorce, he traveled with his father to various assignments and attended a number of different schools. His mother committed suicide when Gunn was fifteen. In an interview with the Paris Review Gunn spoke about the effect of his mother’s death: “I was devastated for about four years. I very much retired . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Health & Illness, Nature, The Body

POET’S REGION England

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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