Gunn, T. The Man with Night Sweats

Thom Gunn’s The Man With Night Sweats shows him writing at the height of his powers… The book ends with a set of poems about the deaths of friends from AIDS. With their unflinching directness, compassion and grace, they are among the most moving statements yet to have been provoked by the disease.

Author: Gunn,Thom
Title: The Man with Night Sweats
Publisher: Faber and Faber
Year: 1992
ISBN: 0571162576

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One thought on “Gunn, T. The Man with Night Sweats

  1. Steven Oliver

    I find this a deeply moving collection of poems; it is definitely not about ‘victims’ – although running through the book is a litany of lost friends and lovers. I picked out this poem as it touches on so many areas relevant to medical practice, but which aren’t necessarily often – or easily – approached: the attractions and excitement of sharing IV drugs, whether ‘life’ is found through restraint or experience, that ‘taking risks’ may be what defines us, the cognitive dissonance of ‘knowing’ and ‘not knowing’ the risks that choices carry. I think it’s a great poem to have about when you are thinking about topics like risk and behaviour change.

    In Time of Plague

    My thoughts are crowded with death
    and it draws so oddly on the sexual
    that I am confused
    confused to be attracted
    by, in effect, my own annihilation.
    Who are these two, these fiercely attractive men
    who want me to stick their needle in my arm?
    They tell me they are called Brad and John,
    one from here, one from Denver, sitting the same
    on the bench as they talk to me,
    their legs spread apart, their eyes attentive.
    I love their daring, their looks, their jargon,
    and what they have in mind.

    Their mind is the mind of death.
    They know it, and do not know it,
    and they are like me in that
    (I know it, and do not know it)
    and like the flow of people through this bar.
    Brad and John thirst heroically together
    for euphoria – for a state of ardent life
    in which we could all stretch ourselves
    and lose our differences. I seek
    to enter their minds: am I a fool,
    and they direct and right, properly
    testing themselves against risk,
    as a human must, and does,
    or are they the fools, their alert faces
    mere death’s heads lighted glamorously?

    I weigh possibilities
    till I am afraid of the strength
    of my own health
    and of their evident health.

    They get restless at last with my indecisiveness
    and so, first one, and then the other,
    move off into the moving concourse of people
    who are boisterous and bright
    carrying in their faces and throughout their bodies
    the news of life and death.


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