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My Sad Captains

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.


Submitted by Andrew Mayers

by Thom Gunn

Comments (2)

I wouldn't know about it standing up to Sappho, Nick, but I have to disagree that that the poem has much to do with friends; really more to do with those with who one sets as guides for one's own life, whether friends or no. Life goes on; you live it, you move far from those early guides, so far that they may now seem as cold and distant as stars.... and have you been back to DS lately?
This 'little' poem has a classical lyrical ethos and brilliance...it stands up to Sappho. The subject, Gunn's recollection of his friends, could easily have lapsed into sentimentality, just as could have Sappho's. Instead, he puts them into an apallingly cold hard orbit in the classical cosmos.