Domains of Ecstasy

David Gewanter

in At the Barriers

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print July 2009 | ISBN: 9780226890432
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226890371 | DOI:
Domains of Ecstasy

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How can the body find ecstasy? How can it survive it? For some Romantic poets, moments of bliss may come to a solitary explorer who “wanders lonely as a cloud,” then finds a new flower or ocean. Yet the obdurate materials and boundaries of Thom Gunn's urban world resist such moments of sensation and access, and the simple naturalism of first-person change. His boyhood home of postwar London is the gray city of Dickens, not Keats; his second home of San Francisco, though streaked with Ginsberg's hallucinogenic “Blake-light,” is still plagued by Blake's “mind-forged manacles” and “harlot's cry.” In postwar America, other poets of Gunn's generation sought bliss in drugs, drink, and flesh; but whether through Ginsberg's “Blake-light tragedies” or Robert Lowell's dramas of mania and incarceration, they put the primacy of individual vision before such stable observations of the social world as Gunn's unfevered and unsentimental poetry shows. His work provides, then, a brave alternative to some of twentieth-century poetry's muddy experiments in “personhood.”

Keywords: ecstasy; romantic poet; twentieth-century poetry; Thom Gunn; poetry; gay culture

Chapter.  3884 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (Poetry and Poets)

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