|About the Book|
The Passages of Joy draws its title from Samuel Johnsons poem The Vanity of Human Wishes: Time hovered oer, impatient to destroy/And shuts up all the Passages of Joy. The book ends with a poem about a modern cab driver on a night shift in SanMoreThe Passages of Joy draws its title from Samuel Johnsons poem The Vanity of Human Wishes: Time hovered oer, impatient to destroy/And shuts up all the Passages of Joy. The book ends with a poem about a modern cab driver on a night shift in San Francisco. In between is accomplished and disturbing verse, dealing in part with the union, or the coincidence, of the old and the new- the ordered and the anarchic- the contemplated and the spontaneous—Johnson and the cabby.Gunn is concerned with both the experience of joy and its loss. A recurrent metaphor in the collection is the childhood game of Hide and Seek, at the end of which, fantastically, all the lost are found. Some poems are about coming to terms with loss or helping others to do so. There are also evocations of those helplessly unfit for joy (Slow Waker, The Cat and the Wind, Donahues Sister, The Victim). Sweet Things takes a more sardonic view, implying by juxtaposition the equivalence between sexual appetite and greed for sugar.Praising Gunns Selected Poems (1979), in the New Republic, Donald Davie wrote: The Renaissance styles—of life more than of writing—are invoked by Gunn not to judge the tawdry present, nor to keep it at arms length, but on the contrary so as to comprehend it in a way that extends to it not just compassion but dignity. Thom Gunn has spent the first half of his life in Britain and the second in California, which makes him something of an amphibian among poets in English. The poems in The Passages of Joy are rendered on both free verse and meter, and show him to be at the height of his powers.