Lament Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

“Lament” is a descriptive and narrative poem. It traces the stages of AIDS upon a nameless victim, recording the mental and physical changes in that person. The poem is written in a loose iambic pentameter, and uses rhyming couplets. The couplets do not call attention to themselves, since they are rarely end-stopped. Only by rereading the poem can one become aware of its hidden craft.

The first line announces the subject: “Your dying was a difficult enterprise.” In the early stages, the sufferer is primarily concerned with “petty things.” There is little change in the character of the infected one. He retains “hope” and is “courteous still.” The pain soon brings “nightmare” and an unaccustomed “outrage” to the afflicted one. The “outrage” comes from being excluded from the rituals of ordinary life. He cannot feel “summer on the skin.” Instead, he is imprisoned in the “Canada of a hospital room.” Gunn has described the change in images of distance that perfectly capture the nature of the alteration.

The “distance” that the disease brings becomes more apparent as he becomes “thin”; however, while his body is decaying, his mind remains active and alert. He writes messages to his friends and is reconciled with his “grey father” after four years of alienation. Gunn then attempts to define the character of the victim, to sum up his essence. He describes him as he was in the past when he displayed...

(The entire section is 506 words.)

Lament Bibliography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Alvarez, Al. “Marvell and Motorcycles.” The New Yorker 70 (August 1, 1994): 77-80.

Bartlett, Lee. “Thom Gunn.” In Talking Poetry: Conversations in the Workshop with Contemporary Poets, edited by Lee Bartlett. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1987.

Bold, Alan. Thom Gunn and Ted Hughes. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1976.

Dodsworth, Martin, ed. The Survival of Poetry. London: Faber & Faber, 1970.

Gioia, Dana. Barrier of a Common Language: An American Looks at Contemporary British Poetry. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2003.

Grubb, Frederick. A Vision of Reality. London: Chatto & Windus, 1965.

Gunn, Thom. Thom Gunn in Conversation with James Campbell. London: BTL, 2000.

Hammer, Langdon. “The American Poetry of Thom Gunn and Geoffrey Hill.” In Something We Have That They Don’t: British and American Poetic Relations Since 1925, edited by Steve Clark and Mark Ford. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2004.

Hennessy, Christopher. Outside the Lines: Talking with Contemporary Gay Poets. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005.

Sloan, La Rue Love. “Gunn’s ’On the Move.’” Explicator 46 (Spring, 1988): 44-48.