The Antagonism

By Thom Gunn 1929–2004 Thom Gunn

to Helena Shire

The Makers did not make
The muddy winter hardening to privation,
Or cholera in the keep, or frost’s long ache
      Afflicting every mortal nation
From lord to villagers in their fading dyes
            —Those who like oxen strained   
      On stony clearings of the ground   
               From church to sties.

            They sought an utterance,
Or sunshine soluble in institution,
An orthodoxy justified, at once
      The dream and dreamer warmed in fusion,
As in the great Rose Window, pieced from duty,
            Where through Christ’s crimson, sun   
      Shines on your clothes till they take on
               Value and beauty.

            But carved on a high beam
Far in the vault from the official version
Gape gnarled unChristian heads out of whom stream   
      Long stems of contrary assertion,
Shaped leaf ridging their scalps in place of hair.   
            Their origins lost to sight,
      As they are too, cast out from light.
               They should despair.

            What stays for its own sake,
Occulted in the dark, may slip an ending,
Recalcitrant, and strengthened by the ache
      Of winter not for the transcending.   
Ice and snow pile the gables of the roof
            Within whose shade they hold,
      Intimate with its slaty cold,
               To Christ aloof.

Thom Gunn, “The Antagonism” from Boss Cupid. Copyright © 2000 by Thom Gunn. Used by permission of 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: Boss Cupid (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2000)

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Poet Thom Gunn 1929–2004


Subjects Religion, Other Religions, Christianity, The Spiritual

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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 Religion, Other Religions, Christianity, The Spiritual


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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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