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Thom Gunn's “Duncan”

Thom Gunn's “Duncan”

Chapter:
(p.277) Thom Gunn's “Duncan”
Source:
At the Barriers
Author(s):
Wendy Lesser
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226890371.003.0016

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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