About the poet
Thom Gunn (1929-2004) is a poet whose work thrives on contrast and contradiction: English...
Gunn: It's a dramatic monologue, and it's not spoken by myself - it's spoken by one of Odysseus's sailors in a time of - well you might say of enormous stress because he's just been transformed into some animal - he doesn't yet know what it is.
Interviewer: Moly is the magical herb given to Odysseus to ward off the transforming charms of Circe of which the speaker of the poem is still a victim.
Nightmare of beasthood, snorting, how to wake.
I woke. What beasthood skin she made me take?
Leathery toad that ruts for days on end,
Or cringing dribbling dog, man's servile friend,
Or cat that prettily pounces on its meat,
Tortures it hours, then does not care to eat:
Parrot, moth, shark, wolf, crocodile, ass, flea.
What germs, what jostling mobs there were in me.
These seem like bristles, and the hide is tough.
No claw or web here: each foot ends in hoof.
Into what bulk has method disappeared?
Like ham, streaked. I am gross--grey, gross, flap-eared.
The pale-lashed eyes my only human feature.
My teeth tear, tear. I am the snouted creature
That bites through anything, root, wire, or can.
If I was not afraid I'd eat a man.
Oh a man's flesh already is in mine.
Hand and foot poised for risk. Buried in swine.
I root and root, you think that it is greed,
It is, but I seek out a plant I need.
Direct me, gods, whose changes are all holy
To where it flickers deep in grass, the moly:
Cool flesh of magic in each leaf and shoot,
From milky flower to the black forked root.
From this fat dungeon I could rise to skin
And human title, putting pig within.
I push my big grey wet snout through the green,
Dreaming of the flower I have never seen.
from Collected Poems (Faber, 1994), by permission of the publishers, Faber & Faber Ltd and HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. Recording used by permission of the BBC.
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