CONSIDERING THE SNAIL-THOM GUNN
Updated: Jul 13, 2020
Thomson William “Thom Gunn” was an English poet born on 29th August, 1929 in Gravesend, Kent, England. His first collection of poetry, Fighting terms (1954) was published the year after he graduated. His early poetry were provided with bold presentation of love as interpersonal combat and its focus on the upheavals of war and the freedom of life on the road was widely praised. Gunn wrote most of his early verses in iambic pentameter while in a phase of life when his ambition was “to be the John Donne of the twentieth century”.
His later works assume a variety of form, including syllabic stanza and free verse. The course of Gunn’s development is recorded in Selected Poems 1950 -1975(1979), in which “the language begins as English and progresses toward American”, according to the Nation reviewer Donald Hall. After relocating from England to San Francisco, Gunn wrote about gay-related topics, particularly in his most famous work, The Man with Night Sweats in 1992 as well as drug use, sex and his Bohemian lifestyle. Gunn’s later poems increasingly addressed mortality. Love poems took on a sense of irony, as in Boss Cupid (2000), which won Publishing Triangle’s Inaugural Triangle Award for Gay Poetry in 2001. This award was later renamed the Thom Gunn Award in his memory.
Gunn received the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize for the collections in 1993. In 2003 he was awarded the David Cohen Prize for Literature together with Beryl Bainbridge. He also received the Levinson prize, an Arts Council of Great Britain Award, a Rockefeller Award, the W. H. Smith Award, the PEN (Los Angeles) Prize for Poetry, the Sara Teasdale Prize, a Lila Wallace- Reader’s Digest Award, the Forward Prize. He received fellowships from the Arts Council of Great Britain, the Guggenheim Foundation, and MacArthur Foundation. In April 2004, he died of acute polysubstance abuse, including methamphetamine in San Francisco, where he had lived since 1960. Five years after his death, a new edition of Gunn’s Selected Poems was published, edited by August Kleinzahler.
‘Considering the Snail’ written by Thom Gunn was first published in My Sad Captains in 1961 and has become a popular choice for anthologies.This poem is all about the lesson learned from animals by keenly observing its action. The snail has been used as a metaphor for someone who is not moving fast enough like ‘slow as a snail’ but there is much more to learn from them. Even in their slow process they have purpose in it which makes them move deliberately. Animals have no worries relating to either the past or the future; for them it is all about the present. Humans are failed to witness their actions which teach numerous lessons to live our life in a better way. All the living beings here are with some purpose. The process of chasing the purpose over living, matters here.
The snail pushes through a green
night, for the grass is heavy
with water and meets over
the bright path he makes, where rain
has darkened the earth’s dark. He
moves in a wood of desire,
pale antlers barely stirring
as he hunts. I cannot tell
what power is at work, drenched there
with purpose, knowing nothing.
What is a snail’s fury? All
I think is that if later
I parted the blades above
the tunnel and saw the thin
trail of broken white across
litter, I would never have
imagined the slow passion
to that deliberate progress.
After the rain has darkened the earth, the poet observes on the actions of a snail which uses its single long, muscular foot to crawl through a darkness of green. Those grasses are wet with rain drops and for the snail it is hard to crawl over it. Finally it creates the bright path out from dark. Snail is personified as ‘he’ in this poem. It further moves with a strong feeling of wanting something with deep secrets. It is courageously rooted in its decision. A horn like pale antlers move as it is in search of food (Sense cells on the tentacles surface give the snail a picture of its environment’s smell which also helps in the search for food). Poet doesn’t know what motive makes the snail to work by getting wet and facing all those struggles over it.There evolved a rhetorical question inside the poet’s mind.
‘What is a snail’s fury?’
The snail keeps on moving by overcoming all the struggles with extreme strength in an action.The poet parts the blades of the grass and keenly observes the mark left behind by the snail which shows its built-in passion to succeed. The Snail’s will power makes it to stand against the external factors. It is determined in its action with conscious unhurried effort moving towards the unknown destination.
‘It's fury without weary, raised query of its theory.’