(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

“Moly” is written in heroic couplets that have the incantatory effect of a spell or a charm. The repeated rhymes mirror the subject perfectly. The poem deals with states of transformation, specifically the effects of LSD upon the human brain. Even with such an unusual subject, Gunn uses conventional metrics and an allusion to one of the best-known works in the Western tradition, Homer’s Odyssey (c. 725 b.c.e.; English translation, 1614).

The poem begins with the speaker awaking to find he has been transformed into a beast. He attempts to find out exactly what type of animal he has become: “Parrot, moth, shark, wolf, crocodile, ass, flea./ What germs, what jostling mobs there were in me.” He finally recognizes that he is a pig. He has “bristles” and is “snouted.” “She,” presumably Circe, has brought on this unwelcome change, but, other than acknowledging her role, he says nothing more of her.

The speaker recognizes that the only human elements that remain within him are the eyes; other than this he is “buried in swine.” So, human perception is still there, but his mind and soul are bestial. He would “eat a man,” but he is afraid. There is an animal cunning and a predatory fear about him. These animal qualities, however, are not celebrated as they are in other poems. Now they define a lower condition.

The pig-man is rooting, but this is described as seeking his lost...

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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

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