Thom Gunn’s “Touch”  is the titular poem of the collection. As in “The Corridor,” Gunn juxtaposes the complementary themes of isolation and companionship. The loose syllabic verse incorporated in the poem depicts the feeling of comfort that the poet experiences beside his companion. The word ‘touch’ in the title is utilized as an therapeutic metaphor for the underlying instinct. The poet speaks of giving in to inherent instincts. This is perhaps what Martin Dodsworth called Gunn’s “voluntary commitment to the irrational.”

The poet, as he lowers himself besides his companion, states how his skin is numb with “the restraint of habits.”He is socially conditioned to refraining from giving in to his instincts. He describes this attribute as ’patina’. On metal, patina is a coating of various chemical compounds such as oxides or carbonates formed on the surface during exposure to the elements (weathering). Therefore it may signify the thin coating of the rational sophisticated self that is only a thin film away from the natural irrational being. The word “patina” hails from Latin for “shallow dish.” Therefore, figuratively, it may allude to the poet’s shallow self that does not allow himself to explore his own depths. The exterior appearance is yet again described as “the black frost of outsideness. It is ‘outsidesness’ or superficial and cold(frost),and further dark(black).In addition, it is defined with the adjective ‘malleable’. It means being ‘capable of being shaped or formed, as by hammering or pressure’. The poet emphasizes how his refined self is the result of excessive external(social) pressure. Because it is unnaturally inured, it turns out to be a “dead rubbery texture.”

The poet points to the cosiness and security that his companion imparts to any being with his/her presence. He describes the person as:

You are a mound

of bedclothes, where the cat

in sleep braces

its paws against your

calf through the blankets,

and kneads each paw in turn.

The warmth the speaker experiences on contact with the companion makes the poet wonder whether it is his own warmth radiating from his own body; or it is the ferment of his mate’s body that gives out energy to break the impact of the chill. The friend clings on to the poet in utter desperation, as though the speaker’s protection could be taken for granted This makes the poet quip:

you know who

I am or am I

your mother or

the nearest human being to

hold on to in a

dreamed pogrom.

The companion imagines himself to be in a dreamed mob attack, as he behaves like a child who holds onto its mother for dear life.

The poet claims that he is ‘loosened up’ now: the skin is flexible at this instant to the demands of instinct. The loose syllabic verse in the poem echoes the same. It a ‘big space’ that has no frontiers. The cat is emblematic of this animal instinct :

“and the cat

got there before you,

it is hard to locate.”

This inherent instinct is not found, but seeps from his touch in continuous creation. It is like a dark enclosing cocoon that winds us within its enclosure. All human beings are united in this ‘dark wide realm’, for it is universal:


wide realm where we

walk with everyone.

©Rukhaya MK 2010

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