Poem of the Week: ‘The Man With Night Sweats’ by Thom Gunn

24 June 2024

Our Poem of the Week is the titular poem from The Man With Night Sweats, Thom Gunn’s extraordinary memorial to love, life and death in the time of the AIDS crisis. The Man With Night Sweats is out in a new edition on 18 July, with an illuminating new preface by Colm Tóibín.

The Man With Night Sweats

I wake up cold, I who
Prospered through dreams of heat
Wake to their residue,
Sweat, and a clinging sheet.

My flesh was its own shield:
Where it was gashed, it healed.

I grew as I explored
The body I could trust
Even while I adored
The risk that made robust,

A world of wonders in
Each challenge to the skin.

I cannot but be sorry
The given shield was cracked,
My mind reduced to hurry,
My flesh reduced and wrecked.

I have to change the bed,
But catch myself instead

Stopped upright where I am
Hugging my body to me
As if to shield it from
The pains that will go through me,

As if hands were enough
To hold an avalanche off.



Copyright © Thom Gunn, 1992. Used by permission of Faber & Faber Ltd. All rights reserved.

The Man With Night Sweats is out on 18 July in a new edition, with a new preface by Colm Tóibín.

About the Author

Thom Gunn was born in Gravesend, Kent in 1929. He published his first book of poems, Fighting Terms (1954), while he was still an undergraduate at Cambridge. That same year, he moved to California and stayed there for the rest of his life, teaching at Berkeley and living in San Francisco. He published nine books of poetry.

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Photo credit: Ander Gunn