To Yvor Winters, 1955

By Thom Gunn 1929–2004 Thom Gunn
I leave you in your garden.
                                          In the yard
Behind it, run the Airedales you have reared   
With boxer’s vigilance and poet’s rigour:   
Dog-generations you have trained the vigour   
That few can breed to train and fewer still   
Control with the deliberate human will.
And in the house there rest, piled shelf on shelf,   
The accumulations that compose the self—   
Poem and history: for if we use
Words to maintain the actions that we choose,   
Our words, with slow defining influence,   
Stay to mark out our chosen lineaments.

Continual temptation waits on each
To renounce his empire over thought and speech,   
Till he submit his passive faculties
To evening, come where no resistance is;
The unmotivated sadness of the air
Filling the human with his own despair.
Where now lies power to hold the evening back?   
Implicit in the grey is total black:
Denial of the discriminating brain
Brings the neurotic vision, and the vein
Of necromancy. All as relative
For mind as for the sense, we have to live   
In a half-world, not ours nor history’s,
And learn the false from half-true premisses.

But sitting in the dusk—though shapes combine,   
Vague mass replacing edge and flickering line,   
You keep both Rule and Energy in view,   
Much power in each, most in the balanced two:   
Ferocity existing in the fence
Built by an exercised intelligence.
Though night is always close, complete negation   
Ready to drop on wisdom and emotion,   
Night from the air or the carnivorous breath,   
Still it is right to know the force of death,   
And, as you do, persistent, tough in will,   
Raise from the excellent the better still.

Thom Gunn, “To Yvor Winters, 1955” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 1994 by Thom Gunn. Used by permission of Noonday Press, a division of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC, All rights reserved. Caution: Users are warned that this work is protected under copyright laws and downloading is strictly prohibited. The right to reproduce or transfer the work via any medium must be secured with Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.

Source: Collected Poems (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1994)

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Poet Thom Gunn 1929–2004


Subjects Relationships, Pets, Arts & Sciences, School & Learning, Philosophy, Activities, Poetry & Poets

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 Thom  Gunn


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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SUBJECT Relationships, Pets, Arts & Sciences, School & Learning, Philosophy, Activities, Poetry & Poets


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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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