My Sad Captains

Posted: January 17, 2011 in Desire, Masculinities, Uncategorized, Writing
Tags: , , ,

I was writing to someone about buggery. There is a certain genre of person who will never tire of talking about buggery. And who, in doing so, will sound as if they are talking about something much more poetic, like violence, or love, or the search for existential meaning in life. Some examples of this genre of person are, in fact, poets. I have never managed to write a decent poem about buggery. I wonder if it is in part as I have always been the ‘receiver’ in the act, so I have never had a perspective on the scene, an overlooking view, that the sodomiser would do. I have imagined it and seen it in pictures but never had that particular vantage point myself. Thankfully, the two poets I am featuring here, have made use of that particularly ‘queer’ perspective of he who is taking his lover from behind, to great and moving effect.

First I will show you an excerpt from Buggery by Don Paterson. It is unusual in that it deals with a man buggering a woman. Then you can read My Sad Captains by Thom Gunn, one of my favourite poets. I don’t know if he is talking about buggery here specifically, though  I am sure he must be alluding to it.

From Buggery by Don Paterson

and though I know it’s over with
and she is miles from me
I stay a while to mine the earth
for what was lost at sea

as if the faces of the drowned might turn up in the harrow:
hold me when I hold you down and plough the lonely furrow.

My Sad Captains, by Thom Gunn 1961

One by one they appear in
the darkness: a few friends, and
a few with historical
names.  How late they start to shine!
but before they fade they stand
perfectly embodied, all

the past lapping them like a
cloak of chaos.  They were men
who, I thought, lived only to
renew the wasteful force they
spent with each hot convulsion.
They remind me, distant now.

True, they are not at rest yet,
but now they are indeed
apart, winnowed from failures,
they withdraw to an orbit
and turn with disinterested
hard energy, like the stars.

I love the last three lines: ‘they withdraw to an orbit and turn with disinterested hard energy, like the stars’.

That’s what men do. It’s what I got accused of doing. In purely physical terms, it seems odd sometimes that the ‘bottom/woman’ is presented as being the more emotional and connected lover, when as a bottom/woman you can spend so much of the ‘lovemaking’ with your head turned away from your partner, or buried in a pillow  (especially if buggery is involved) and he can’t see your face or know your thoughts. You could be miles away. I was miles away, and lost at sea.

The ‘sadness’ in this poem is accentuated by the fact Gunn wrote alot in his later life about AIDS and the death of many of his friends and lovers. There is something inherently sad about buggery, and the AIDS crisis almost seemed to have been ‘predicted’ by the words of writers like Gunn who documented the ‘homosexual’ experience throughout history. I don’t know why this sadness comes out in the descriptions, both written and pictorial, of sodomy, and the object at the heart of it, the ass. We always come back to Bersani and his question ‘Is The Rectum A Grave?’ The answer to that question that screams out from these two poems at least, is ‘yes’.

  1. Billy says:

    Thom Gunn has the same birthday as me. He’s good.

  2. He is isn’t he? I loved him when I was in my early 20s. Probably suits that youthful mooning about temperament.

  3. […] My Sad Captains « Quiet Riot Girl […]

  4. That Gunn poem is gorgeous. Thanks for sharing.

  5. glad you liked it lady poet! I am going to email you a gentle reminder about ‘POWER’ in case you have any poems/essays that would fit it.

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