"On the move" is one of Thom Gunn's earliest published pieces, exploring modern man's sense of
alienation in the world and his lack of purpose.
A motorbike gang becomes the metaphor to explore this concept, for the bikers are a marginalised group
within society -- perhaps even feared -- and ride their motorbikes with no defined purpose or goal.
They seldom know their destination. To be on the move is enough of a goal for them.
A NOTE ON THE POET
Thomson William Gunn was born in Kent (England) in August 1929, the son of a London journalist / editor
and a mother -- whom he adored -- who was a left-wing socialite and an ex-journalist.
His parents would later divorce, whereupon his mother committed suicide when Gunn was just 15 years
of age. The impact of this event would leave an indelible mark on the young man's mind and this would
affect some of his later works.
He attended Trinity College in Cambridge, graduating with a B.A. in 1953. He recognised, however, that
he was gay and so, believing he would be ostracised in England, he and his partner moved to San
Francisco where homosexuality was more accepted.
He proceeded to Stanford University where he taught for a while, and graduated with an M.A. in 1958.
He would then earn his primary income from teaching at the University of California at Berkeley.
This, however, was mostly on a part-time basis. Although he was a charismatic lecturer, he nevertheless
resisted the temptations of pursuing a purely academic career.
Gunn is recognised as a major poet from the generation that included Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath.
Indeed, many regard him as the finest of them all. He was also in love with the modern city, its speed and
its anonymity -- and this too is reflected in his poetry.
He lacked a national identity. Although he was British, he lived in the United States and learned from
modern American poetry but was never recognised as an American poet as such.
He had a relaxed manner and a raucous sense of humour. His love of vulgarity is said to have kept him
youthful. He was also said to have been outstandingly handsome, something that women noticed but to
During the 1960s and 1970s Gunn, along with the hippies or bohemians of the age, explored the use of
drugs -- especially LSD. Indeed, he appears to have thoroughly enjoyed the bohemian lifestyle which
gave him the freedom to use drugs, practise homosexuality and, as a poet, to experiment with poetic form.
He died in April 2004 while still living in San Francisco. He was then almost 75 years of age.
Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:
"The blue jay scuffling in the bushes follows
Some hidden purpose, and the gush of birds
That spurts across the field, the wheeling swallows,
Have nested in the trees and undergrowth.
Seeking their instinct, or their pose, or both."
- When one views these lines within the context of the poem as a whole, what purpose do we see in the
poet's focus on the birds? (4)
- How is "some hidden purpose" displayed in the life of these birds? (4)
"One moves with an uncertain violence
Under the dust thrown by a baffled sense
Or the dull thunder of approximate words."
- What does the poet mean when he uses the word "one"? (2)
- What is this "uncertain violence"? (4)
- What does the poet mean when he speaks of "the dull thunder of approximate
"On motorcycles, up the road, they come:
Small, black, as flies hanging in heat, the Boys."
- Why does the poet use the description "small, black, as flies hanging in
- If one looks for this poem on the Internet, one finds many versions which use the singular "Boy"
rather than "Boys". How do we know which version is correct? (2)
- Why is the word "Boys" written with an uppercase "B"? (2)
"Until the distance throws them forth, their hum
Bulges to thunder held by calf and thigh."
- What point is the poet making when he says that "the distance throws them
- Comment on the metaphor "their hum bulges to thunder held by calf and