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Domains of Ecstasy

Domains of Ecstasy

(p.257) Domains of Ecstasy
At the Barriers
David Gewanter
University of Chicago Press

How can the body find ecstasy? How can it survive it? For some Romantic poets, moments of bliss may come to a solitary explorer who “wanders lonely as a cloud,” then finds a new flower or ocean. Yet the obdurate materials and boundaries of Thom Gunn's urban world resist such moments of sensation and access, and the simple naturalism of first-person change. His boyhood home of postwar London is the gray city of Dickens, not Keats; his second home of San Francisco, though streaked with Ginsberg's hallucinogenic “Blake-light,” is still plagued by Blake's “mind-forged manacles” and “harlot's cry.” In postwar America, other poets of Gunn's generation sought bliss in drugs, drink, and flesh; but whether through Ginsberg's “Blake-light tragedies” or Robert Lowell's dramas of mania and incarceration, they put the primacy of individual vision before such stable observations of the social world as Gunn's unfevered and unsentimental poetry shows. His work provides, then, a brave alternative to some of twentieth-century poetry's muddy experiments in “personhood.”

Keywords:   ecstasy, romantic poet, twentieth-century poetry, Thom Gunn, poetry, gay culture

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