Essay, Pages 7 (1586 words)
The Literary Canon has often focused on “accepted texts” and often represents the “values of the ruling educated classes”. The canon has often been criticised for the lack of diversity of the art within the texts that are of focus. Thom Gunn is a prime example of how the art of the canon is beginning to change or more so how poets are changing the art themselves. The fundamental values Thom Gunn approaches are more applicable to the modern world and often target taboo subjects which is in disparity to the “accepted texts”.
“From the wave” can be seen as an analogy for life, the surfers riding the wave representing humans and the wave impersonating life as a whole. It focuses on the wave’s creation at the middle of the sea and therefore implies this could be the start of life. “It mounts at sea, a concave wall down ribbed with shine”. The main focus is on “ribbed with shine” and its possible interpretations showing either the temptations the wave (life) has to the surfers or in a way of how it is almost seen as irresistible and conceivably unavoidable in the manner it takes the surfers (people) along in its path.
The surfers can be perceived in many ways, some will allow the wave to choose their path for them and send them down the conventional lifestyle and others will define their own.
“Then from their hiding rise to sight Black shapes on boards”. This quote suggests that the surfers appear to be almost part of the wave at this stage and still unidentifiable hinting that the wave is in full control of the surfers at this current time.
The start of the surfer’s journey as the wave builds is a strong depiction of how people often have very little control of their life as it takes them along and as it continues the people (surfers) become more identifiable and more in control.
The idea that balance is key in order for the surfers to continue again is an obvious reference to how society perceives life. Those who have a well-balanced life generally are successful. “Balance is a triumph in this place triumph possession”. In summary I would argue that “From the wave” actually shows how Thom Gunn is less revolutionising the art of the canon in this example, but instead following the pattern of accepted texts and poets. The poem could be interpreted to show a romanticist view in that the idea the wave controls many people’s lives and sends them down the conventional working route and there is little sense of freedom which is generally the argument many romanticists hold, therefore arguing “From the wave” to be less revolutionary in the terms of the art and topics it addresses.
An example of a poem by Thom Gunn that highlights a more contemporary and taboo subject would be “Moly”. The poem talks about drug use and the transition between the feeling of a human and outer body sensations in this case into a beast and the lasting effect it seems to have. I personally believe that Gunn is hinting at the potential reasons why the person initially felt it was necessary to acquire the drug. The idea that the drug taker uses the drug as a way to find themselves as they do not truly know, “What beast hood skin she made me take”, this hints at the possibility that the drug taker may be suffering from sort of depression and uses it as a method of escapism. The poem is initially intended to be a dramatic monologue spoken by one of Odysseus’s sailors, this would therefore provide further evidence to possibly display how Gunn could be focusing on the idea of PTSD and how the sailor uses the drug in an attempt to try and diminish the stress he is anticipating. “If I was not afraid, I’d eat a man”, this quote displays the trepidation and suffering for the sailor and therefore providing further evidence to reinforce the claim that the sailor is suffering from stress, PTSD and possibly depression and thus the comprehensive reasoning why he acquired the drug originally. All in all I believe that “Moly” is a strong indication of Gunn’s contradictory views that he is addressing within the poem and arguably shows how Thom Gunn is revolutionising the art of the canon as the topics of drug use and the disturbance it creates are scarce if none at all when analysing alternative texts within the canon.
“Considering the snail” and “My sad Captains” are examples of less taboo poems written by Thom Gunn. Beginning with “Considering the Snail”, it is based on the exploration of a snail searching for food and the endeavour it faces when doing so. I believe the poem can be linked to that of the human lifestyle, the challenge it faces and the purpose it possesses. An example of the struggle the snail faces, “for the grass is heavy with water and meets over the bright path he makes, where rain has darkened the earths dark”. This quote can be interpreted to relate to humans and the struggle they experience through life in order to stay afloat, again this is an example of the topic of depression and the purpose the snail/human has in life, struggling just in order to survive.
“I cannot tell what power is at work, drenched there with purpose, knowing nothing”. This is further evidence to support the idea the snail appears to be full of purpose but in realism the snail knows very little and therefore repeatedly questions the ambitions and purpose of the snail’s life which much reflects that of the deep underlying desires of the human nature. “For the grass is heavy with water and meets over the bright path he makes, where rain has darkened the earths dark”. Towards the end of the poem it focuses on the path the snail has taken and the emergence of a darker more unknown path approaching, this is an implication of the dangers the snail faces, with the “rain has darkened the earths dark” it possibly hints at the fact that the snail could be approaching the unknown, much the same as life is an unknown in human nature and the troubles that are sometimes faced in the “darker times”.
“My sad captains” is a supplementary poem that depicts a similar idea to “considering the snail”. Where historical legends, potentially ex-military figures, are perplexed on their purpose in society in this current day. They find themselves reliving their fame in the past but can’t withstand a purpose in the present. “One by one they appear in the darkness”, again Gunn is using the “darkness” to embody for the unknown and that they appear in the darkness as their portrayal in society in the present day is unidentified. “the past lapping them like a cloak of chaos”, is an example of the topic of PTSD the “captains” suffer from, their past is a perpetual admonition of the encounters and disarray they still endure in the present of the poem, and how their past once that of legendary status much haunts them to this day. “They remind me distant now”, is again the reality the “captains” have to face, once well respected and known but now a distant memory to most. “Captain” qualifies for this quote substantially as captains once renowned for guiding people to their destination in life, now no longer guide anyone and therefore the reasoning for the “distant” memory they have become.
In conclusion my overall analysis of Thom Gunn’s poetry is revolutionary to the canon to an extent, however I would argue the revolutionary work Gunn has produced is of not a high enough value to study. In the poems I have evaluated the topics approached and discussed are of disparity alongside imitating the usual texts that are valued within the canon such as the topics of drug use, depression and PTSD. The poem that showed the strongest contrast to usual texts within the canon was “Moly” as this discusses the effects and disturbance created when taking drugs, “what beast hood skin she make me take”. The other poems analysed imply the effect of potentially depression, PTSD and the lack of understanding of purpose in life, which I believe arguably push Gunn’s work to be viewed in more of a romanticist lens than that of a revolutionary one. “one by one they appear in the darkness”, again extracting the “darkness”, overall, representing the unknown and therefore the reasoning by the topics approached such as depression and life’s true meaning. The reasoning for the statement the work Gunn has produced is of little value as poems to study is, I believe the complexity of the poems that approach taboo subjects are not of a high enough level to currently hold a position as a “respected text” within the canon.
However, it could be argued that with the revolutionary subjects Gunn is now addressing, the complexity is also changing and therefore would argue Gunn is both revolutionary and his work is of value to the texts in the canon. All in all Thom Gunn shows work that is undeniably revolutionary such as “Moly” however he also shows work that is in similar comparison to those seen in a romanticist lens arguably anti-revolutionary such as “From the wave” and “My sad captains” and therefore I believe balances his status as a revolutionary poet to one of which displays aspects of both.