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By Thom Gunn

I wake up cold, I who

Prospered through dreams of heat   

Wake to their residue,   

Sweat, and a clinging sheet.   


My flesh was its own shield:   

Where it was gashed, it healed.


I grew as I explored   

The body I could trust   

Even while I adored

The risk that made robust,


A world of wonders in

Each challenge to the skin.


I cannot but be sorry

The given shield was cracked,

My mind reduced to hurry,   

My flesh reduced and wrecked.


I have to change the bed,   

But catch myself instead


Stopped upright where I am   

Hugging my body to me   

As if to shield it from   

The pains that will go through me,

         

As if hands were enough   

To hold an avalanche off.


Thom Gunn, “The Man with Night Sweats” from Selected Poems. Copyright © 2009 by Thom Gunn. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC, http://us.macmillan.com/fsg. All rights reserved.

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Source: Selected Poems (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2009)

  • Living
  • Nature

Poet Bio

Thom Gunn
Born in England, Thom Gunn moved to San Francisco in 1954 and embraced American culture. Often using traditional forms, Gunn addressed daring contemporary issues from drugs to homosexuality to the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, when he watched many of his friends die. Author of over 30 books of poetry, his 1992 volume, The Man With Night Sweats, won the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize. See More By This Poet

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