Bluebird by Charles Bukowski

Bluebird’ by Charles Bukowski is a forty-six line poem which has been separated into two stanzas, one containing fifteen lines, and the other with thirty-one. Bukowski has not chosen to unify his lines of verse with a particular pattern of rhyme. Instead, the piece utilizes other poetic techniques such as personification, repetition, enjambment, and alteration to bring across its meaning and engage with the reader. These qualities are evident throughout the text but one of the most striking is the varied use of enjambment. 

A reader will immediately take note of the vastly different line lengths Bukowski made use of. A great number of them only contain one word while others stretch to eight. One perfect instance of this technique is in the first stanza within lines 4-6. Here, Bukowski writes, 

[…]I’m not going

to let anybody see

you.

A reader’s eyes move quickly from one line to another as the sentence is broken down into unnatural parts. The line breaks occur at uncomfortable or unusual stopping points. This technique can be used to speed up or slow down a section of verse. One should also take note of the alliterative moments that increase the rhythm of their lines. One such instance is in the line, “you want to blow my book sales…” Here, the ‘b’ sound enhances the moment Bukowski’s speaker is describing. You can read the full poem Bluebird here.

Bluebird by Charles Bukowski

 

Summary of Bluebird 

Bluebird‘ by Charles Bukowski describes a speaker’s relationship with his own emotions and inability to confess that he cannot always be strong and clever. 

The poem begins with a refrain that describes the existence of a “bluebird” in the speaker’s “heart.” It represents his kinder and more gentle emotions. But it remains trapped inside his chest throughout almost the entire work. The speaker moves from line to line describing how he is too strong and clever to let anyone know about the bird. He thinks he is wise to keep it hidden and weakened by alcohol. 

In the concluding lines, the speaker describes how there are moments, only at night, that he lets the bird out. This is a chance to release the pent-up emotion he has been dealing with. The bird is very quickly stashed back inside his heart and quieted down. No one ever needs to know it exists at all. 

 

Analysis of Bluebird 

Stanza One 

Lines 1-15 

there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
(…)
he’s
in there.

In the first stanza of this piece, the speaker begins with the refrain that is going to be repeated a number of times within the text. He states that there is a “bluebird in my heart” that is trying to get out. From this first phrase it is clear the poem is going to be based around an extended metaphor. In this case, the bluebird that is trapped in the speaker’s heart is representing his more tender emotions. It is straining, trying to make itself known but the speaker is “too tough for him.” He refuses to let his emotions surface. 

The next lines described how the speaker talks to his “bluebird.” He is very demanding, telling him that he must “stay in there” as the speaker refuses to let “anybody see” him. It is clear the speaker is embarrassed by his “bluebird,” or emotional qualities. He feels as if there is some reason he cannot show them. 

Here, the refrain repeats, this time adding that the speaker intends to, 

[…] pour whiskey on him and inhale

cigarette smoke

This is a tactic utilized to keep his emotions down. If he is drunk, he will not be tempted to feel. All those who meet him in this state, “the whores and the bartenders” and “grocery store clerks” will never know that “he’s / in there.” The speaker’s own self-conscious nature is on full display here. Even the opinions of those he may never see again matter to him.

 

Stanza Two 

Lines 16- 25

there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
(…)
you want to blow my book sales in
Europe?

The second stanza begins with the refrain. Here, the speaker is describing how he is once again “too tough for” the bluebird. It is a weakness within him he is more than able to push down. His own words to the bird follow. He tells the bird to “stay down, do you want to mess / me up?” The speaker is worried that any change to his “normal” state of being will mess up the life he has created for himself. It would also disrupt the usual pattern of his emotions. 

Two more questions follow. The first of these asks if the emotions within him want to “screw up the  / works?” This line, and that which follows, speaks to the man’s career. He has “book sales” to worry about and “work” to do. Contending with his deeper emotions is not something he can handle on top of everything else. 

 

Lines 26-33

there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
(…)
so don’t be
sad.

Once more the refrain is repeated. Rather than bragging on his strength this time, the speaker mentions how “clever” he is. This is another aspect of his mind that keeps his emotions at bay. He explains that rather than letting “him out” during the day when people could notice, he only does it at night. This way everyone will be “asleep” and unable to “know that” the bird is “there.” 

Through these lines he hopes, somewhat sarcastically, to comfort himself. He feels disdain for what he sees as his weaker side but also knows it is a part of him. It must have a chance to show itself. 

 

Lines 34-46

then I put him back,
but he’s singing a little
(…)
weep, do
you?

In the final lines, the speaker moves past his moments of perceived weakness and puts the bird “back” in his chest. This moment of release has eased the pressure he felt and the bird is still able to “sing.” He has not died completely. 

Bukowski’s speaker follows this description by stating that he and his emotions “sleep together like that,” in secret. There is a “pact” between them that night will be a moment in which tenderness or kindness, or perhaps grief, is not restrained. As if embarrassed by this admission the poem concludes with the speaker saying that the “pact” could make a “man / weep.” Although he is quick to say, he doesn’t weep, “do you?” 

The speaker turns the narrative around on the reader as if challenging his audience to press him on the point. This also makes one consider their own relationship to their feelings and what is allowed and disallowed. 

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  • Avatar Ab says:

    Perfectly analysed I would say.
    I got the essence of the poem where poet and his pact with his secretive emotional blue bird went unnoticeable infront of the external world.

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      Thank you. You are very kind.

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