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Thom Gunn's “Duncan”

Thom Gunn's “Duncan”

(p.277) Thom Gunn's “Duncan”
At the Barriers
Wendy Lesser
University of Chicago Press

The specificity of the dead was very important to Gunn, and this is why he was a great poet about death. Death, as he knew, is not an impersonal entity that exists in the world, like air or dirt, but a very particular experience that happens to each person in a different way. One does not get used to it. One does not get over it. It is always a shock, even when it is expected. “Lament” may be his greatest poem in this vein, but “Duncan” is surely one of the runner-ups, and they share a number of qualities, including the strictness of their rhyme schemes and their casual use of medical phrases such as “home dialysis.” (His rhyme for that, in “Duncan,” is “his responsiveness.”) . “Duncan”—a poem, it turned out, about his friend and fellow poet Robert Duncan, who had died earlier that year—was marked in a few places with his handwritten emendations.

Keywords:   Robert Duncan, dead, Thom Gunn, poe, death

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