My Sad Captains

By Thom Gunn 1929–2004 Thom Gunn
One by one they appear in
the darkness: a few friends, and   
a few with historical
names. How late they start to shine!   
but before they fade they stand   
perfectly embodied, all

the past lapping them like a   
cloak of chaos. They were men   
who, I thought, lived only to   
renew the wasteful force they   
spent with each hot convulsion.   
They remind me, distant now.

True, they are not at rest yet,   
but now that they are indeed   
apart, winnowed from failures,   
they withdraw to an orbit
and turn with disinterested   
hard energy, like the stars.

Thom Gunn, “My Sad Captains” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 1994 by Thom Gunn. Used by permission of Noonday Press, a division of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC, www.fsgbooks.com. 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 & Giroux, LLC.

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

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Poet Thom Gunn 1929–2004

POET’S REGION England

Subjects Relationships, Living, Death

Poetic Terms Syllabic, Elegy

 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 Relationships, Living, Death

POET’S REGION England

Poetic Terms Syllabic, Elegy

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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